Common Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP) Terms

by Tom Meluskey - Product Trainer On Dec 26, 2019, 03:00 AM

It pays to be an expert in the equipment industry. Whether you are new to ordering jobsite equipment or new at a rental store, knowing your products and consistently providing the best product match for applications will build your credibility. It is important to be familiar with common mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) terms to avoid expensive mistakes “playing telephone” with industry jargon.

MEWPs themselves have many generic and interchangeable nicknames, such as aerials, aerial work platforms, access equipment or a generic “Genie® lift.” Understanding the differences in the type of MEWPs available on the market will help you select the right machine to meet your jobsite needs:

  • Telescopic booms, with boom sections that extend telescopically, are described as S-booms, stick booms, straight booms or even cherry pickers.
  • Articulating booms, with multiple boom sections that hinge, or “articulate,” are known as Z-booms, Zs, knuckle booms, up-and-over booms or zed booms.
  • Scissor lifts, which get their name from their stacked lifting mechanism of crossed tubes that work in a scissor-like fashion, can also be called vertical lifts, self-propelled platforms or simply slabs.

Other common terms in the work-at-height industry are machine platform height versus work height, the latter being a whole 2 m higher. You could quickly fall short of the operator’s goal without knowing the difference.  Similarly, when comparing restricted and unrestricted platform capacities, only the latter indicates the total rated platform load limit for a machine’s maximum reach.Common Mobile Elevating Work Platform (MEWP) Terms

Reach itself broadly means how far the manoeuvrable arm of a MEWP lift, and the work platform (or “basket”) on the end, can extend. This commonly refers to a boom lift’s outreach, also known as horizontal reach maximum. This should not be confused (or combined) with the additional up-and-over performance capability of articulating boom lifts, which have joints in their extension to give them more flexibility to navigate obstacles.

For a Genie® MEWP, the model names act as a quick reference guide once understood:

  • The first number in a model name is always the vertical reach, meaning the maximum platform height in feet vertically. The addition of 5 on Genie telescopic booms to that round number indicates an additional 5-ft jib, such as Genie S® -85* boom.
  • A second number set represents the additional outreach in feet for an articulating boom (e.g. Genie Z® -62/40 boom offering 62 ft vertical height and 40 ft max. horizontal reach).
  • For scissor lifts, the first two numbers indicate the platform height as they do in booms, but the second two numbers indicated the wheel width — the machine’s base at the wheels, not the chassis or the platform (e.g. Genie GS™-1932 scissor lift offering 19 ft of vertical height at 32 inches wide).

*This addition in the nomenclature does not apply to Genie Z booms.

For self-propelled lifts, gradeability is another important criteria for machine selection. This refers to the ability of the machine to drive up a grade or slope (usually expressed as a percentage), not its ability to extend while up that slope. In addition, gradeability can contribute to a machine’s terrainability, meaning its ability to negotiate terrain such as rough terrain (RT) of an unimproved construction site.

However, don’t take a machine’s model description on face value and always dig deeper to ensure its performance will meet the operator’s needs. For example, a rough terrain (RT) designation can mean multiple levels of terrainability. Some only provide the addition of lug tread tires. Others feature packages that include oscillating axles, more powerful diesel engines, and four-wheel drive.

Meanwhile, many so-called “slab” scissor lifts can be used on surfaces other than concrete and some “vertical mast lifts” also offer limited outreach.

Open-ended questions help establish the specifics about the work to be done and the jobsite characteristics or constraints. This helps narrow the field of potential equipment and combat the pitfalls of jargon while you learn the ropes. Always reference the Operator’s Manual of each unit prior to using a new model.

Genie also provides online operator training classes — Genie Tech Pro™ Training — if you’re serious about a working knowledge of MEWP applications and terminology. For more information, visit

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