Union, Contractors Team Up for Lift Training

Nov. 10, 2010

“Our members use aerial work platforms – scissor lifts and boom lifts – on an almost daily basis. Much of their work is performed overhead and these machines are essential to achieving maximum productivity on the job. But productivity doesn’t mean anything unless our members are using them safely.

“Our members use aerial work platforms – scissor lifts and boom lifts – on an almost daily basis. Much of their work is performed overhead and these machines are essential to achieving maximum productivity on the job. But productivity doesn’t mean anything unless our members are using them safely. And that’s what this program is all about,” said Dan Kline, Training Coordinator of the Toledo Area Sheet Metal Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee, a cooperative effort between the Toledo, Ohio based Sheet Metal Workers’ Local Union #33 and members of the Sheet Metal Contractors Association of Northwest Ohio (SMCANO).

The program that Kline is referring to is a comprehensive training program offered by American Work Platform Training (AWPT), a subsidiary of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF). Kline’s organization recently became an AWPT-approved training center after a thorough search and careful review of the many aerial work platform training programs available on the market. The AWPT program is based on the ISO-certified program developed by IPAF, the largest aerial work platform safety organization in the world with over 80,000 operators trained each year through a worldwide network of over 400 training centers.

“In the Toledo area, many of the larger companies and general contractors have requested that all personnel receive certified training on the equipment they operate before they are allowed on site. Although some form of training was available from the equipment rental companies in the area, we felt that a more comprehensive program was needed and we wanted to be able to provide it to our members,” said Kline.

One of the problems Kline faced in promoting a comprehensive aerial work platform training program was a feeling among some workers that they were doing their companies a favor by eliminating safety-related procedures that they thought could save time and increase productivity. They didn’t realize that these steps often lead to accidents that end up costing the employer both time and money in the long run. Education and a proper training program were needed to overcome these misconceptions.

When Kline first began his search for a training program he could offer his membership, he reviewed the various programs available locally but didn’t feel they were sufficient for his needs. He then turned to the Internet to see what else was available. It was there that he learned about the programs available from AWPT. A quick call to Tony Groat, executive vice president of AWPT, put him in touch with Gary Riley who handles North American membership development for the organization. Riley told him about AWPT and mentioned that Sheet Metal Workers' Union Local #73 in Chicago had recently become an AWPT-approved training center and that he should talk to them about the success they have had with the program.

Kline then called James Burek, training coordinator at Local #73 in Chicago who spoke highly of their decision to implement the AWPT program. Not only was the training program itself extremely comprehensive, the support of AWPT and IPAF was even better. After they had implemented the program, AWPT continued to work with Burek to make sure that the program was working properly. They visited the training site to meet with instructors and monitor the training sessions. They provided updated materials where necessary to make sure that they were incorporating the latest industry rules and regulations in their course work. And they scheduled a yearly audit to follow up on the program results. They did everything they could to make the program succeed and it was exactly what Kline was searching for.

Kline already had the proper location to establish the AWPT program. It was a 6-year-old, 24,000 square foot dedicated training facility containing four classrooms including a main classroom, HVAC classroom, welding classroom, and OSHA classroom, along with a sheet metal lab, HVAC lab, and a welding lab. He also had the right staff to implement the program. Kline’s primary instructor was Stan Lewinski who has over 40 years of trade experience and 30 years experience as an instructor. Other staff instructors had up to 20 years of training experience so the program could be fully staffed and running almost immediately after a decision was made to offer the program.

The AWPT training program that Kline and Lewinski implemented was an 8-hour course that included 4 hours of classroom training and 4 hours of practical hands-on training spread over a 2-3 day period depending on class size. During that time students receive instruction in the safe use of scissor lifts, boom lifts and manually-propelled push around lifts. Upon successful completion of the program, AWPT issues a PAL Card (Powered Access Licensed-Registration) to all program graduates that denote the type of aerial platform the person has been trained to operate and the date of their training. The card is valid for a 5-year period after which time the holder must be retrained. The program they offer is provided free of charge to union members and trainees attend on their own time.

Class sizes are limited to 20 trainees so that each individual receives sufficient personalized time with the instructors. Because of the need for properly trained individuals in the field, almost all of the trainees to date have been union journeymen who work as jobsite foremen or in some other supervisory capacity. Their AWPT training helps promote a safer work environment and makes it easier for them to recognize potential problems on the jobsite before they occur. Although the program has only been in place since mid-2010, Kline anticipates that over 100 people will be trained by the end of the year, with training becoming mandatory for all persons in the apprentice program.

Although the program has only been offered for a relatively short period of time, the effects have been almost immediate. The day after a recent training session, a student in the class called his instructor to report that during his daily pre-start inspection of the aerial device he was about to operate, he discovered that a speed safety switch on the machine was faulty. If it hadn’t been for the lessons learned during his training the day earlier, the student wouldn’t have performed the routine inspection and may not have found the faulty switch until it was too late. It was a lesson well learned and a program well taught. It’s amazing what can happen when unions and contractors work together to develop and implement programs that can have an immediate impact on workplace safety.

Bill Hindman is president of Industrial Marketing Systems, which represents IPAF.