Aerial equipment specialists offer best practices to propagate the safe use of aerial work platforms among the rental industry.

Would you hand the keys of a new Ford F150 pick-up to a student driver who had only been familiarized with where the gas and brake pedals were located in the vehicle? Probably not. Yet that practice still happens far too often when rental customers take the controls of a lift they are neither familiarized with nor trained to operate.

“Familiarization is not training, and as a consequence, not surprisingly, most accidents are caused by operator error rather than equipment failure,” says Ebbe Christensen, president & CEO of Skako Lift, maker of ReachMaster AWPs.

Today's aerial work platforms afford safer, more efficient and convenient work at height solutions than their predecessors — ladders and scaffolding. Still, working at height is inherently dangerous and should be revered as such with a strong focus on safety. Though today's aerial work platform manufacturers strive to make safe equipment and work in partnership with their customers, the equipment owners and rental companies, to ensure its safe use, training is essential. And to supplement proper training, there is a wealth of technical guidance available for free download at www.awpt.org and www.ipaf.org.

“Aerials are a very safe way to do work at height, but training is essential,” says Tim Whiteman, International Powered Access Federation CEO. “Following best practice will go a long way in keeping the aerial industry safe.”

RER talked to a broad spectrum of aerial equipment makers, rental companies, fall protection specialists, industry publications and leaders of AWP organizations who are working tirelessly to promote safety to a broader audience. Following are 20 tips to operating a rental business in an AWP safety culture.

1. Read the manual.

Manufacturers provide operator's manuals to be used as a vital tool to safe use and operation of the aerial work platform. Considered an integral part of the machine, these manuals should always be kept in good condition and stored on board, allowing operators easy access. The operator's manual contains all the necessary safety information unique to that particular manufacturer's model of AWP.

“Fluency with the information in the operation manual will educate and make you aware of any unit-specific requirement for the inspection, maintenance, use application and operation of the aerial platform,” says Tony Groat, executive vice president of American Work Platform Training, who recommends making the manufacturer's operation manual a critical tool for your employees and customers.

“While I believe, like everyone else, in training, no matter how much training or familiarization you get you have to read the operator's manual for the lift you will be operating,” says Jeff Stachowiak, director of safety training for Sunbelt Rentals. “You cannot even do a pre-start inspection without reading and following the operator's manual. Every lift is different.”

2. Always complete a pre-start inspection.

A thorough, pre-start inspection should be conducted before the start of work each day and at every new shift change. This includes inspecting the machine top to bottom and all around; a function test to make sure both operating and emergency controls are functioning properly; a check of safety devices and personal protective devices; a check of air, hydraulic and fuel system leaks; cables and wiring harnesses; loose or missing parts; tires and wheels; placards, warnings, control markings and operating manuals; outriggers and stabilizers; guardrail system; any items specified by the manufacturer; as well as inspecting the jobsite for any new hazards or changes that may have occurred since the last time the AWP was operating.

Operator's manuals include a list of pre-operation inspection items and function tests that should be performed on the aerial work platform before each use. “This pre-delivery inspection is designed to discover if anything is apparently wrong with the machine before it is put into service,” says Scott Owyen, training manager for Terex AWP. “If damage or any variation from factory-delivered condition is discovered, the machine must be tagged and removed from service.”

3.Training and familiarization — know the difference.

As defined in the ANSI A92 standards, rental companies — which are considered dealers — are responsible for providing AWP training and familiarization to employees and to offer training and provide familiarization of the lift to the customer upon delivery or sale. Familiarization is defined as providing information on the specific AWP model regarding the control functions and safety devices to a qualified person or operator who controls the movement of the AWP prior to use. Training is instruction to enable the trainee to become a qualified person regarding the task to be performed, including knowledge of potential hazards. Training includes both formal classroom instruction as well as hands-on practical instruction to demonstrate proficiency.

“Familiarization without proper AWP training is not acceptable, nor is training without being familiarized on the specific AWP to be used,” says Whiteman. “Operators must be trained and familiarized before they can be authorized to operate an AWP.”

Training and familiarization requirements are designed to keep the operator and those around the aerial work platform safe. “When an operator has received proper training and familiarization on the specific model of aerial platform he or she is operating and follows the five principles of safe machine operation: avoid hazardous situations; always perform a pre-operation inspection; always perform function tests; always perform a workplace inspection; and only use the machine as it was intended, they can safely perform the work required and prevent these types of accidents,” explains Terex AWP's Owyen.

For further reference as to what differentiates general training and familiarization, download a copy of the “Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment,” for free at: http://www.awpt.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/us/AWP_BPG_2010.pdf.

4. Don't drop and run.

A rental customer may have operated a scissorlift many times before, but not the specific make and model delivered to the jobsite this time. It is the responsibility of the rental company to familiarize the customer with the AWP upon delivery.

