Aerial work platforms are now so common on job sites; it may be easy to forget that the operation of these complex machines requires skill and experience. While there may not be a legal qualification required to rent or own a work platform, they should only be operated by those who are properly trained and certified.
It’s important to remember that proper work platform training is crucial to job site safety. Also, training should satisfy the standards for your particular region and come from a reputable source, such as the International Powered Access Federation or its U.S. subsidiary, American Work Platform Training. Each and every company has a responsibility to its customers and employees to create the safest work environment possible, and high-quality training must be part of the effort.
There are several reasons a company and its operators should be properly trained. They ring true whether a company owns or rents a work platform. Renting can pose unique challenges, as operators may not be familiar with the equipment they’re renting. Lack of experience with an aerial platform can also lead to injuries on the job site. For platform owners, improper operation can create undue stress on the equipment that will shorten its life.
Untrained aerial work platform operators often make similar mistakes. For example, operators might assume that they know how to use one machine well and that they will be adept at using other models. In fact, operators should be familiar with each machine they operate. This will help avoid problems that could occur when adjusting a platform’s location or when driving the machine around the job site.
Also, untrained operators might fail to make the necessary visual inspections to a platform or job site environment, or may not carry out a proper risk assessment that could prevent errors. For example, an operator may fail to notice building overhangs, overhead cables or ground obstructions in the work platform’s path, which can lead to accidents. Or an operator that fails to inspect a machine may not notice it’s in need of critical maintenance. Proper training can prevent these risky behaviors.
Everyone that uses a work platform should have knowledge of the machine and should understand the parameters of the platform itself. This will prevent accidents or damage to the equipment when using, say, extension decks, which are featured on a number of our Skyjack scissor platforms.
Now some of you may be thinking, “I’ve operated aerial work platforms for years. I don’t need to be trained on a piece of equipment I’m so familiar with.” In fact, proper training can instill good habits, correct bad habits, and highlight information and skills that trainees may not have obtained through use of the equipment alone. An error-free operating record won’t prevent future mishaps—safe operation and good practices will.
SAFETY TRAINING IS AFFORDABLE
Fortunately, certified work platform training isn’t very expensive. The PAL Card training program, overseen by IPAF and AWPT, only costs a few hundred dollars. IPAF is a not-for-profit organization and is tasked with standardizing and spreading safe habits throughout the industry, so you can be assured that the information is up to date and accurate—the training is designed by the industry, for the industry.
Several platform companies, including Skyjack, contribute information to these groups, so the training is applicable to many brands. Accredited and authorized training centers offer the training, rather than IPAF or AWPT themselves. Quality training is assured though, as the independently-run programs are fully-audited by these groups. And of course, it’s always best to be trained by the experts.
Skyjack, for example, has AWPT-accredited training centers in St. Charles, Ill., and Guelph, Canada. Our AWPT Operator training program is aligned with IPAF and is the only safety training program certified to be in compliance with the ISO Standard 18878 for Mobile Elevating Platforms—Operator Training. We also have the Skyjack Operator Training Program, taught by certified instructors. These courses give trainees the tools and knowledge they need to become safe and successful platform operators.
As for the certification process, it only takes a day or two and trained operators can take their certification with them from company to company or job site to job site. Typically, certification involves an instructional session and then a practical testing session. Separate courses exist for different machines and classes of licenses.
IPAF and AWTP are even beginning to offer e-learning coursework that delivers the theory portion of training, making it more convenient than ever before. E-learning doesn’t fully replace hands-on training, since practical evaluation would still be required, but it does take training to places it hasn’t been before, enabling more and more people to learn about safe and effective platform operation.
For example, IPAF successfully tested a new e-learning module as part of its established AWPT training program for U.S. operators. After being developed and tested with Chicago-based IPAF member NES Rentals, the company went on to certify most of its 1,040 employees with PAL cards using the new method.
As a company owner, it may be tempting to leave this certification to employees, but the company overseeing a job site is responsible for safety and efficiency, not its individual employees. To ensure both your workers and company are beyond reproach, it’s best to make sure everyone on the job site is fully trained, as this will prevent accidents and undue expense. Besides, you wouldn’t want your company’s valuable equipment left to chance with untrained operators.
And remember, just because your company may not own a machine doesn’t mean your operators shouldn’t know how to use it properly. Even when renting, proper training will help ensure there are no accidents on the job site and that the machine doesn’t break from misuse. Be sure that the rental company is providing the machine’s manuals and that you are fully familiar with the unit’s operating characteristics.
Aerial work platforms make construction work much more efficient. But their operation is not to be taken lightly, whether when operating a company-owned machine or using a rental. Proper training from accredited IPAF/AWTP training centers delivers information that is crucial to both the mechanical integrity of the machine and the overall safety of everyone on the job site.