Skyjack scissor lifts, boom lift and telehandler with text "What type of aerial lift do you need?"

Accessing elevated work locations takes on many forms, some more practical than others. While options such as the rope suspension scaffolds used on skyscrapers surely seem adventurous, most of us in the construction and commercial operations space tend to prefer aerial lift equipment for our overhead projects. Lift equipment comes in many types and configurations, solving very particular high-reach challenges involved in getting people up to work areas high above ground. To better understand the range of aerial lift options and their applications, let’s dig in below.  

Our good friends at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issue ample safety information, training requirements, and operational guidance for all aerial lift uses. For this reason, we’ll set the stage for our discussion here by using OSHA’s predefined lift categories. Per OSHA, aerial lift equipment is broken down into these equipment types: 

  • Extendable Boom Platforms  
  • Aerial Ladders 
  • Articulating Boom Platforms  
  • Vertical Lift Towers  
  • And any unique combination of the above

Interestingly enough, OSHA considers Scissor Lifts to be ‘mobile scaffold work platforms’, covered by a separate safety standard. Both aerial lifts and scissor lifts fall under the parent category of Scaffolding, based on the traditional definition of scaffolding being “any elevated, temporary work platform”. For the purposes of this article, we’ll consider all of these options to be aerial lifts by practical definition, but please note OSHA’s distinction for training and compliance purposes. 

Aerial Lift Types and their Applications 

Without further ado, here are the most common aerial lifts and their applications: 

JLG Vertical Man Lift.

Vertical Man Lifts

These lifts are excellent for single operator vertical access jobs, where the lift does not need to be repositioned once elevated and will be used for multiple lifts in the same location. Vertical man lifts have a small footprint and low weight, making them ideal for commercial venues with sensitive floor finishes. Vertical lifts are most common in the 12′ to 20′ height range, but there are options that exceed 40′.  

Common Applications: 

  • Institutional Maintenance  
  • Concert Venues  
  • Property Management  
Skyjack Scissor Lift.

Scissor Lifts 

As the next step up from vertical man lifts, scissor lifts pack higher load and elevation capacities into larger frames, as well as offer the ability to move the lift (very slowly) with the platform at elevation for precise repositioning. Multiple operators can carry tools and materials to heights over 60′, and these lifts come in multiple fuel and drive types (including 4×4 off-road drives). Scissor lifts are typically preferred for facility maintenance and construction projects due to these added capabilities.  

Common Applications: 

  • Construction  
  • Heavy Commercial and Industrial Facility Management 
  • Warehouse and Material Handling Access 
Genie straight boom lift.

Straight Boom Lifts 

For the highest elevation projects, straight boom lifts are the way to go. Straight booms use a telescoping boom arm to raise and extend personnel to elevations pushing 200′ above ground. With massive bases and counterweights, these units resist wind and sway very well. Because these booms do not have articulating joints, they must be positioned close to and below the work location, making them a little more restrictive in their positioning. These units also are commonly provided in electric, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), or diesel fuels, with or without 4×4 offroad drives.

Common Applications: 

  • High Elevation Outdoor Building Maintenance  
  • High-Rise Construction  
  • Medium-Elevation Work in Strong Weather 
Skyjack Articulating Boom Lift.

Articulating Boom Lifts 

Whereas straight boom lifts look to maximize reach height at the expense of maneuverability, articulating boom lifts are the opposite, reaching for moderate heights but with great dexterity and positioning capabilities. These lifts utilize multiple joints in their booms, allowing them to position around, underneath, or rotate alongside obstacles for a perfect fit to the work area. Articulating booms achieve great compound reach dimensions, being able to safely extend up and out independently – up to 135′ vertical and 70′ horizontal reach in some models. All fuels and drives are available in articulating booms.  

Common Applications: 

  • Trade Construction (e.g., Mechanical, Electrical)
  • Industrial Facility Maintenance
  • Airport Maintenance
Firetruck with aerial ladder lift.

Aerial Ladders 

Aerial ladders are most often seen on emergency response vehicles, as pictured in the fire engine to the left. Aerial ladders are telescoping rung ladders that personnel can easily climb, with the added feature of offering a semi-solid surface to slide materials or immobilized people along. These ladders are not common in construction spaces as they do not offer operator fall protection as well as other aerial platforms.  

Common Applications: 

  • Emergency Response Vehicles 
  • Military Vehicles  
  • Some Utility Maintenance Vehicles
Truck with bucket lift.

Bucket Lifts  

As we all might recognize from seeing in our neighborhoods, bucket lift trucks are very common for local utility maintenance and service tasks. Bucket trucks combine an articulating boom arm with a solid operator bucket, making for quick work in driving up to a service location and immediately rising to elevation. The solid bucket and normal vehicle make this equipment very accessible to non-construction personnel, and saves having to tow out separate lift equipment. 

Common Applications: 

  • Landscaping and Tree Trimming  
  • Municipal Utility Maintenance  
  • Videography and Multimedia Events  
Genie telehandler with man basket.

Telehandlers with Man Basket  

Reach forklifts (also known as telehandlers) are not technically aerial lifts, as these equipment pieces fall under OSHA’s fork truck standards for material handling. However, telehandlers can be outfitted with temporary man baskets for quick personnel lifts, as shown in this picture. When used in this fashion, telehandlers become akin to straight boom lifts. Operators using telehandlers for personnel lifts must be completely familiar with safety requirements for both reach fork trucks and boom lifts, and know all about the additional risks involved. In most cases, this option is utilized because a project already has a telehandler onsite, and renting a man basket is more cost effective than renting a separate boom lift. 

Common Applications: 

  • Incidental Aerial Access  
  • General Heavy Construction  
  • Residential Construction  
Hyster forklift with safety man basket.

Forklifts with Man Basket  

Following suit with the above comments on using a telehandler for aerial personnel lifts, the same cautions and considerations apply when using a man basket attachment with a standard forklift. This option is much more commonplace due to the sheer volume of forklifts in operation, especially in storage facilities where personnel will periodically need to access high rack elevations in person. Forklift personnel lifting is risky, and should only be done by operators trained on both fork truck and aerial lift safety.  

Common Applications: 

  • Warehouse and Material Handling Maintenance 
  • Distribution Inventory and Quality Control  
  • Truckyard and Logistics  

We hope that this discussion has been helpful for your commercial material handling needs. Fairchild Equipment is the Upper Midwest’s premier  Material Handling Equipment and Service resource, with headquarters in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and numerous locations ready 24/7 to serve your needs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Northern Illinois, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. For more information or to discuss which Warehouse Optimization solution might be best for you, please send us a message or give us a call at (844) 432-4724.


2140 Hutson Rd.
Green Bay, Wisconsin 54303
(920) 494-8726