The world of Access problems is almost infinite and is extremely wide ranging…so it is necessary to clarify the range of issues we are talking about. And that is, non-static Access issues below 8m (26 feet) in height. The sort that typically plagues Maintenance Engineers working in all types of Factories and on Rolling Plant (such as Large Vehicles and Machinery), Store workers working in Warehouses, and myriads of other similar applications.

When considering the issues presented, Companies all have their own unique situations to work around, and they also have a wide range of Solutions to draw from. In broad terms, these solutions include:

  • The Traditional Ladder/Platform Ladder
  • Fixed Height Stair or Step Platform
  • Aluminum Mobile Scaffolding
  • Adjustable Height Stair or Step Platforms
  • EWP (Elevated Work Platforms) such as Scissor Lifts, Cherry Pickers and Boom Lifts

Consistent criteria have to be applied to each of the above-named options to give you a balanced viewpoint, so we will use the following 9 Criteria to try to cover the whole scene.

  1. Initial cost
  2. Ability to reach objective
  3. Maintenance requirements
  4. Regulatory compliance requirements
  5. Transport and Deployment requirements
  6. Storage requirements
  7. Stability
  8. Adaptability and
  9. Ease of use

It can be a huge puzzle and that’s why we wrote this article. We hope the following simple outline of the Pros and Cons puts some clarity around the various options and helps you to make the choice that best suits Your own situation. So here goes…


The Traditional Ladder/Platform Ladder

  1. INITIAL COST – For Initial cost, the Traditional Ladder/Platform Ladder is definitely the winner. Available from many different Manufacturers, the simple Ladder can be very cheap to buy. However, there are also some Manufacturers that produce Industrial Spec ladders that are not so cheap, but also offer excellent qualities in some of the following criteria. These include Branach (Australia) and Little Giant Ladder (USA)…and there will no doubt be some other high quality Ladder producers
  2. ABILITY TO REACH OBJECTIVE – The Traditional Ladder will usually access a simple work face quickly and easily, however, if there is a need to reach in over objects (cantilever) to get to the work, a Ladder is unlikely to offer a suitable solution. Also, with the exception of some high-end Ladder systems, it is not usually very easy to safely step off a Ladder on to an elevated area if needed.
  3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS – Maintenance requirements are minimal for Ladders in general, however they are imperative, and often get overlooked seeing as this is such a simple apparatus.
  4. REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS – We have to be careful around regulation compliance. Some Countries (and indeed a lot of Companies) view Ladders as a means of access only and have banned the use of ladders as a means to work off, and more are looking to follow suit. Although it may not necessarily always be possible, it is good to limit Ladder use to comply with this approach. The higher quality Ladder producers mentioned above have various systems to overcome this situation, but it would be wise to check this aspect out thoroughly before relying on the Traditional ladder to fulfil your requirements. The Platform Ladder will usually meet criteria in most cases, but once again, check this out thoroughly beforehand. The other area to check thoroughly is the relevance of the Standard that the Manufacturer states the Ladder/Platform Ladder has been built to, and the Load
    Capacity it is rated to.
  5. TRANSPORT AND DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS – When it comes to Transport and Deployment, the Traditional ladder, and even the Platform Ladder do come in various designs most of which are excellent to carry and set up quickly and easily.
  6. STORAGE REQUIREMENTS – Likewise, most types fold up well, and take up little in the way of storage room. For longevity, indoor storage would be recommended.
  7. STABILITY – Stability is something that the user needs to be very careful about. It is extremely easy to shift the centre of gravity to a dangerous position. There are some basic, but very important rules a user needs to be aware of when using a Ladder, but these are also easy to ignore in the heat of the moment when trying to just get a job done. There are many accessories to help achieve stability, but these need to be thoroughly and carefully checked to ensure they are suitable for the application before applying them to your particular job. The higher quality Manufacturers do offer a great range of options, and these would be highly recommended as opposed to utilising an aftermarket attachment.
  8. ADAPTABILITY – As per criteria no. 7, there are some Ladder Manufacturers that offer an amazing range of attachments and options that will make the ladder stable, and safe in many different terrains and situations. These need to be attached and adjusted correctly according to manufacturer’s instructions and may need to be attached/detached each time the situation changes, but they will likely give a very good coverage of a variety of difficult ground conditions. However, as stated above, if the access
    issue is complicated at the top end of the ladder (for instance, by the need for a Cantilever, or to step out onto an area), ladders may not be the best option.
  9. EASE OF USE – Ladder use is an inherent ability for most people. However, basic training would be recommended to ensure users know the safe way to use them, particularly if the Ladder includes additional accessories. One thing to watch is the Capacity of the Ladder…check out the WLL that is stated by the Manufacturer and make a call on whether this is enough for the type of use your Ladder will be put to. Also, if objects need to be taken up to the work face, the ladder becomes a very difficult means of access in these situations.


