Delivering safety

15 April 2008

Skyjack has become one of the first manufacturers to offer AWPT certified operator training in North

Skyjack has become one of the first manufacturers to offer AWPT certified operator training in North America.

Everyone agrees that operators of aerial work platforms need to be trained. It is more difficult, however, to agree on what the training should actually consist of, and – even more so – how best to deliver it.

And it's important, because most industry specialists reckon that the current training infrastructure is reaching a small number of users. Jeff Stachowiak, training director at Sunbelt Rentals, tells ALH that “Even though we' re running crazy doing operator training, the whole industry is probably hitting maybe one fifth of users, maybe even less, perhaps 10%. A large number of people are not getting training.”

There are hundreds of thousands of platform users in North America, and making the problem of reaching them even more problematic is the rising number of Spanish–speaking aerial platform users, and the lack of Spanish language training.

JLG's director of training, Mike Popovich, estimates that as many as 40% – a very rough and ready estimate – of US platform users are Spanish speaking. “Operator training for Spanish–speaking workers is pretty ad hoc,” he says. “There aren't a lot of good materials available.” (It's a gap that JLG is trying to plug, with the launch of a new Spanish train–the–trainer program – see sidebar story).

The question is: Why is operator training being missed out by so many users? As is often the case, it seems to be a mixture of factors, including costs, regulations and simple ignorance.

Take the time

According to Tony Groat, the rental veteran and ex–NES Rentals executive and newly appointed North American membership development director at Aerial Work Platform Training (AWPT), the North American training subsidiary of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), one of the big problems is that many users see it simply as a work tool. “Dominant users are trades – painters, plumbers – and an AWP is nothing short of a tool. Therein lies the dilemma, (getting them to commit to) an eight–hour training day when they only use it for three hours. As a society, we' re impatient. When it comes to training, we want an instant pill, and it can't be done.”

Convincing employers and the self–employed that they should spend money on training, and dedicate a day to it, is difficult, says Groat. Employers have an obligation to provide training, but users are reluctant to pay, or expect it at no cost. He says the best way is to convince employers that the investment offers a long term benefit. “How can eight hours over a five–year period be considered too much?” he says.

For Stachowiak, another obstacle is the variation on machine controls and operations. “There are unique differences between manufacturers’ models,” he says. “It drives people like me nuts. That's the biggest challenge we have.” It makes it difficult to cover all the different facets of different machines in an affordable, oneday program.

Both Groat and Stachowiak agree that training in the past has been undervalued. “I think we' vedone ourselves a disservice because we' ve allowed lesser training to be an option, rather than give them no training,” says Groat. “I encourage charging a fair amount of money,” says Stackowiak. “If they pay, they see value in it.”

Getting people to pay for training is particularly difficult when ANSI standards stipulate that training is required, but do not clearly define what that training should be. This has led, in practice, to a wide range of different types of training, some of high quality and with good materials, and others less so. Acceptable trainer to trainee ratios of between 1 to 5 and 1 to 10 seem to be generally recognized, and training should probably take at least half a day, with both classroom and practical hands–on sessions.

“If you want training,” says Stachowiak, “you should expect at least a four– to five–hour class, and hands–on, with hands–on being the more important part of the class.”

Program options

With the arrival of AWPT on the scene, an interesting question is raised: what is the best mechanism for the delivery of training? AWPT wants to replicate what it's parent company, IPAF, has done successfully in Europe, and in particular the UK, where its training scheme has become the accepted industry standard. (In the debate, it is worth remembering that IPAF is not a self–appointed guardian of safety, it is an organization that represents the interests of its members, who are aerial platform manufacturers, dealers, rental companies and end users.)

AWPT has developed a dedicated aerial work platform training program that is delivered by certified, audited independent training centers and trainers. Trainees receive a fraud–protected PAL card (Powered Access Licence) from IPAF's central secretariat. (In North America the PAL card is called a Powered Access Licensed–Registration.)

AWPT's Groat says its training is the best “because it has a defined process and procedures for all aspects of training – the trainee, the trainer, the training facilities, the ratio of students and trainer. An AWPT course is the same no matter where you go.”

Jeff Stachowiak agrees, “I think that AWPT is the route to go, ultimately. A program that is consistent around the whole country.”

