Which EWP Is Right For Your Project?
by Daniel Green
There’s no doubt that the humble work platform has made our collective lives far easier – and safer. Gone are the extension ladders and forklift work boxes of old. Yep, Elevated Work Platforms have revolutionised the way we think about working at height.
But which machine is best for you? Well that would depend on what you’re trying to achieve, what working environment you’re in, the ground conditions, if there’s power nearby and what ticket/s you have.
Unfortunately google doesn’t yield much on this topic. So with luck right now you’re reading the definitive guide. We might even help a few people along the way! Read on.
The History of Giraffes
The story goes that Canadian Walter E. Thornton Trump invented the EWP in the 1950’s. He wanted it to be known as a giraffe, come with a free moose and be slathered in maple syrup, but due to their use in orchards the name cherry picker stuck. Sadly, there was no moose or maple syrup. Soon after, different needs drove innovation and different variations began to pop up. Over the coming decades the number of EWP varieties expanded to what we see today.
Self-Propelled Trailer-Mounted Knuckle Cherry Boom Lift
Don’t even think of googling it because it’s not a real EWP. These ones are though:
Like a packet of Smith’s crisps, the cherry picker is the OG! Originally named for its use in literally picking cherries, this mostly truck mounted variety has the indisputable position of being first. Powered by a hydraulic system utilising a PTO that robs power from the truck’s engine, they were the primary tool for outdoor work at height for decades until the advent of the boom lift in the 1980’s. Stability came in the form of outriggers mounted to the truck. These adjustable hydraulic legs increased the truck’s ‘base’, allowing the basket to reach further from the machine’s centre of gravity greatly decreasing the risk of toppling. Remaining popular with electricity linesmen the cherry picker is still in use today.
Advantages: good for use on uneven ground due to adjustable outriggers, long reach, stability due to large base and heavy truck weight, don’t need to be delivered by a tilt-tray.
Disadvantages: long boom design requires large swing zone, external use only due to requirement of truck engine to run during operation, small basket.
Best use: outside on straightforward tasks with plenty of room and good visibility.
Soon after the cherry-picking maple-syrup machine hit the market, operators saw that the lengthy boom design needed bulk room and so cogs began whirring for a more compact version. The scissor lift was born. Battery power in the 1960’s has nothing on today’s Li-Ion technology [Elon Musk wasn’t even born!] so the first generation of scissors were diesel powered. Utilising a series of swivelling arms much like a novelty extendable boxing glove, a scissor lift means you can float that basket into the air like a butterfly – or a bee. Eventually battery technology caught up, meaning scissors could be used in confined spaces without risk of suffocation.
Advantages: smaller spaces accessible due to compact design, internal operation due to battery power, larger basket allows for more tools and working space.
Disadvantages: you have to be within reach of the works due to the lack of a boom, floor must be flat and level due to arguably unstable design, need to be delivered by a tilt-tray.
Best use: indoors on flat level surfaces.
Boom, Here Comes The
Within a couple of years of the cherry picker invention innovators saw the need for a self-propelled version. Dragging a truck around behind you every time you need to change a lightbulb just doesn’t cut it. So they took the boom and basket, bolted it to an old 4WD chassis, added a counterweight and voila! The boom lift was born. While this new WP was better suited to more compact [heck, even indoor!] environments, it still suffered the large swing radius required by its concertina boom design.
Advantages: for use in spaces bigger than a scissor lift but smaller than a cherry picker, use indoors due to battery power, long and high reach, large basket.
Disadvantages: not compact due to boom design, small basket, need to be delivered by a tilt-tray.
Best use: indoors on flat level surfaces and lots of space to manoeuvre.
When you say the acronym ‘EWP’ this is what people generally picture. Knuckles have multiple, independently articulating joints that allow for extreme manoeuvrability. You can: drive fore and aft, steer, slew the body, lift and lower the primary boom, lift and lower the secondary boom [this has a different outcome than the primary boom], telescope the third boom in and out, jib the fourth boom up and down, slew the basket side to side, and tilt the basket up and down. They have more tricks up their sleeve than a Vegas showman and if you look at them in the right light – just as handsome. It wasn’t until technology caught up in the late 1990’s that these machines were even possible.
Advantages: you can reach almost anywhere, compact design.
Disadvantages: feels unstable at height due to more articulation joints, operation can be confusing due to more manoeuvrability, smaller basket, need to be delivered by a tilt-tray.
Best use: when you have to get high but there’s obstacles everywhere.
The cool thing about these EWP’s is that they don’t need to be delivered by a tilt-tray! The uncool thing is that they’re not self-propelled, meaning they can’t be driven. If you want them moved you have to bring the basket down, get out, jump in the ute, do a seventy-point turn, get back out, back in the basket and boom up. They are very stable though because the chassis has outriggers like the OG cherry picker.
Advantages: stable due to large base and outriggers, decent reach, no need to be delivered by a tilt-tray.
Disadvantages: moving the unit needs to be done from the ground, smaller basket.
Best use: small jobs with plenty of room.
Unders and Overs
In Australia, EWP’s are divided into two categories: under 11m and over 11m. This means that their reach [where the basket can get to] is either under or over 11m from the centre of the turntable. Why did they draw a line in the air at 11m? Because they wanted to, that’s why. Srslytho, there will be a safety reason – it will be something like a significantly higher number of incidents occurred at heights over 11m . In either case, in the land down under, before you operate any kind of EWP you need some training.
RIIHA301E – under 11m
To swing the baby booms you need this qualification. It’s a one day course that involves detailed theory & practical training & testing. Training units include pre-starts, hazard identification and machine operation. This means you can operate any elevated work platform of any description with a reach of less than 11m. When you think about it 11 metres is still pretty high. That’s three-and-a-half floors with 10ft ceilings. Four-and-a-half at 2.4m ceilings. Or one average mosquito from a typical North Queensland summer.
High Risk Work License – over 11m
The beauty of this ticket is that while its comprehensive and has umpteen hurdles to get over, when you finally do get it you can operate ANY EWP OVER 11M THERE IS EVEN IN THE FUTURE WHEN THEY HAVE LASERS AND THEY HOVER AND ARE SUPER RAD. Srslytho, this is the preferred qualification.
Entitled TLILIC0005, you actually get a licence to operate at the end of it, which is a far more serious obligation that the handling ticket on the > 11m qual. But just because you can operate larger machines doesn’t mean you automatically can operate under 11m ones. You will still need the < 11m ticket. This course runs for two full days. Given that you can go and jump in a 50m boom pretty much straight away, a strict two day course is probably a good thing.
Ready or Not
So there you have it. The ups and down and ins and outs of EWPs. See what we did there [because they move up and down and in and out]? No? Okay.
For more information on EWP licensing Perfect uses Health and Safety Advisory in Emu Plains.