Fixed Height Stair or Step Platform

  1. INITIAL COST – There will be a large range of these Platform types offered, from mass produced options to Custom Built versions, but in general, a good quality Stair or Step Platform will usually be considerably more expensive than a Ladder, similar to Mobile Scaffolding, but less expensive than other methods being considered in this article.
  2. ABILITY TO REACH OBJECTIVE – The Standard Fixed Height Platform is less adaptable than the Ladder in reaching a desired object. Being fixed height, it can only be safely used for Objects within the working range of that Platform height. However, some (particularly customised versions) could offer Cantilevered Platforms that will assist with reaching targeted work faces at the height level they are designed for. Note that some units may be supplied with Gates through which to exit the Platform onto a suitably safe elevated area.
  3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS – Maintenance requirements are minimal. With very few moving parts, the main thing needed is a regular and thorough check for any damage to structure and components such as hinges locks, wheels etc.
  4. REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS – These Platforms are usually configured correctly to comply with the necessary strength and stability requirements, but it is still important to check the relevance to your application of the Standard that the Manufacturer states the Platform has been built to, and the Load Capacity it is rated to. Make sure too, that the unit has a “back gate rail” that can be put in place to prevent accidental falling from the Platform down the Stairs/Steps.
  5. TRANSPORT AND DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS – These Platforms tend to be a lot bulkier than Ladders, making them not so easy to fit into Transport, however, once on site, they can usually be wheeled around with relative ease.
  6. STORAGE REQUIRMENTS – These Platforms tend to be one-piece units, and so need a greater area for storage than the likes of a ladder. They could also be susceptible to windy conditions, so indoor storage would be recommended.
  7. STABILITY – Generally stable, check the Manufacture Plate to ascertain the Standards/ratings of the Platform. Some lessor quality units could be a little unnerving as they may tend to sway a lot. Remember that these will be susceptible to windy conditions, so be careful using them outside.
  8. ADAPTABILITY – There is not much to say here. The height, and size is fixed, so if it fits the job, all good but if not…you shouldn’t use it.
  9. EASE OF USE – Very easy. Just place it and climb. If the ground is uneven, you should use a unit that has levelling feet of some description. One good advantage to note is that the Fixed height platform always allows good and easy access with 3 points of contact all the way between the ground and the Platform.


