The different types of Access Platform

I'm not a great one for industry jargon. Most of the time, the people who use it aren't anywhere near the sharp end of the industry and you get some right mouthfuls of nonsense when things finally filter down in to the field where the work is being done. "MEWPS" is a great one, what the hell is that supposed to mean? Then you find out it's "Mobile Elevated Work Platforms", which isn't a lot better really, is it?

An "access platform" is something that you work from, usually up in the air somewhere, like fitting windows from the outside - you need somewhere to stand when you're three metres up and sadly my Dan Dare rocket pack still hasn't been delivered, so I have to use an access platform of some sort. A "mobile elevated work platform" is a fancy name for a machine that lifts you up - a cherry picker, or a scissor lift. Even they have different names, and the name you use usually has more to do with where you first came across them than what they should really be called, which is why we end up with a daft word like MEWPS to describe all of the different names people have for them.

So, here's some of the access platforms I've worked on, and the different names for them.


A big bunch of long, steel poles, joints to hold the poles together, and planks of wood that lay across the poles (and, these days, have hooks on the end to go over the poles themselves.) This is the most common way you'll see people working at height, as everyone's seen a building site where there's a big load of scaffolding around the building letting builders do their stuff.

In the last few years, it's become popular to cover scaffolding with a big canvas with a picture of what the building will look like when it's finished, or a big landscape. This is what happens when a bloke with a fashionable haircut visits a building site too many times, though on the plus side, less people have to look at hairy builder's bums poking out of their jeans.


Also known as Mobile Towers, if you want to be really correct. These look like scaffolding but have welded together grids of poles so they're simple to put up, and can be made out of lighter grade steel as you get structural strength out of the way you've welded it together. Very handy for working somewhere stable, and cheaper than using a machine.

Cherry Pickers

AKA Booms, man lifts, bucket lifts, and "what's that mum is it a diplodocus?" These look like vans or trucks with an arm on the back and a little place to stand, which is called a cage in the UK, or a bucket in the USA. Unless you go to a lot of building sites, you're most likely to see someone use these to change the bulbs in street lights, or maybe clean the windows in a big office block.

Cherry pickers are really flexible and come in all shapes and sizes, from small enough to tow behind a car or put in something Transit van sized to lift you up to do cleaning or gutter clearing, to massive monsters of machines which can lift you up and over a cathedral roof or wrap around under a bridge. Some have articulated arms - a bend like an elbow - so you can go up high, then over the top and drop down the other side of something. This lets you get in really awkward spots in a very safe way, where the only other way of getting somewhere is to be scaling up roofs with a lot of special safety kit, where you can't really take along a bunch of tools with you.

Cherry pickers are good for speed, when you need to get to an area without putting any weight on it - like checking a dodgy roof - and for jobs where you just can't get to somewhere, like underneath a motorway bridge that you need to check for problems.

Scissor Lifts

These machines lift a wide work area up in to the air, the criss-crossed pattern of the arms that do the lifting look like a bunch of scissors put together, which is why they're called scissor lifts. They're good for taking lots of weight, really safely. So you can go up a few feet or a few metres, and have two or three guys working on the same thing on the one machine. As they lift straight up, there's less to think about when you're using them than cherry pickers, it's usually a case of park it next to where you want to be, get on board the flat bit and lift up in to the air.

Whatever sort of job you need to do at height, there's a machine or system for getting there. If you're looking to hire a platform in the UK, check out these people - Facelift - they've always done me right.

Alan has spent many years working high up in the air, all across the UK. He'd tell you about all the idiots he's seen trying to work on building sites in trainers and up in the air with no clue, but wants to keep working so writes about how it should be done instead.