What is a Boom Lift and How do You Operate One?

what is a boom lift?

What Is a Boom Lift?

A boom lift is a type of aerial work platform that allows for horizontal and vertical reach. In other words, a boom machine lifts you up (and over) for work in hard-to-reach places.

Horizontal reach is the major difference between a boom lift and the other main category of aerial lifts, called scissor lifts. Scissor lifts only lift workers vertically.

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What Is a Boom Lift Used For?

Different types of boom lifts can be used for all kinds of aerial work, from cutting tree limbs to erecting scaffolding, painting walls or ceilings, and changing lightbulbs.

Commercially, boom lifts are often used by utilities, construction or maintenance companies, fire and rescue services, and landscaping.

The first boom lift was invented for use in orchards – that's where the nickname "cherrypicker" comes from.

What are the Different Types of Boom Lifts?

You can divide up boom lifts in a few ways. There's the way the arm of a boom machine extends and lifts, the type of base, and how the boom lift is powered.

Articulating boom lifts, sometimes called knuckle lifts, have multiple joints along the arm that can rotate or extend. This makes an articulating boom lift ideal for work in tight quarters and around obstacles like tree branches or power lines.

Telescoping boom lifts, also called straight boom lifts, don't have this type of maneuverability. Instead, the arm "telescopes" in a straight line. It's usually attached to a turntable for rotation.

Standard, stiff boom cranes use a grounded, moveable base that requires flat and stable ground, but boom mechanisms can be outfitted onto heavy-duty trucks. Typically, these so-called "bucket trucks" will use an articulated arm, but telescoping boom trucks do exist.

When choosing from these different types of boom lifts, you'll want to think about how many workers are needed for the job, whether you'll be indoors or outdoors, and how rugged the terrain is.

For example, in rugged outdoor circumstances, a bucket truck is probably your best bet. For indoor work, you probably want an electric-powered boom lift – articulating boom lifts are compact and ideal for indoor work, but telescoping lifts are good for some indoor applications.

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How Much Weight Can a Boom Lift Handle?

Most boom lifts have a platform capacity of around 500 pounds, but you can find boom lifts with a capacity of up to 1000 pounds.

Articulated and telescopic boom lifts have different weight capacities, but it also varies by manufacturer and model. It's critical to pay attention to the maximum capacity and never exceed it.

Telescopic boom lifts can typically handle a larger load than articulated lifts. Both straight lifts and articulated lifts can have the upper end of boom lifts' weight capacity, but there are more straight lifts with 1000-pound capacity than articulated lifts.

What's the Tallest Boom Lift in the World?

When it comes to boom lift sizes, weight capacity is only part of the picture.

Height and range (the horizontal reach) are also important. Most commercial models of straight boom lifts are between 40 feet and 135 feet tall. Articulated boom lifts are a little shorter, between 30 feet and 80 feet tall. Generally speaking, horizontal reach increases with height, but the ratios vary by model.   

The tallest boom lift in the world is made by Bronto for servicing and repairing wind turbines, introduced in 2017. The Bronto Skylift S295 HLA has a vertical lift of 295 feet and an up and over capability of 190 vertical feet and 105 horizontal feet. Previous record-breakers from other manufacturers range from 185 feet to 210 feet.

Bronto also makes North America's biggest boom lift for firefighting. The Bronto Skylift F230 RPX – affectionately called The Beast – has a vertical reach of 230 feet for access to the 20th story of a high rise.

How Do You Operate a Boom Lift?

First of all, you need formal training or certification on how to operate a boom lift safely. If you're using a boom machine for work, a boom lift license is legally required, but even if you're renting a cherry picker for personal use, you want to take boom lift safety training.

Before operating a boom lift, you should inspect all vehicle components, lift components, and your work area for safety. Check fluid levels, safety systems, and other key mechanisms to ensure everything is in working order.

Look for hazards in the work zone, including unstable surfaces, holes, drop-offs, overhead obstructions (like a sloping ceiling or power lines), and ground obstructions like debris. Check weather conditions – boom trucks shouldn't be operated in icy or windy conditions.

When you operate the boom lift, you should engage all safety systems and set up work zone warnings. Engage proper fall protection and use outriggers or wheel chocks for stability. Stay within weight limits and horizontal/vertical reach limits. Pay attention to overhead hazards and stay at least 10 feet away from any power lines and communication cables.

How Do You Get Boom Lift Certified?

When people talk about boom lift certification or earning a boom lift license, they're usually referring to OSHA's compliance requirements.

OSHA requires operator safety training for anyone operating a boom lift on the job. There's a classroom portion as well as hands-on instruction and an in-person evaluation of an operator's skills.

Operators need to complete boom lift certification before they operate a boom lift on the job, and OSHA says employers should retrain operators when a different type of aerial lift is introduced, if they observe improper operation of the lift, after new workplace hazards involving the lift are discovered, and after a boom lift-related accident.

Periodic refreshers for boom lift training aren't required by the OSHA standard, but they can help workers remain compliant and save you a headache when OSHA inspectors come to visit.

Boom lift training covers many topics and needs to comply with OSHA standards. The classroom portion should include:

  • Information on fall, falling object, and electrical hazards
  • Procedures for preventing and mitigating hazards
  • Recognizing and avoiding unsafe conditions
  • Instructions about the correct operation of the lift
  • When and how to perform inspections

One of the easiest ways to ensure thorough and compliant boom lift certification is to purchase online boom lift training from an OSHA-authorized online training provider like us. We'll cover all the classroom topics and ensure that workers understand the material with quizzes and tests.

That way, all you have to worry about is covering the manufacturer's requirements for your specific boom lift model(s) and overseeing the practical operating demonstration.

Enroll today!