Aluminum Mobile Scaffolding

  1. INITIAL COST – As stated above, a Mobile Scaffold system will very likely be more expensive than a Ladder, similar to a Stair or Step Platform, but less expensive than other methods being considered in this article. One must bear in mind that the Mobile Scaffold is a completely different concept than the other Platforms, being a set of components that make up a “Tower”, rather than a one-piece unit. That Tower usually takes time to set up (as discussed later) but can result in a much bigger Platform to work from.
  2. ABILITY TO REACH OBJECTIVE – A Mobile Tower can be built to whatever height is required (provided the System offers enough different component sizes to achieve this capability of incremental Platform heights) but will likely be a fixed length and width. So you can make it up to reach what you require, but in doing so you may require the services of a Qualified Scaffolder (Check Regulatory requirements), and you will need the right number of multiple different component types available.
  3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS – Maintenance requirements are again reasonably minimal. Typically, Mobile Scaffolds require a set number of checks after extended use to ensure components are not being impacted and going out of shape. There will be a few trigger mechanisms and Castors to lubricate, but in general, not much more than that. We should say that to keep good control of the many different Components, really requires a good housekeeping system.
  4. REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS – Manufacture Stickers/Instructions should be checked. The system should comply with a relevant Standard, but it must be noted that the biggest risk of noncompliance is usually in the way the Tower is constructed. Make sure the manufacturer has a comprehensive set of “easy to follow” Instructions covering the multiple different ways you may wish to assemble the Tower. Also, the stage at which a qualified scaffolder needs to be brought in to assemble the Tower should be clearly understood. If good instructions, or a qualified scaffolder are not available, it is suggested that the Scaffold is not used.
  5. TRANSPORT AND DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS – These Scaffolds are not as simple to transport and deploy as other Methods due to the fact that they are made up of multiple components that have to be selected, loaded and correctly secured, transported to the site, and then correctly assembled. Once up of course, they usually have height adjustable Castors that help to take up undulating floors etc. This helps to make them relatively easy to shift around safely, but their bigger overall size can also be a restriction.
  6. STORAGE REQUIRMENTS – If they are to be dismantled after use, Mobile Scaffolds should really have a uitable rack in which to keep the components in a tidy and efficient manner. This allows them to be stored in a much smaller area than the assembled unit would take up.
  7. STABILITY – It is imperative to follow the manufacturers guidelines accurately to ensure the assembled unit is sufficiently stable to meet the appropriate standards. Different situations may call for different components/methods to ensure the inherent stability is not compromised. For example, if the Scaffold Tower needs to be made higher, Outrigger Braces may need to be used. Inferior quality brands may have an unnerving sway. Again, remember that these will be susceptible to windy conditions, so be careful using them outside.
  8. ADAPTABILITY – Very adaptable, thanks to the ability to add/take away components according to the Site requirements. This should always be done to the manufacturers recommended method (which is why we suggest you check the manufacturers instruction material before investing in a system), or under the supervision of a qualified scaffolder.
  9. EASE OF USE – Once it is assembled and levelled, its not hard to use. Wheel it to where you are going, apply the Brakes (you have to go around and apply all 4) then climb the ladder through the hatch. The need to do this does tend to make it difficult if you have to carry items on to the Deck with you to work with.


