Tony Groat is the North American representative of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) and executive vice president of American Work Platform Training (AWPT). For more information, visit www.awpt.org.
What construction company owners need to know about aerial work platform operator training.
OSHA requires employers to provide adequate employee safety in the workplace. For construction business owners, this includes operator training for workers authorized to operate aerial work platforms (AWPs). But contractors often do not understand the scope of training required to effectively train an operator.
OSHA and ANSI Regulations
Contractors must first be aware of OSHA and ANSI regulations. According to OSHA, training must be conducted, but OSHA does not specify the type of training. However, the ANSI A92 aerial lift standards do specify requirements for general operator training, stating, “Only personnel who have received general instructions regarding the inspection, application and operation of aerial platforms, including recognition and avoidance of hazards associated with their operation, shall operate an aerial platform.”
The ANSI standard defines what should be included to avoid hazards when operating an AWP: manuals and maintaining them appropriately with the lift; a pre-start inspection; defined responsibilities associated with problems or malfunctions affecting the AWP's operation; placards and decals; workplace inspection; safety rules and regulations; authorization to operate; and operator warning and instructions. Also, under the direction of a qualified person, the trainee should operate the AWP for a sufficient time period to demonstrate proficiency.
The standard defines 10 construction hazards that should be included in a workplace inspection, four topics that need to be checked prior to each elevation, 11 items to be included in the daily pre-start inspection and 37 topics that must meet compliance standards to operate the aerial platform safely.
In addition to this training, all operators must be familiar with each AWP model they will operate, and they should receive instruction on the purpose and function of all controls, the location of the required manuals and all safety devices and operating characteristics specific to the aerial platform.
Aerial Work Platform Training and Familiarization
Typically, the operator only becomes familiar with the AWP when the rental company delivers the construction equipment to the work site. An operator needs both training and familiarization, and the knowledge received from the rental company will provide instructions to the operator for only that specific model.
To ensure workers operate AWP equipment safely, several leading industry trade associations brought together many industry experts to create an industry document, “Statement of Best Practices of General Training and Familiarization for Aerial Work Platform Equipment.”
Page 14 of the document offers industry guidance on the general amount of time it takes to present training and familiarization. Training should take three to six hours or more, depending on the number of trainees and the number of equipment classifications to be covered. The training requires each trainee to operate the equipment for a sufficient period of time to demonstrate proficiency in operating the equipment.
The document defines familiarization as taking 15 to 60 minutes or more (based on the complexity of the equipment). Familiarization should be provided to personnel who have already received training.
Construction Operator Training Considerations
Since employers ultimately have the responsibility of ensuring their employees receive proper training and familiarization, they cannot use the defense, “I didn't know.”
If someone told you that your children could obtain a college degree in one year rather than the typical four years, you would question the validity and value of that offer. The same holds true for employee training. If an employer sends their workers to an OSHA 10-hour course that only lasted half a day, they should know their employees did not receive adequate training--a 10-hour course should take 10 hours.
Business owners must examine their AWP operator training program to make sure it is sufficient. OSHA and ANSI do not approve training, but they define regulations and standards that must be used in compliance. The industry statement of best practice on this topic provides guidance about appropriate training.
Regardless of whether operator training is performed in-house or outsourced, the training must be conducted by a qualified person. The statement of best practices provides guidance on the skill and knowledge an instructor must possess.
This specification was included in the statement because of a recent, well-documented accident involving a lift that fell over during heavy winds. One expert stated that even if the training had been received, it might not have improved the operator's understanding of wind hazards and how to deal with this because the ANSI standards do not address this subject specifically. ANSI only refers to wind and weather conditions in a document titled “Workplace Inspection,” which only says operators should be aware of these hazards.
A qualified instructor would have expanded on the subject by providing the operator instructions on the maximum allowable wind speed for the AWP, how wind speed can vary on a work site, effective ways to measure wind speed, how it can impact stability and other requirements.
A qualified instructor with experience provides operators with a deeper understanding of all topics defined in the standard.
Employers should consider operator training and model-specific familiarization only a starting point to achieve a safer workplace. Also, personnel who just receive training should still be considered apprentices.
The standards say the employer should be responsible for monitoring employee performance and supervising work to ensure the use, application and operation of the AWP meets the standards. The employer also needs to warn operators of potential hazards, provide ways to protect against them and discuss the consequences of not following proper operating guidelines. After evaluating operators, the employer should retrain operators if necessary.
If used properly, AWPs provide a safer and more productive way to access overhead areas.