Learn from aviation safety culture says Studdert

30 March 2012

Gary Riley of AWPT (standing) during his presentation at the 2012 IPAF Summit.

Gary Riley of AWPT (standing) during his presentation at the 2012 IPAF Summit.

More than 200 delegates at the IPAF Summit in Rome, Italy, heard NES Rentals chief executive officer Andy Studdert argue that the aerial platform industry needs to adopt a safety culture similar to that of aviation.

Other speakers included IPAF's Chris Wraith, who urged more IPAF members to participate in the recently created accident reporting scheme. Nationwide Access's Peter Douglas argued that participation in the scheme should actually be mandatory for IPAF members, a move as yet considered a step too far by IPAF.

Mr Studdert, drawing on his experience of the airline industry while chief operating officer of United Airlines - a post he held during 9/11 - said the access industry could learn much from aviation and in particular is reliance of standard, repeatable safety processes - such as the first officer doing a walk-round inspection of the plane before each flight.

"Having well-understood operation procedures that are repeatable will make you a more efficient, safe company", said Mr Studdert.

Another key element of safety practice he urged on the access industry was a culture of intervention, which in aviation means that any member of staff - from flight attendants to ground maintenance crew- has the power to stop a flight if they had identified a safety concern.

The final element was to have a crisis preparation plan, with staff knowing exactly what to do if there was a serious incident.

Mr Studdert said he had instigated these procedures at NES when he arrived and following incidents such as one in 2004 when an NES platform had hit a bridge while being transported. On that occasion he had halted all operations for two days and called all staff to an emergency meeting at the headquarters. Fatalities had been avoided, but Mr Studdert said he told his staff that he was "tired of being lucky".

Part of the new culture has means improved equipment maintenance, ensuring that all machines are maintained according to manufacturer guidelines. He said this offered both safety and commercial benefits, with used equipment prices now "20% higher" than its competitors. He said the company's insurance premiums were 75% lower than before.

NES has made many of its safety related materials - including its branch auditing procedures - freely available from its website (www.nesrentals.com). "Take the audit checklist and the crisis plan and see if you can learn anything from what we've got", said Mr Studdert, "See if you can be a bit better."

A key theme of the conference was how to analyse and learn from previous accidents, following on from the launch earlier this year of IPAF's accident recording system. Under the initiative, IPAF members in the UK are being encouraged to register all accidents, while members outside the UK are being asked to report fatal accidents.

Chris Wraith, IPAF's technical officer, said understanding why accidents happened was key to changing risky behaviours in the field. However, while around 35 companies had registered with the system, he reported that the numbers actually reporting incidents was still small, and none of the roughly four fatalities worldwide that IPAF knows about so far this year have been reported on the system.

"We have a system here, but it needs your help to help us save lives", said Mr Wraith, "Every journey starts with a single step. Start your journey now, log on, and start registering accidents."

The final speaker of the day, Peter Douglas, executive director of operations at Nationwide Platforms - the UK's largest renter of platforms - argued strongly that accident reporting should be made mandatory for IPAF members and said the accident reporting initiative was a key one for IPAF and that, in his mind, "if IPAF was going to have an initiative, this was it.

"In my view, accident reporting should be a mandatory condition of IPAF membership. Is your company responsible? Does your company want to make the industry safety? If yes, then get on the website. If the answer to either question is no, then my view is that they shouldn't be a member."

As well as arguing for mandatory reporting of accident - which is not IPAF's policy - Mr Douglas said that near misses as well as accidents should be reported because near misses indicate the most common risky behaviours. Reduce the mass of near misses and minor accident and you will inevitably reduce the number of more serious or fatal accidents, he said.

Mr Douglas said Nationwide had a policy of recording and analysing all near misses or actual accidents at the company, and of providing regular feedback to its employees. At the summit he also revealed accident statistics at Nationwide over the past three years.

In perhaps the most entertaining presentation of the Summit, training instructor Gary Riley of AWPT - IPAF's US subsidiary - demonstrated graphically the difference between showing and learning by having three members of the audience try to solve a small mechanical puzzle on stage having been shown how to do so.

Their failure to complete the puzzle was a vivid illustration of Mr Riley's point, that a simple demonstration of how to safely operate aerial platforms will not impart real knowledge, and that proficiency needs to demonstrated by trainees.

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