“Safety is an attitude” is more than just an expression to Dennis de la Mata, Training and Safety Officer of Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Local 476 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; “it’s a way of life.” And he comes by this feeling through experience. Said de la Mata; “a few years ago I had an accident where 800-pounds of truss pieces fell on me. I was hospitalized just under a month and spent almost 2 years in rehab. During that time, I replayed that accident time after time in my head and came to the same conclusion each time – it could have been prevented through proper training. From that moment on, I decided to do everything I could to make our workplace safer.”

A 30-year union member who has worked on films such as the Blues Brothers, Backdraft, Batman, Groundhog Day and many others, de la Mata became the union’s Training & Safety Officer following his recovery and dedicated himself to finding new and better ways to help the members of his union receive the best possible training in areas that affect their jobs. The 500 active members of the union include people in a wide variety of crafts from electricians and carpenters, to grips, props and many others. Each position may require training in a number of areas and de la Mata is working to develop or locate sources for proper training programs in each.

Recently the union completed construction of a state-of-the-art training center that was designed to meet the varied needs of its members. The center features a huge classroom with audio and video capabilities and incorporates an I-beam mounted on steel columns in the middle of the training area where de la Mata can teach fall protection safety and other programs.

Following a review of the member’s training needs, de la Mata found that a great many of them require training in performing work overhead. Because of their versatility, aerial work platforms like scissor lifts and telescoping boom lifts are often used to reach the overhead areas because they are safer, more productive, and can be used in a variety of applications. To date, over 40% of Local 476 members have undergone some form of training in the use of aerials. In the past however, the amount and quality of the aerial platform training received varied widely and de la Mata felt that a more thorough and comprehensive training program was needed.

Recently de la Mata attended the Construction Safety Council show in Rosemont, Illinois where Gary Riley of American Work Platform Training (AWPT) presented a 2-hour program on aerial work platform (AWP) safety. AWPT is the North American subsidiary of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF). During this presentation Riley provided an overview of the proper use, setup and maintenance of AWPs and identified additional hazards that must be considered when AWPs are used. He also invited interested attendees to an 8-hour session the following day that provided supervisors, safety managers and those responsible for training with an in-depth look at AWPs to enable them to know if the aerial lifts being operated are being used and maintained properly.

De la Mata attended the additional session and was so impressed with what he learned from Riley that he was convinced that the aerial work platform safety training program offered by AWPT was the most comprehensive one available and that the members of the Studio Mechanics Union would benefit from the intense training offered.

AWPT training programs are based on the successful ISO-certified programs developed by leading industry professionals and IPAF. All AWPT training programs are ‘North Americanized’ however to meet the requirements of current ANSI and CSA standards. The programs are reviewed annually to assure compliance with any changes in legislations, regulations, or additions/deletions/improvements requested by the IPAF programs committee during the year.

Upon successful completion of a training program, AWPT issues a PAL Card (Powered Access Licensed-Registration) to all program graduates that denote the type of aerial platform the person has been trained to operate. Knowing who on a site has been trained to operate a particular device could prove invaluable when staffing a project.

Following the session, de la Mata told Riley that he wanted all of his union members that needed aerial platform training to go through the AWPT program and obtain a PAL Card. Although over 200 union members had previously gone through other aerial platform training programs, de la Mata felt that the AWPT program was far superior to programs that they had used in the past and wanted other union members to experience what he went through.

De la Mata learned that NES Rentals in nearby Des Plaines, Illinois was an approved AWPT Training Center and contacted them to discuss an ongoing relationship where all members of the Studio Mechanics Union Local 476 that needed aerial platform safety training could receive training and their PAL Card through NES. A few months ago de la Mata and a group of Local 476 members attended their first AWPT training session. “ It was an 8-hour program that included both hands-on and classroom sessions. And it was intense,” said de la Mata. “After years of experience using them, we thought we knew everything about operating a lift, but we learned a lot of things in the AWPT program that we didn’t know. We can take that back to our jobs and help make it a safer place to work. It was well worth the time,” he added.

To date, over 30 Studio Mechanics Union members have received their PAL Cards through NES Rentals. “Our goal is to have over 200 members trained within the next 2 years,” said de la Mata. “And if we find more people who need training in the safe operation of aerials, we’ll train them too,” he added.

Currently, de la Mata is working towards obtaining his AWPT Instructor Card so that he can more closely assist local Mechanics Union members in their quest of a PAL card. And because of his experience with the AWPT program, de la Mata is working to introduce the program and the PAL Card on a greater scale throughout the union. In addition, under OSHA guidelines he is also putting together an OSHA 10-hour Outreach Program that is tailored specifically towards the studio environment.