Safety experts agree that operator training is the single most important factor when it comes to lift platform safety.
By Patrick Flannery
Safety experts agree that operator training is the single most important factor when it comes to lift platform safety. Knowing what kind of training is needed and educating your customers could prevent problems around your yard, and in the field.
Sometimes, the simplest thing can lead to tragic consequences. Ron (not his real name), an apprentice glazier with a Toronto-area glass contractor, was driving his boom lift out of a mall where he had been installing some interior windows. He was driving from the lift basket with the boom folded completely down, being directed by his supervisor. As he guided the lift out through some large service doors by the loading dock, his supervisor did not notice that there was a curb just beyond the doors. As Ron drove through the doors, the front tires of the lift dropped over the curb, levering the back end of the lift up and driving the boom’s basket, with Ron in it, into the upper jamb of the door. Ron suffered a severe concussion, head lacerations requiring hundreds of stitches and neck injuries that kept him off work for over a month. In fact, he was lucky to have survived at all.
Ron’s boom lift wasn’t even rented, but there is little rental operators can do to prevent similar accidents with their equipment. However, understanding that operating lift equipment on uneven or unstable ground is one of the main causes of injuries and accidents can help you to caution you customers against the kind of actions that injured Ron. Dhananjai Borwankar, a technical specialist with the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, says tip-over incidents are the most common kind of accident with lift equipment. “Maybe the ground is not level, or maybe the machine might be struck with something,” he explains. “On a tree trimmer, a branch comes down or on a highway over a bridge it might be struck by another vehicle. Tip-overs in general are the largest hazard associated with these machines.”
Borwankar says locating and properly anchoring lift platforms is the key to avoid these kinds of accidents. They are usually related to “just not knowing the lift limits of the machine, what kind of ground the machine should be used on, how to make it stable and when not to use it because the ground might be uneven or too soft for the particular weight of the machine,” he says. “Maybe they have not been trained or maybe the training was not effective.”
The importance of training
Scott Owyen, a global marketing training manager with Terex Aerial Work Platforms, agrees that training is the difference between safe and unsafe operation of work platforms. “Training and certification is absolutely critical to the safe operation of an aerial work platform, and training extends beyond simply learning how to operate the machine,” he says. “Through general training, operators become educated on such very important safety aspects as the governing standards and regulations that concern aerial platform operation, how to identify and avoid the hazards associated with operating and aerial platform, the five principles of safe machine operation, factors that affect stability, proper use of personal protective equipment and the importance of reading, understanding and following the information found in the operator’s manual.”
General training of this kind is not enough by itself to prepare the operator to work safely, Owyen cautions. “The next step is machine-specific familiarization, which must be facilitated by a qualified person. The operator must be able to demonstrate knowledge of the location and contents of the manuals stored on the machine, the purpose and function of all machine controls and safety devices, and knowledge of the operating characteristics specific to that model.”
Training on operating lift equipment is available from technical schools and community colleges across the country, so you may not always be familiar with the document an operator has showing he is certified to operate the equipment he wants to rent. However, there are several important pieces of information Borwankar says you should look for. Most provincial health and safety codes across the country reference CSA standards in their language describing what kind of training operators need, as does the federal Labour Code that governs industries operating across provincial boundaries. An operator’s training should list compliance with the applicable CSA standard. These are:
- B354.1 Portable Elevating Work Platforms
- B354.2 Self-Propelled Elevating Work Platforms
- B354.4 Self-Propelled Boom-Supported Elevating Work Platforms
“Typically, the information that would be on a document [from a training course] would be the name of the company that provided the training, the name of the trainers, a kind of clear identification that the training covered a particular piece of equipment, the date the training took place and the name of the actual individual who was trained,” Borwankar says. He adds there is not a certifying body for training schools in Canada presently, but he is aware of plans in Ontario to bring in some kind of official certification of trainers and programs.
Borwankar says lift platform training covers a number of critical areas for safe operation. “They go over emergency plans,” he says, “basic setup, how to use [the equipment], what are the weight limitations, load limitations, how to find out, how to do a hazard assessment, how to do a pre-use inspection and how to survey an area you are actually working in to make sure that area is safe to use that particular piece of equipment.”
The equipment supplier can be helpful in providing guidelines for pre-use inspections, Owyen says. “Operator manuals for Genie equipment carry a complete list of pre-operation inspection items and function test that should be performed on the aerial platform before each use,” he says. “This process is designed to discover if anything is wrong with the machine before it is put into service. If damage or any variation from the factory-delivered condition is discovered, the machine must be tagged and removed from service until it has been repaired.”
Protect yourself from the safety police
Borwankar says liability in accidents involving rental equipment is something that is assessed on a case-by-case basis, but there are several things rental operators can do to reduce their exposure to lawsuits or prosecution by Ministry of Labour officials:
- Ask to see the operator’s training certificate.
- Keep thorough maintenance records.
- Inspect returned equipment and record its condition.
- Note damage and repairs in detail.
- Keep a log showing adherence to the manufacturer’s scheduled maintenance program.
- Give renters a pre-use orientation explaining the machine’s performance specs and load limitations.
- Show renters how to do a site assessment.
- Keep a copy of all manuals with the machine, along with a number to call for troubleshooting.
- Give renters a pre-use inspection checklist and ask them not to use the machine if they find a problem.
- Have a lock-out mechanism that prevents unauthorized people and children from using the machine.
- Educate renters about proper protective gear.
When it comes to safety, a little organization and documentation can lead to big savings on equipment repair and legal bills.