Adjustable Height Stair or Step Platforms

  1. INITIAL COST – Adjustable Height platforms are not a cheap option. Depending on the size required, and the accessories you want to put with it, it can be anything from double the cost of a Fixed Height Platform, through to being dearer than EWP. However, they can have a lot to offer in the way of advantages over other methods.
  2. ABILITY TO REACH OBJECTIVE – A good Height Adjustable Platform system can be used to reach a great number of different height objects with the same unit. Many different options are available on some Brands such as Cantilever Platforms (sometimes up to 3m (10 feet) Cantilever), Widened end platforms, Right Angle Platforms (projected straight out from the side of the Platform at a right angle), Gates to allow egress off/on the Deck in up to 3 different directions, Safety Fence Systems protecting the user once he has left the Deck etc. Note that a lot of these options are not offered by cheaper Brands, and most cannot be achieved with other methods.
  3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS – Maintenance requirements for adjustable Platforms would vary considerably depending on the design, and the amount of use of moving parts. Whilst some Brands have extremely simple systems that require very little maintenance, other brands may use Pivot points, Sliding faces, locks, Hydraulic systems, Rollers, Gate locks etc. If a particular design has a lot of high wear moving parts (especially things like sliding faces, rope winches etc) be aware that it could be a high maintenance item. Also check out the Manufacturers Instruction materials. There should be a comprehensive guide to what needs to be done to maintain the unit. Although Maintenance of an Adjustable Height Platform will likely be a bigger consideration than that of Ladders, Fixed Height Platforms, or Mobile Scaffolds, its worth noting that the requirements could vary widely between brands, and also that it will mostly be considerably less than EWP solutions.
  4. REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS – Compliance is a little more difficult for Adjustable height Stair and Step Platforms, purely because regulatory Standards have not been developed to fully cover them at this point in time. However, check to ensure that the Manufacturer has made some effort to identify and comply with some relevant Design (Handrail heights etc), Stability and Strength requirement sections of appropriate Standards. Although some Brands may go well beyond the Standards Scope, they should at least align with these basic requirements to give the user peace of mind regarding the safety of the unit.
  5. TRANSPORT AND DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS – There will be a large variety of these platforms, and they will range from being very large, ungainly and difficult to transport, to small, compact and a breeze to shift around. Having said that, being large doesn’t necessarily mean that they are difficult to Transport. Some Brands produce very large Adjustable height Stair Platforms that “fold” down to a very manageable size/shape for transport/storage. Watch this aspect, as conversely, some Brand types may not do this, and consequently may incur considerable cost to get them to your site. Once on site, most units should be reasonably easily deployed. Once again, some Brands also offer rough terrain options which may be useful if your work is not done on a smooth concrete floor.
  6. STORAGE REQUIRMENTS – These units are similar in size to the comparable Fixed Height Platform, although they may be a lot heavier. If Storage is an issue, and you may need to store your unit for extended periods, keep an eye out for the Brands that offer the ability to “fold” down to a smaller size. Some larger units may even be able to be stored on standard Pallet Rack shelving.
  7. STABILITY – As covered above under REGULATORY Requirements, the Adjustable Height Platform should comply with the applicable parts of a reputable Standard. This should include stability. Be aware that some Brands do not seem to place importance on this and may end up with a Platform that whilst “safe” may feel quite unstable at the higher positions. Watch for this as it makes things very uncomfortable for the users. As with most Types of Platforms, remember that these will also be susceptible to windy conditions, so be careful using them outside.
  8. ADAPTABILITY – These units are also very adaptable, thanks to the ability to adjust in height. Although the adjustability is not likely to be as large a range as you get with some other solution Types, these Platforms can be used to safely, efficiently and ergonomically reach a great deal more situations than the Fixed Height versions. Some brands also offer a large range of retrofitting accessories that allow safe reach to many areas that simply cannot be got to efficiently by any other means.
  9. EASE OF USE – This is where the Adjustable height Platform really shines. With excellent access (especially on Stair versions) all the way from the floor to the deck. Depending on the size it may also allow users to carry items up and down, and for individuals to ascend or descend whilst others may still be on the deck. Furthermore, the adjustability allows the user to get the deck set up where he can not only work safely, but also ergonomically. Last but definitely not least, the Adjustable Height Platform should not be moved while personnel are on it. This could be viewed as a negative compared to EWP, but bear in mind that this feature means the user can work off the Adjustable Height Platform as one would off a Scaffold, ie without the need for Fall Arrest systems. This is a major advantage as most will realise, as the users do not have to be trained, or to have emergency lowering systems on standby etc plus it is much more comfortable and efficient to get the work done.


Elevated Work Platforms (EWP)