“It would be foolish for me to assume my customers know every aspect and all the safety features of all those units,” says Metrolift safety director Nathan McDougall. “We refuse to ‘drop and run’ with a piece of equipment without going over it with the customers first. Obviously this starts with our drivers but it doesn't end there. If the customer is unavailable at the time of delivery we will have a territory manager meet them when they get to the job to go over the lift. A well informed operator will hopefully be a safe operator!”

5. Train every employee.

It's not just the employees behind the counter, in the yard and making the deliveries who need to be properly trained on the safe use of aerial work platforms. Managers and supervisors need training so that they understand the limitations of the equipment and its proper and safe use. The safety culture within a company starts at the top with the right attitude and deference from management.

“From the president to the manager, and finally to the end user, safe practices and uses must be promoted and performed by everyone involved,” says Access Lift & Handlers editor Lindsey Anderson. “That way, an entire safety culture is shaped and everyone feels included and responsible.”

AWPT recently launched its one-day AWP training course aimed at enabling supervisors and managers to prepare for and safely coordinate various types of AWPs on site. Though the course does not qualify attendees to operate AWPs, it provides important basic information about planning, selecting and preparing for the use of AWPs on jobsites, from paperwork to logistics. This includes regulations, recognition and avoidance of hazards, risk assessment and looking at the various types of AWPs available and what they are best suited for.

“Many times supervisors unknowingly tell or ask an operator to do something that is unsafe,” says Sunbelt's Stachowiak. “Without the supervisor's understanding of safe operation, the worker/operator will probably do what he is told without questioning his boss. This includes working too close to power lines, working without proper personal fall protection, climbing on the rails, driving too fast, and many other things that go unnoticed by supervision and therefore become OK to do by the operator — until an accident happens then it is almost always recognized as the operator's fault, while management was witnessing the unsafe behavior all along.”

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6. “Look behind the curtain.”

Many of the larger general contractors and plants are doing a better job today of asking AWP operators and subcontractors for training credentials, according to Stachowiak. But many are not looking “behind the curtain” to see what legitimate training was conducted.

“Some training cards represent 30-60 minutes, or training that may only be a manufacturer's video and nothing else,” Stachowiak says. “Some wallet cards may not even represent that much training. Minimum training time with hands-on is typically four to eight hours dependent on size of class and number, and type of lifts covered during that training.”

AWPT-approved training centers offer a complete training program that culminates with a theory test and a practical assessment of hands-on operation. Successful candidates receive a Powered Access Licensed Registration, or PAL card, as proof of training.

7. Wear [fall] protection.

Just as all makes and models of AWPs are different and require individual familiarization, the same is true of the personal fall protection equipment recommended for each. While some manufacturers only recommend restraint, others recommend the use of personal fall protection equipment, and others do not provide recommendations, leaving it up to the user to decide. Don't assume you know, says Tom Dillon, national product sales manager for Miller Fall Protection/Honeywell Safety Products, referring operators to the Statement of Best Practices of Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment, which is available free for download at www.awpt.org/publications/personal-fall-protection.

“Make sure you know the proper use of all the different types of fall protection equipment,” Dillon says. “Not all fall protection products are created equally. Some manufacturers have lower thresholds of force when their equipment is deployed than others, which would create less fall arrest force on the individual and the equipment in the event of a fall.”

Additionally, make sure the AWP operator knows the proper method of donning, adjusting, connecting, doffing and inspecting the PPE needed for the particular AWP and the job at hand. “There are plenty of fall protection manufacturers that are willing to work with you,” explains Dillon. “Don't assume the customer has all the PPE required and is well trained in using it. Show them you are the industry expert by making it easy for them to not only finish a project but by finishing it safely, without near misses or accidents. Safety doesn't cost, it pays everyone.”

8. Complete and document scheduled AWP maintenance and annual inspections.

Equipment owners/rental companies are responsible for completing manufacturer-recommended scheduled maintenance of the AWP as well as the maintenance specified in the appropriate ANSI A92 standard. In addition, annual inspections are meant to be performed annually — every 12 months, not every 15 months or any other duration beyond.

According to Bob Backer, chairman of the Scaffold & Access Industry Association AWP Council, the owner shall establish a preventive maintenance program in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations as well as arrange for annual inspections to be performed in accordance with the manufacturer's recommendations.

“It is important to ensure you have current and documented annual, frequent and rent-ready inspections,” says NES director of environmental, health and safety, Teresa Kee.

Compliant annual inspections are a critical measurement of a service program, and to be compliant must include all the items specified by the manufacturer in the operator's manual, according to AWPT's Groat. “An overlooked component of this inspection is the inclusion of all safety bulletins issued by the manufacturer. Looking them up with the manufacturer and documentation of completion are critical — if it's not in writing, then there is no proof of completion.”

