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Manage s key to safety, says IPAF

ACCESS

A good quality of training is essential for operators of powered access equipment.

But IPAF is launching a new course aimed at site managers. Phil Bishop reports

TRAINING is an increasingly important part of the business formula for powered access hire companies.

It helps to ensure their equipment is used safely by operators and comes back undamaged; it helps them get closer to their customers; and it helps generate revenues and profits.

The dominant training scheme is the International Powered Access Federation's operator training and certification programme. Platform operators completing the course satisfactorily are awarded a Powered Access Licence card, which is valid for five years.

But now IPAF is developing courses that go way beyond operator t raining. For the past couple of years, approved t rain ing cent res have also run IPAF cou rses on the correct use of safety harnesses. Either in development or trial stage are courses on loading and unloading mobile elevated work platforms (MEWPs), the use of man baskets on telehandlers, a new demonstrators course, and courses for demonstrators, installers and senior installers of mast-climbing work platforms.

In addition, from September a new course called MEWPs for Managers will be available, aimed at site managers.

IPAF managing director Tim Whiteman explains: 'The Work at Height Regulations have put new responsibilities on site managers for planning. They require thought to go into the selection of appropriate equipment.'

The aim of the new course is to help managers recognise and understand their responsibilities for planning safe work, which includes the provision of appropriate MEWPs and their safe use.

The course has been developed with the encouragement of the Health & Safety Executive, says Mr Whiteman.

The one-day course covers the selection of kit, ensuring operators are competent and qualified, basic safety guidance on how to plan for the use of MEWPs, guidance on planning where best to set them up, and an understanding of potential causes of accidents.

For example, says Mr Whiteman, managers as well as operators need to be aware that if you use a telescopic boom lift to go over the top of a building, the wind regime is liable to change as it elevates and goes over.

Mr Whiteman says the cou rse is based on BS 8460 Safe Use Of MEWPS - Code of Practice, published last year. The course will cover those aspects of the code of pract ice that relate to plann ing work and risk assessment. The risk assessment identifies hazards, evaluates the risks and identifies control measures.

The plan should be recorded and communicated to all involved. It should also be reviewed before the job starts to incorporate any changing circumstances.

Potential hazards covered in detail include ground conditions, wind and location-specific hazards such as work ing next to highways or water.

IPAF training manager Rupert Douglas-Jones says there is a real need in the industry to educate managers. Accidents caused by operator error are being reduced thanks to the PAL card scheme, he says, but until now there has been no similar programme that reaches the managers responsible for choosing the right equipment.

Nat ionwide Access is think ing of moving even further forward. 'We are investigating other training we can offer, ' says managing director Hugh Cole.

'We recognise that customers want more than just PAL card operator training.'

Ideas being discussed within the company include a MEWP appreciation course, as well as MEWPs for managers, he says. Another idea he is promoting is having a position comparable to the crane industry's appointed person. When using cranes, it is a legal requirement under the Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 that an appropriate person is designated as responsible for the lifting operation.

Mr Cole likes the idea of having someone in overall charge where there are maybe 20 or 30 MEWPs on a site.

'These are just ideas we have been discussing, ' he says. He does not want it to be a statutory role but thinks there is value in having '?someone in the background they can call on, just to give reassu rance'.

Card pays dividends

OPERATOR certification is not a legal requirement but the PAL card is recognised by the Major Contractors Group as proof of competence.

The scheme began in 1993. Today there are approximately 200,000 holders of valid PAL cards in the UK today and 95 training providers operating out of 148 locations.

The largest provider of operator training is Nationwide Access, which has 17 trainers running courses at 35 different locations.

Nationwide's annual training revenues have g rown f rom £330,000 in 1999 to almost £2,000,000 in 2006, accounting for 2 per cent of turnover. Over the same period the access rental market has grown by 52 per cent. Training, therefore, is growing faster than equipment hire.

For some companies, training is even more significant. In 2005, operator training undertaken by Kestrel (recently acquired by Nationwide's parent company Lavendon) accounted for 7 per cent of turnover.

Lavendon chief executive Kevin Rogers says: 'The growth in PAL cards issued has been enormous. The market for training might grow two or three times over the next 10 years.

'In terms of percentage growth, it is probably the biggest opportunity we have, ' agrees Mr Cole.