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Scaling the heights in the quest for safety


With over 50 powered access training courses available at the moment, is there really room for another? Steve Coulter reports

The potential for fraud has diminished since powered access licences were introduced

THE INCREASING number of booms and scissors used on sites should be a good thing for safety, but their operation is still not entirely without risk.

In the hands of an untrained or incompetent operator, these machines can become a real hazard.

Terry Kivlin, training manager at the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), explains: 'Proper training for powered access equipment is vital. The number of these machines in use is increasing rapidly, and they are getting ever more complex to operate.'

The main industry and training bodies have not been slow in responding to the training needs of powered access operators.

The CITB has administered a certificate of training achievement for powered access machines for a number of years. And it also endorses similar courses run by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF) (see box, right).

In theory, every powered access training requirement should be catered for - unofficial estimates put the number of different courses on offer at over 50, covering various standards and levels of technical knowledge.

Yet in spite of the apparently bewildering choice of courses already on offer, another organisation has decided to step in to offer its own training system.

The Hire Association Europe (HAE), representing plant hirers, is offering a course for powered access operators from August.

Training will initially be offered from three centres at London, Birmingham and Manchester, but the aim is to have 20 course centres up and running by the end of the year and 40 by 2001.

Clive Dickin, development manager of HAE, explains why there is a need for yet another training provider: 'There are plenty of good courses on offer. But there's no recognised standard because there's no consistency between the courses, or even individual train-ing centres,' he says.

Mr Dickin believes this results in site supervisors being unclear of exactly what a certificate of competence issued by a training authority represents.

'A CITB-trained instructor in Godalming might run his course with a strong emphasis on site safety and with less on on-site practices. A guy trained in Liverpool might do it the other way round - but both conform to the same standard,' says Dickin.

He adds that everyone attend-ing a HAE course, no matter where it is held, will be trained in exactly the same way.

A more serious issue is faked training certificates, with one such scam exposed by Construction News last July.

However, Mr Dickin claims that because the HAE courses are so tightly structured and monitored, certification is almost impossible to fiddle.

'I'm aware of cards issued under circumstances where the training is not to the standard you'd expect.

'The problem is not the copying of cards but when trainers cut corners and issue certificates to people who aren't qualified. If any of our trainers are caught doing this, every certificate they have issued will be revoked up to their last formal appraisal,' he says.

However, other training organisations dispute suggestions that non-HAE courses are either inconsistent or easier to fiddle.

Paul Adorian, IPAF's managing director, says: 'Our course is completely consistent.

'It's fully audited through planned and unplanned visits. Any-one found cutting corners ceases to be an IPAF-accredited trainer.'

On the safety issue, Mr Adorian argues that potential for fraud has diminished since the introduction of powered access licences, complete with holographic IDs. These are presented to operators completing IPAF training courses and are virtually impossible to fake.

And another key attribute of the HAE method which Mr Dickin emphasises is its reliance on advanced study aids such as videos, slides and workbooks. The intensive one-day course, which it cost HAE £100,000 to develop, leaves no time for 'standing around'.

It includes only 40 minutes of safety training on the assumption that operators will already have received safety training as part of their site inductions.

Although the cost of the HAE course - around £195 for one day - is considerably more than the £60 the CITB charges, Mr Dickin argues that it works out cheaper overall as there are no accommodation costs to fork out for and it means less time for operatives away from the site.

However, it is still more than IPAF's one-day course, which costs £135.

HAE's decision to plan a one-day course was made in response from its members' comments, who felt that the two- and three-day courses took their operators out for too long.

Trainers themselves say that there is very little to choose from in terms of quality and suitability between the different training providers.

'It's really about horses for courses,' says Richard Dawes, training officer at Telford-based Instant Training, which provides training courses for hire firm Instant Access.

'On the whole, the HAE's course is pretty good. There's a sensible mix of practicals, theory and use of videos.

'We run IPAF courses as well, which are also very good, but we particularly like the look of the HAE one because it's geared more to the hire market. There are a lot of tool hire companies looking to get into the access market, and this will be the right course for them because it is fairly flexible,' says Mr Dawes.

Mr Dickin is confident the course will be a success. 'We have looked at the market place and looked at what's currently available; we believe it's a suitably placed product.'