  1. INITIAL COST – In most cases EWP solutions will be dearer than all others. However, in some cases (eg very small Scissor Decks) they may be a cheaper alternative to an Adjustable height platform.
  2. ABILITY TO REACH OBJECTIVE – EWP is the ultimate when it comes to simply accessing an elevated work area. Of course, this may require different types of EWP to reach different scenarios, but EWP as a whole can be used to reach the vast majority of work situations.
  3. MAINTENANCE REQUIREMENTS – One of the down sides to EWP is the need for specialised mechanical maintenance regimes to ensure the units are safe to use. This can be costly, as well as the fact that there is always a heightened risk of breakdown during use due to the fact that there are so many mechanical systems and moving parts in play. Add to this the need to do in depth 5 and 10 yearly certifications, and the EWP is far and away the most expensive Access solution when it comes to Maintenance.
  4. REGULATORY COMPLIANCE REQUIREMENTS – Compliance is also a much bigger issue with EWP. For a start the remarkable capabilities that these units have is due to clever Engineering, often putting many components in high stress situations. They are, of course, engineered to withstand these situations, but the very nature of this repeated stressing of components calls for stringent regulations to be met to ensure the safety and compliance of the actual unit. But further than that, these amazing units can move people around whilst they are in an elevated position. That opens a whole chapter of safety issues as the occupants/operators themselves are potentially subject to strong forces, likely to put them off balance. So it is compulsory to wear full Harness and Fall protection equipment when utilising EWP. That means all operators and/or occupants must be fully trained in, and work within the constraints of Fall Protection equipment…at all times. Added to that, they must have emergency systems in place to lower them to the ground should an event happen which leaves them stranded, or even suspended above the ground.
  5. TRANSPORT AND DEPLOYMENT REQUIREMENTS – EWP is usually heavy equipment, requiring at the least a heavy trailerised unit to be hauled to site. Some require heavy transport. However, a lot are self-propelled, and so once on site will move around with ease, albeit driven by a trained operator. One thing to note here is that the EWP is usually quite large and has a heavy point loading on the wheels/outriggers. Therefore, care must be taken to ensure the supporting ground/structure is strong/firm enough to safely support that loading. Also, EWP will have some means of propulsion, which usually takes the form of either a Diesel/Petrol Engine, or a deep Cell Battery system. The site must have the necessary equipment/facilities to allow for the refueling/recharging activities when required.
  6. STORAGE REQUIRMENTS – Storage of EWP will usually require a little more room than most other options, purely from the point of view that it is driven into/out of storage, so maneuvering room, and strength of foundation/floor in the storage area must be taken into account. And as per the above comment, they will require refueling, or recharging, so the storage site must have the ability to allow for the equipment/facilities to do this.
  7. STABILITY – All EWP tend to have a lot more basket movement than “ground up” structures, and this is due to the massive Engineering challenges that they have to overcome. So, it is somewhat inherent, and if you are going to use EWP, you really have to accept that it will move and sway a lot. One thing that is imperative is to check the foundations you are on or will likely drive on to whilst elevated. These units have very high point loading, and this can also change dramatically as the unit is slewed around or alters position. In general, EWP are very stable, with some Brands being able to cope well with uneven or rough terrain. But training of operators in all features of operation/stability is absolutely essential as with the heights involved, and the stresses the mechanism is under, the consequence of any failure is likely to quickly become catastrophic.
  8. ADAPTABILITY – Once again, EWP is the ultimate in adapting to difficult elevated working positions. Their ability to cover huge ranges of both height, and in a lot of cases outreach, are second to none. However, it is simply access to work from within the confines of the EWP cage as EWP users must wear Fall protection equipment and cannot (or should not) use the EWP as egress on to an elevated surface.
  9. EASE OF USE – EWP is more complex than other solutions to operate. One must be trained, know how to deal with mechanical systems, and also have a current certificate for using Fall Arrest equipment. The Fall Arrest equipment itself needs to be fit for purpose and have been checked/certified as fit for purpose. Items can be taken up to the work face in the cage, but you need to be able to get these into the cage safely first, and then climb in yourself with the harness equipment already fitted. Sometimes this will be relatively easy, with the cage able to rest on the ground level, but at other times (eg with Scissor lifts) the operator will need to scale a short vertical ladder before climbing onto the deck. Not the easiest access. One further point. If two or more occupants are working from a cage at height, and one needs to go back to ground level for any reason, all must go, unlike Stair/Step Platforms where one user can leave the others working while they descend the stairs.


This is but a brief overview of some of the different Access Problem Solutions that will likely be available to you. There will be others that are not mentioned, and there could well be exceptions to the examples and reasonings given above. But in general, we trust we have given you an accurate insight into this complex task of selecting the right Access solution for your particular needs. If you would like further help, or have any particular questions, feel free to contact the writer, or any of the team here at Equiptec to discuss your situation. Equiptec have been working with Access challenges for 30 years now, so we look forward (with lots of keen interest) to hearing from you.

Get in touch

Are you ready to own the high ground?

Stay in touch

For the latest in adjustable height platforms, innovative new products and Equiptec news, subscribe to our mailing list.