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What’s in a name?

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

October 25, 2014 - We live in an age where jargon, business speak and initialisms surround us, and our industry is not immune to this scourge. The collective name for aerial lifts is currently being debated in some quarters, the question is will a word selected by a committee stick?

The nomenclature used to describe cranes has settled down and internationalised over the years, for example the British use of jib and fly jib - when talking of mobile cranes - has generally moved to the American terminology of Boom and jib, while the American term Swing has increasingly yielded to the British Slew.

When it comes to describing aerial lifts a whole range of terms and initials are currently in use, especially by associations and those who frame standards and regulations. The confusion over the terminology has even caused issues over the interpretation of specific standards, such as in which machines one needs to wear a harness.

The most commonly used term in everyday usage is probably ‘cherry picker’, although many people consider that this only applies to a machine with a boom – so scissor lifts and push around verticals are often not included, it also has slightly slangy overtones so not suitable for official use.

When it comes to terms used by associations, regulators and manufacturers, AWP is probably the most widely used, referring of course to Aerial Work Platform – almost everyone knows that this applies to any boom, trailer lift, truck mount, scissor , push around or whatever. An Australian version of this – EWP for Elevating Work Platform is also widely used down under, to the point where the industry’s dynamic association is called the EWPA – the Elevating Work Platform Association.  These two abbreviations reflect the fact the other terms in common usage - Platform, Aerial lift, Lift or  Work platform etc…can be a little vague when adopted  for formal uses and also have other meanings.

Then we come to the one that IPAF has used for some time, MEWP for Mobile Elevating Work Platform. While this is used by the association and increasingly the UK Health & Safety Executive and some safety officers at major contractors and trainers, the term is rarely used in everyday conversation – outside of the conference room.  It has a major disadvantage over the other initials – AWP and EWP - in that not only is it 30 percent longer, and also too awkward to use as M.E.W.P., so it is most often voiced as an Initialism, in other words spoken as a word - ‘Mewp’ which has a revolting sound to it – reminiscent of a slimy amphibian or something else you might find under a rock, rather than a highly engineered piece of safety and efficiency machinery.

With global standards for aerial work platforms moving ever closer and the possibility of an effective ISO standard on the horizon, the benefits of having a widely agreed term to cover – self-propelled, trailer, truck mounted and push around lifts becomes ever more obvious. Given that the abbreviations are way out in front when it comes to a realistic choice, my vote goes to AWP, slightly ahead of EWP, mainly due to it the fact that it already has the widest usage and it starts with the first letter of the alphabet. Most importantly though it cannot sensibly be made into a new word. And as importantly AWP is already widely used by operators, trainers, and company managers while still being clearly understood by safety inspectors, association staff and trainers and for that reason most likely to be widely adopted.

Let me know what you think 

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mark thurston
November 15, 2014 16:35

AWP or High Reach Equipment. AWP is most favored, however.

October 30, 2014 16:55

I don’t agree, the word mewp doesn’t sound revolting to me and it is much quicker to say than a list of initials, like ‘a double-u pee’.
I think you get used to it . If I speak to anybody outside the industry I always say ‘cherry picker’ as that is the only thing that makes any sense to them.





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