9. Right-size the lift for the application.

Using the right-sized lift for the job to be completed is one of the first steps to ensuring safe use of the equipment. “It may sound like a pretty obvious logic point, but nevertheless is one of the very first possible reasons for an accident in the making,” explains Skako Lift's Christensen.

“Believing that one type of lift is appropriate for all the tasks to be performed is a common error,” says Shahid Qureshi, director of product safety and reliability - Americas for Haulotte. “Do not use a lift just because it is on the site.”

Though rental customers may think they know what they need, it is a best practice to always ask a few questions about the job to be sure. According to Christensen, rental companies often don't want to waste a customer's time and instead of asking those important questions, just take the order.

Questions to ask when determining the proper lift include: will the work be performed inside or out, what are the surface conditions, what is the height at which the work will be performed, and, once at height, how far will the user need to reach, and what is the access to and where is the power supply? It is the responsibility of the rental company to ask questions of the customer to help them choose the AWP that will allow them to do the required work without having to lean out over the guard rails.

“The fact is, if a ‘wrong’ lift is delivered to a jobsite, in 90 percent of the cases, the customer will try to make it work rather than return it and get the correct lift,” Christensen says. “And that's when accidents happen.”

10. Take advantage of available resources.

Order a copy of the ANSI standard(s) that applies to all of the AWPs in the rental fleet, read it and make it required reading of all employees with responsibility for maintaining, operating and delivery of the units.

“Use the standards as a reference to establish your company's policies and procedures with regard to service and rental of your aerial work platforms,” says Steve Storrer, Haulotte product safety manager.

In addition, The American Rental Association, the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, the Associated Equipment Distributors, IPAF and SAIA partnered to develop and publish the Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment and the Statement of Best Practices of Personal Fall Protection Systems for Aerial Work Platform Equipment, another educational document that focuses on personal fall protection for users of aerial work platform equipment. Both documents are reliable resources for rental businesses and their employees.

11. Track and post all manufacturer safety bulletins. Manufacturers sometimes release additional safety bulletins for models in their AWP line-up. The equipment owner/rental company must track the release of these bulletins and document that the safety bulletin instructions were followed, says Haulotte's Storrer.

12. Always assess the jobsite.Safety starts with awareness of the jobsite whether indoors or out. Equipment operators must know about the presence and location of any overhead power lines. Ground conditions must be observed and proper precautions must be taken to ensure the safety of the operator and other workers on the jobsite before operating the AWP.

“The user must be familiar with the surface before driving,” says JLG Industries. “Do not exceed the allowable side slope and grade while driving. Do not raise the platform or drive from an elevated position unless the machine is on firm, level and smooth surfaces.”

Unsafe ground conditions can sometimes go unseen, says Mike Larson, editor of Lift and Access magazine, which means that the jobsite foreman must also be aware of the ground conditions below the surface. “A scissorlift can weigh more than 5,000 pounds, and a 60-foot boomlift can weigh more than 20,000 pounds,” Larson says. “Soft spots, potholes, underground voids or ground-level obstructions could cause a tipover.”

On top of familiarizing yourself with the jobsite surroundings to avoid potential hazards, the operator must also consider those variables when choosing the appropriate fall protection equipment.

“Make sure a site assessment is conducted for the specific AWP to be used, then match up the needed PPE to the AWP and to the site requirements,” says Miller Fall Protection's Dillon. “Again, do not assume. Have a conversation with your customer — maybe he needs the help, but is too embarrassed to ask.”

For indoor jobsites, operators must be aware of floor load constraints, accessibility through doorways and other passages, and whether turns and elevation changes can be maneuvered safely. “Sometimes it is safer to use a bigger lift and reach an area from a lower level location although the customer believes a small lift, positioned on a higher level is the best solution,” says Skako Lift's Christensen.

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13. Assess for trapping/crushing hazards and plan for rescue.

Operating AWPs in confined overhead spaces poses some unique risks to operators, including crushing and trapping. These hazards should be assessed during the overall jobsite assessment, and additionally a rescue plan should be put in place.

To download AWPT's Best Practice Guidance for AWPs, Avoiding Trapping/Crushing Injuries to People in the Platform, visit http://www.awpt.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/us/USAWPBPG2011.pdf.

14. Always use only OEM parts. All parts are not created equal. Only authorized AWP parts from the original equipment manufacturer should be used when performing maintenance on equipment. What may appear to be equivalent parts can result in unfortunate, or even deadly, consequences.

For example, removing a bolt from a tool crib to replace a missing bolt on the guardrail may seem a simple solution, but replacing it with one that is longer than specified by the manufacturer could result in the user catching his ring on it and resulting in an injury, AWPT's Groat explains. Additionally, adding parts or components not specified by the OEM may also create unknown hazards.

