Take it slow: educate your staff with training

By Gary Riley07 March 2008

This particular picture was taken by a mechanic visiting a job site. As you can see, the operator is

This particular picture was taken by a mechanic visiting a job site. As you can see, the operator is close to energized power lines. If you want to know how your equipment is used, put a camera in the

A thorough training program that is designed to really educate the end user is not a quick presentation briefing but a full review of hazards and risks associated with multiple types of equipment they will be using.

You're wasting a customer's (not to mention the end user's) time if you think you can get 20 men gathered around a piece of equipment or by showing a video and then 75 minutes later chowing on pizza believing that you have properly trained personnel on aerial work platforms. These are highly advanced electrical over hydraulic over mechanical industrialized pieces of equipment that demand more respect than they are getting. Time is needed to properly educate the end user.

An example of what I call “crash” course training is likely closer to familiarization with a video than what safety professionals would call proper and/or adequate training. What I know to be an ineffective type of course consists of a 10 to 20 minute VHS tape, some form of documentation usually with a sign-in sheet, and a brief hands-on proficiency demonstration. This type of program is typically what everyone focuses on in training – not the hazards which get the operators into trouble.

The purpose of training is not to just show a video and provide proof that the student saw it but to educate the user to become a qualified operator. ANSI defines training as “instruction to enable the trainee to become a qualified person regarding the task to be performed, including knowledge regarding potential hazards.” But what is qualified? Is it the ability to drive and steer a machine (everyone seems to think that once you have driven one, you've drove them all)? Or is it that all mighty word “certified” that once deemed you are certified, due you truly possess all the knowledge that is required? I don't think so. When referring to familiarization type of training, to be certified does not necessarily constitute that a trainee is qualified to operate the machinery but it does recognize that a student was in attendance and completed the program to the instructor's criteria.

As a good start to a highly complex and regimented process, I suggest three important points – not all inclusive but a good fundamental starting point – for the end users pursuit to become a qualified and truly certified operator.

Point 1:

Proficiency of operator. There is more to handson proficiency than driving and steering the machine. There are specific machine attributes that the operator must know to be safer and more efficient with the models and products he is using. What I feel makes the operator truly proficient is when he respects the machines enough to realize the differences from one machine to the next.

Let's consider the “Kleenex” effect, which is the generic term that people use for same types of products but have different attributes. For example, let's assume there are three aerials on a job site. Product A is an 80 foot articulating boom that has no extendable axles; Product A is an 80 foot telescopic boom that has two extendable axles; and Product C is a 126 foot telescopic boom only has one extendable axle.

In this particular dilemma, the operator wants to go up 30 feet in the 80 foot telescopic boom with the axles retracted since the 80 foot articulating boom will go up with no extendable axles. Adding further comparison on site, the 126 foot telescopic boom requires only the one axle to be extended to fully elevate.

The operator seems to think there will be no harm in only partially elevating with the axles retracted, thinking more along the lines of cranes with multiple load charts on rubber outriggers. A proficient operator should ask questions every time he gets on the machine.

Point 2:

Job-site assessment discussion. The primary cause of accidents is failing to truly understand job-site hazards. Holes, drop-off, overhead obstructions and other moving equipment, etc., are all listed in the ANSI/SIA manual of responsibilities on the machine and are not taken seriously enough. In these “crash” courses, the hazards are represented by what I call “The Toons of Hazard.”

They typically draw laughter from the trainees, which is exactly what they think of the hazards. Avoid comedy when displaying tragic events. Take the subject matter seriously when discussing job site risks and hazards and let your students know the risks are real – not a laughing stock episode. During the hands-on training portion, instructors should make sure to point out any potential hazards, such as the ones listed above.

Point 3:

Understanding the machines' limitations: “Operators must use machines on a firm level surface.” There is not a lot of lateral flexibility in the words “firm level” and yet we see every day operators using equipment in an elevated position exposing themselves to a potentially hazardous risk to tip-over.

An uneducated operator could just as easily tip a machine at 30% of its overall height depending on how it is positioned. Even an audible alarm sounding at the machines pre-determined slope or grade may not shut down all functions and thus the operator will continue to use the aerial platform. During instruction time, be sure to point out all levels of grade, and focus strongly on how a machine performs on slopes and inclines, and the risks that come with them.

The points can go and so they should. I truly believe that aerial work platforms are a much safer way of working at heights as compared to scaffolds and ladders but even these units require proper and adequate training.


Don't waste the trainees' time. A proper training program should last for at least a minimum of four hours. This time should be spent in a classroom setting with a qualified instructor discussing the machines. And then, additional time should be spent with hands-on demonstrations for each student. A classroom size, with a minimum of four hours, should ideally have 10 to 15 students so each can have time spent with instructors and the machines being trained on.

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