Boom lifts take workers up where the work is. Learn how to choose the right lift for the job, what accessories might help and how to use these lifts safely.
Boom lifts carry workers and materials both up and out, delivering them to hard-to-access spots for work at height. Two of the most popular types of boom lifts are articulating boom lifts and telescopic boom lifts. Both have hydraulic arms with significant reach. The choice boils down to two main considerations: how high you need the work platform to go and whether you need to navigate around obstacles.
Telescopic boom lift: When you need maximum reach
A telescopic boom lift, also called a stick boom or straight boom, has a boom that “telescopes” straight out from the boom hoist, which is attached to the lift chassis. Some models can reach as high as 185 feet, although the more common maximum range is in the neighborhood of 150 feet.
These aerial lifts, or mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs), are used when crews need to work at a significant height or access an area blocked by rough terrain. They are suitable for a large variety of jobs including industrial maintenance, electrical work, painting, glazing, bridge work or inspection, tree trimming and any task that requires access to a multi-story building.
The telescoping boom extends quickly, and the lift can be driven with the boom fully extended in some positions.
Articulating boom: When you need to get around an obstacle
An articulating boom lift, also known as a knuckle boom, has a lift arm with multiple sections separated by joints, or “knuckles.” The arm can move the work platform over and around obstacles. This type of boom lift is used whenever a worker needs to access an area that’s particularly tight or difficult to reach or needs to change position frequently.
The tallest articulating boom lift made today has a lift height of 150 feet and a 75-foot reach. This boom gives you less horizontal reach than a telescoping boom, but it provides vertical and horizontal flexibility.
Like the telescopic boom lift, the articulating boom lift can travel over uneven terrain.
What type of boom lift do you need?
Ask yourself these questions to identify the best type of boom lift for your job. You’ll need to decide not only between a telescopic vs. articulating boom lift but also between different sizes and power sources.
- How high do you need to go? Height is typically the first consideration. A hydraulic telescopic boom lift can reach highest.
- How much horizontal reach do you need? This is how far you need to extend the work platform from the base. Telescopic boom lifts have greater horizontal reach, which is listed as such in the specs. Articulating booms list their “up and over” height, which indicates how high the platform will reach when the boom is articulated.
- Is the project indoors or outdoors? Electric boom lifts, which are generally compact, are best for indoor work and use in tight spaces. They can go outside, but they aren’t as big or fast as their diesel-powered cousins. Diesel boom lifts are generally used outdoors because of the fumes they emit.
- Is the work space tight? Telescopic boom lifts need room to turn, whereas many articulating boom lifts have zero tail swing. Articulating boom lifts tend to have a smaller and narrower footprint.Compact lifts, which are about 3 feet wide, can fit in narrow workspaces.
- What is the work surface? Ground-bearing pressure, measured in PSI, is important for calculating whether you can safely operate the lift on a specific surface.
- Do you need to tow the lift? Most boom lifts are self-propelled, but trailer-mounted towable boom lifts are a good choice if you need portability. They can be connected to a work truck with a towing hitch. Lightweight, with simple controls, they’re useful for a variety of applications. They also are compact for storage. Outriggers offer support in place of the counterweights of self-propelled models.
- Where will you store it? The stowed height is a consideration if you plan to store the lift.
What options and accessories do you need?
The specific task and the work environment will help answer this question. Options and accessories include:
Non-marking tires. Non-marking tires or rubber-footed tracks can protect flooring if you’re working indoors.
A jib boom extension. A jib boom extension, added between the end of the boom and the platform, provides extra reach and an additional articulation point to give the boom more precise positioning.
Platform-mounted work lights. If the job involves working at night or in dark conditions, these lights will come in handy.
Racks and trays. These accessories can make work more efficient. For plumbing and electrical work, a pipe rack mounts above the railings of the boom lift to store piping and conduits off the platform. A glass and panel tray can store glass or panels outside the lift.
Boom lift safety tips
Like all aerial lifts, boom lifts can pose a danger if they’re not operated correctly. Reduce the risk of accidents and injuries by following these seven rules.
- Use a harness every time. OSHA requires the use of a harness on a boom lift, and here’s why: A boom lift traveling over bumps will cause the work platform to bounce. This bouncing action can eject a worker from the platform. A small 1-inch crack or divot in the parking lot can turn into 12 to 14 inches of bounce in the boom before you know it.
- Adjust the harness properly. A harness should be snug so it doesn't budge during a fall. How snug is snug enough? You don’t want to be able to get your hand underneath it. Wear it like a belt on your pants — snug enough to hold your pants up without causing any pain.
- Inspect the basket before you get in. The basket floor is the only thing between you and the ground, so check it. (Every rental-ready inspection at United Rentals includes the basket.) Make sure there are no big tears in the mesh floor and no cracked welds.
- Inspect the tie-off points. Tie-off points are welded to the structure. Check the welds and make sure there aren’t any cracks.
- Check the control panel for safety stickers. All switches on the control panel should be labeled. Boom lift manufacturers make sticker kits for each machine to make it clear what each switch does.
- Stay clear of power sources. Stay 15 feet away from any power source, including overhead wires or ground wires.
- Don’t use cribbing. When the lift goes out of level, the boom doesn't extend all the way up. Don’t try to override this safety feature with cribbing, such as planks or bricks, to level the boom lift. Instead, reset the lift on more level ground.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) offers additional aerial lift safety tips.