Aerial platform manufacturers, who are required to develop training materials and who often run their own training programs, have differing views on this.

Mike Popovich at JLG – which offers train the trainer and operator training classes – says he thinks highly of AWPT and welcomes its presence in North America, but does not necessarily view it as the first choice to establish a national training scheme for the US.

His own preference is for a process similar to what happened with telehandler training several years ago, when the Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) developed telehandler operator training materials in response to OSHA's focus on handler accidents. These materials have since become established as a kind of national “standard” and were also used by JLG as a model for its AWP training program.

“I think highly of AWPT,” says Popovich. “But I would say that AEM is better equipped to drive AWP training across the country. That doesn't mean that AWPT can't exist. But setting the standard for training – that needs to come from AEM and the manufacturers. I would always go to AEM before anyone else. They have a good track record.”

One other issue, according to Popovich, is the added cost of having a third–party organization administer and process the PAL cards. “It's a question of cost. It's a situation where you add a third party managing records. Right now, it's not required [by ANSI or OSHA], and is not perceived as being of value,” he says.

That said, JLG has itself become one of the first AWPT training centers, one of seven in North America, with Skyjack and Haulotte training locations also certified.

Genie Industries also offers its own train the trainer and operator training programs, and prefers to deliver training for the time being through its own efforts rather than join up with AWPT.

The company is about to launch an online training system for its dealers and major accounts which Luke Webber, Genie's telehandler product manager who has managed the online training project, says will potentially reach many thousands of platform users. Genie has between 3,000 and 5,000 dealer and major account locations in North America who will be able to offer the online training to their customers.

“I don't think there is anything wrong with AWPT,” he tells ALH. “But I would want people to understand that AWPT isn't the sole source of training.” The online training launch, meanwhile, is an important event for the company – see our special report on page 34.

As regards to any AEM involvement, Webber says Genie definitely supports AEM's telehandler training materials and adds that “we wouldn't see a problem with Genie supporting a similar AEM initiative on AWP training.”

So, would AEM be interested in developing AWP training materials? AEM's Dan Moss, assistant director of standards and safety services, in a statement to ALH, says its members are strong advocates of safety education and training, and that the organization already had a safety manual for aerial platforms. He adds, “There has not been discussion of additional materials at this time, but that doesn't preclude any future exploration.”

Skyjack in Canada takes a positive view on AWPT. Brad Boehler, Skyjack's director of product safety and recently appointed chair of the ANSI A92.6 subcommittee, writing in this issue of ALH (see Opinion piece, page 36), acknowledges the excellence of some training programs offered by manufacturers and other training entities, “but the AWPT program includes accreditation by an independent industry organization that ensures that each training center meets stringent minimum standards.”

He says concerns that AWPT is trying to impose its system are not the point, and he sees AWPT as “an effort to hold all training up to a higher standard.” He thinks this kind of industry–led initiative will reduce the risk of outside authorities imposing a less appropriate program in the future.

He thinks that, currently, neither AEM or AWPT have adequate applicable membership in North America to be viewed as a true representative of the aerial industry. “However, I believe that AWPT is a more appropriate industry entity to work with as they have the ability to have dealers, owners, and users as members, which is a segment that will be completely missed with AEM and its manufacturers.” He also sees AWPT's links with the Scaffold Indusry Association (SIA) – SIA officially endorses AWPT training – as beneficial.

Industry acceptance

Of course, OSHA is unlikely to endorse one training scheme over another. The case of the crane industry is different, with OSHA officially recognizing a body – the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO) – that carries out independent testing and certification of operators, not one that actually carries out training.

For AWPT's Tony Groat, the key is to generate interest in the AWPT program, interest that may eventually lead to general industry acceptance. “Rather than create multiple training programs, why not standardize on one?” That will take years, he acknowledges, and will require a combination of general marketing; working with other associations (such as the ARA and SIA, with whom it already has a training agreement); making contacts with trade associations representing key subcontractor groups; and talking to unions for the major trades.

“The first step is awareness of the program itself,” he says. “I was senior vice present for the fifth largest rental company in the states, and I didn't know who AWPT was.”

Whether it's AWPT, AEM or whoever that makes the running, the end result is the important thing: getting more people trained on aerial platforms. No disagreement there.

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