“Placing foam guards on the guardrails to protect users from hitting their head when entering sounds like a benefit,” explains Groat. “But if not approved by the manufacturer you take on any liability that may result from it being there, such as a user holding on to it, losing his grip and falling. Only use parts specifically defined by the manufacturer.”

15. Special training required for delivery.

Loading and unloading of aerial work platforms requires special attention and training as there are several unique hazards associated with improper procedures. As such, the delivery personnel need additional training above and beyond that of an AWP operator. Delivery drivers should be trained to properly address a variety of adverse conditions that may be encountered when operating the equipment on and off of transportation vehicles. Adverse conditions include: sloped surfaces; narrow and elevated surfaces to drive on and off the transportation vehicle; adequate ground support, proper personnel footing; precautions for other moving equipment; hazardous locations; overhead clearance; workplace inspections; and protecting against unauthorized use.

“Properly securing your load, measuring the height of your load, knowing the maximum allowable height for the route you're driving is vital information,” explains Groat. “Over-height loads have hit bridges, overhead power lines and other structures resulting in injuries and enormous expense.”

For loading/unloading of AWPs, Hertz Equipment Rental trains its employees in accordance with the appropriate ANSI standards in addition to its Hertz loading/unloading procedures. “Customer and employee safety is of the utmost importance to HERC and we stress that certain steps be taken to ensure the safe operation of aerial equipment,” says Paula Rivera, HERC public affairs manager.

16. Play safety BINGO.

Though incentive-based games like Safety Bingo are often utilized in a plant environment, they can also be tapped by rental businesses to motivate employees to embrace the company's safety culture and incentivize it for the whole team, suggests Access, Lift & Handlers' Anderson. The game is played like traditional Bingo with each employee receiving a Bingo card and with one number being drawn each day until someone makes a Bingo and earns a prize. Daily numbers are generally posted in a common area such as a break room so that all employees can check their Bingo cards daily. The game continues until an employee suffers a preventable work injury.

“While creating some peer pressure from coworkers, it is also a high-speed information system as well; everyone shares in the misfortunes of their own groups,” Anderson says. “For instance, if I have B-I-N-G, and am about to win a couple hundred dollars, but someone on my team has an incident, then I (and others) will want to know why, what, how and who.”

17. Don't sweep accidents aside.

When accidents, injuries and near misses occur, thoroughly investigate them to learn what happened and what steps can be taken to prevent the same thing from happening again.

“Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” says Metrolift's McDougall. “Safety should not be treated differently. We treat a near miss the same as an accident because that is exactly what will happen if we look the other way on potentially dangerous situations.”

18. Ensure that decals are legible.

OEMs outfit aerial work platforms with decals that depict images of proper use of the equipment and sometimes warning images depicting unsafe and improper use. It is the rental company's responsibility to inspect decals after every rental to make sure they are all still in place and have not been removed or tampered with, and also that nothing is blocking or covering them such as paint or other work materials common on a jobsite.

“Keep your decals in good, legible condition so the operators can easily read this valuable information,” says NES Rentals' Kee.

19. Don't be cheap. True, it costs a little more to pull out all the stops on AWP safety. But the impact of a fatality or serious accident on a rental business is far more costly.

“While we certainly look for ways to control business costs, we will never do this at the expense of my employees' or customers' safety,” McDougall says. “It takes significant time and expense to maintain a clean shop, provide onsite/offsite training, purchase proper PPE, etc., but we must never cut corners when it comes to safety. We have a full-time safety director at Metrolift to assist our employees and customers with any safety related issues that come up.”

20. Communicate, watch and enforce.

Don't be content with creating the culture, setting safety procedures in place and then sitting down to get comfortable in your desk chair. Immerse yourself in daily operations, inform employees via daily meetings about upcoming jobs, customers and associated risks. Take the opportunity as a group to develop a safety plan before beginning a task.

“Between emails, phone calls, orders and daily issues, sometimes it seems like the day is over before I know it,” says McDougall. “I make it a priority to not let the job get in the way of safety. At least once an hour I get up and walk the shop and yard to make sure that my employees are following safety procedures, wearing proper PPE, etc. It is important to me to promote a culture of safety at Metrolift.”

AWPT's Groat advises, “Don't leave compliance to chance.” Monitor and supervise your workforce to ensure compliance to the ANSI standards and the requirements of the AWP manufacturers represented in the fleet.

“Require retraining as necessary based on supervisor evaluations and document them,” Groat says. “If you have never required anyone to be retrained, is that a statement of an excellent training program or the lack of proper supervision? Operator training isn't the finish line, it's the starting line.”