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  • Writer's pictureHiReach Training

Warning! Don't get catapulted out of a boom lift

Updated: Jun 3

As well as being more manoeuvrable and having a higher reach, boom lifts can also be one of the most dangerous EWP to use.

Getting catapulted out of a boom lift is something that can happen very easily and is more common than you might think - so make sure you know how to minimise the risk of being catapulted.

Similar to a trebuchet, which features a large wooden frame with a long throwing arm and a counterweight at the opposite end, boom lifts have a long boom arm and the weight of the machine at the opposite end.

This means small movements of the wheels can lead to large movements of the basket, and result in the catapult effect. The stored energy travels through the boom to the platform, and causes a whiplash effect, ejecting anyone or anything, out of the basket - as you can see from this video.

The catapult effect can cause severe injuries or death to platform occupants, even if they are not ejected out of the basket.

Platform occupants can also fall out of the basket to the ground, or hit overhead obstructions, and anyone in the vicinity is in danger of people or objects falling out of the boom lift.

REMEMBER: you can be catapulted from a boom lift when the boom is extended OR when you are driving in a stowed position - like in the video!

What causes the catapult effect in a boom lift?

Any impact to the boom lift's superstructure will cause the catapult whiplash effect.

1. Poor ground conditions / stability of the terrain

Small movements of the wheels can lead to large movements of the basket, so it is critical to make sure ground conditions are even and stable, and the support surface has the capacity to take the weight of the boom lift and its load.

2. Obstacles around the boom lift or objects falling or striking the boom lift

If the platform is caught up, or snagged, it can feel like there is no boom movement, but when this happens wheels or outriggers can be lifted off the ground. When the snag is released, the wheels or outriggers hit the ground, and the inertia force creates a whiplash.

How to minimise the risk of being catapulted out of a boom lift

You can prevent being catapulted out of a boom lift if the work at height is properly planned and has adequate risk control measures in place.


1. ALWAYS do a thorough site assessment

A site risk assessment and rescue plan must be in place and fully understood by all those involved in the task - before work begins

2. ALWAYS do a pre start check

Make sure you always do a pre start check, every time you use a boom lift, and if there is anything unsafe, isolate, tag and report it to the relevant person.

3. ALWAYS do the right training for the EWP you are using

Remember boom lifts over 11m require a High Risk Licence WP, where as boom lifts under 11m need RIIHAN301E - Operate elevating work platform or EWPA Yellow Card training.

And if you are working at height, in any type of EWP you should also have RIIWHS204E - Work safely at heights.

Remember different makes and models can have very different controls, so make sure you know how to use the one on the job - ask for a familiarisation when the machine gets delivered.


1. ALWAYS plan and walk the route

Look out for obstructions, edges, voids and any hidden hazards.

2. ALWAYS check the ground conditions

Make sure ground conditions are even and stable, and the support surface has the capacity to take the weight of the boom lift and its load. Look out for ramps or sloping ground, trenches or recent excavation, underground services or pipes, manholes or hatches which could affect the firmness and evenness of the ground.

3. ALWAYS maintain an adequate exclusion zone

Ensure the boom lift is segregated from other work areas, traffic and pedestrians.


1. ALWAYS use a harness and lanyard

Always use a full body harness, and fall restraint lanyard adjusted as short as possible when operating a boom lift.

2. ALWAYS attach the lanyard to the designated anchor point

The lanyard should be clipped only to the designated anchor point, not to the handrail or any other part of the boom lift.

3. NEVER unclip from the anchor point until exiting at ground level

Don't get out of the boom when it is at height or extended, or unclip the lanyard, until you are exiting the boom lift at ground level.

4. CONTINUOUSLY observe around the boom lift

This means continuously look around when you are operating a boom lift - at eye level, above eye level, and at ground level. Keep observing ground conditions during operation, as they can change unexpectedly.

5. ALWAYS use a spotter

A spotter can often see things which are obscured from the view of the basket, and more easily identify oncoming hazards

6. NEVER let heavy objects fall from the platform

Heavy objects falling from the basket can change the weight distribution and cause a catapult effect, so make sure you secure tool boxes or any other objects in the basket.

7. NEVER let other objects or machinery strike the boom lift

A strike to the boom lift will exert a force on the superstructure and cause a whiplash effect.

This information about the catapult effect on boom lifts is only a small part of understanding how to operate a boom lift safely. To learn more read our article - 6 critical things you need to know before operating a boom lift, or get the right training:

Operate EWP (for booms under 11m)

EWP Boom over 11m (for booms over 11m)

Not sure what training you need? Call us on 1300 661 400 or read our article Which EWP licence do I need? 


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