Proactive Safety Training

April 15, 2024
Genie director of training Scott Owyen talks about the importance of thorough safety training, and doing it before, not after, a fatality occurs.

By Michael Roth; Photos by Genie


Genie director of training Scott Owyen talks about the importance of thorough safety training, and doing it before, not after, a fatality occurs.

RER: I would say jobsites and MEWPS have improved towards safety compared with let’s say a decade ago? Would you agree with that and why?

It has been my experience that many jobsites have improved their focus on safety and training, and some sites have fantastic safety protocols in place. They have well-trained and knowledgeable safety officers and supervisors on site that enforce safety rules and manage their program very effectively. However, there are still job sites that, whether unknowingly or knowingly, still place productivity over safety, and that is a challenge for us in the industry. I, unfortunately, have been called upon to teach operator training classes for companies after they suffered an on-the-job fatality on a MEWP. And, in many of these cases, it is apparent that job site leadership and operators lacked knowledge of rules and regulations in place to help keep people safe, including the basic need for training.   

As far as MEWPs themselves are concerned, Genie has always designed our machines to strict safety standards and the testing that they must pass during the design phase is intensive. If the machines are operated only by trained and qualified operators within the limits of intended use as defined by the manufacturer, and they have been properly maintained per the manufacturer’s instructions, I would say that MEWPs that were manufactured a decade ago are just as safe as machines being manufactured today. Of course, the new ANSI design standards have required manufacturers to design additional features on the machines to enhance safety, such as platform load sense and dynamic terrain sensors; but, if the machine is being operated by a properly trained and qualified individual, those enhancements should seldom come into play. 

Certainly your company has done a lot in making safety improvements in equipment, with various accessories and improvements to the equipment itself; and also your training programs with rental companies and end users. Can you summarize those accomplishments?

Safety is the most important thing we do at Genie, and it has been throughout our more than 55 years in business. If you look at our current machines, design enhancements such as platform load sense, dynamic terrain sensors, indoor/outdoor ratings, etc. will assist the operator by minimizing the likelihood of the operator reaching a condition of instability in certain situations.

However, as I have already stated, proper training is still crucial to the safe operation of any MEWP.

Genie also has done a remarkable job of observing operators on the job and asking them what their biggest challenges are in getting the job done safely. The result has been a series of options and accessories that are designed to increase operator productivity while decreasing the possibility of the operator performing an unsafe act.

For example, the Genie Lift Guard Fall Arrest Bar was designed to allow an individual to exit a Genie boom at height while being attached to a single lanyard anchor point that traverses the entire width of the platform, allowing the individual to move freely around outside the platform without the need to move the lanyard from anchor point to anchor point. This provides for 100-percent tie-off and enhanced freedom of movement.   

The new, extra-large 13-foot / 4-meter platform provides the ability to get more work done, faster and more comfortably by enabling operators to access a much larger working area quickly and easily, reducing the number of times needed to stop and reposition the machine.

The Genie Lift Tools Access Deck for booms and scissor lifts provides operators with a secondary surface to work from, elevating them 22 inches (0.56 m) above the platform floor. Attached to the platform mid-rail, this additional access enables operators to get into restricted spaces to increase productivity.

There are many other accessories available such as the Genie Lift Tools Panel Cradle, Pipe Cradle, Material Carrier and more that are designed to increase productivity and safety on the job. A full list of these can be accessed at

The new requirements set forth in the ANSI and CSA standards, such as the need for safe use plans, risk assessments, rescue plans, and supervisor training have enhanced the training content dramatically. All our training courses were updated to the new standards in 2019, including our Genie Lift Pro online operator training courses. Since their initial release, Genie Lift Pro online courses have trained over 100,000 individuals to safely operate MEWPs and telehandlers. Our classroom-based operator training and train the trainer courses trained nearly 1,000 individuals in 2022 alone and we are seeing an even bigger uptick in 2023.

From your observation point, how have rental companies improved in terms of their train-the-trainer programs, their instructions to operators on jobsites, and their attention to safety at their own locations and the way they deliver equipment?


Many rental companies offer outstanding operator training programs, and it’s clear that, for most of the rental companies that I have worked with, there is a strong focus on safety at their sites. A lot of rental companies also utilize the Genie Lift Pro online operator training for their internal employees as well as their customers. I believe that the release of the new ANSI standards had a lot to do with that. There has been a lot of effort put forth to educate the industry on the changes, and many companies, including rental companies, really started paying attention to the standards when they were updated a few years ago.

I’ve also worked with rental companies who attended a training course and learned about the requirements for frequent inspections on their machines, and the need to train delivery drivers. These aren’t new requirements, but it was new information that these companies weren’t aware of them. Most take safety very seriously and want to do the right thing, which is, again, why proper training is such a critical part of safety.

What are some of the most common errors, or the most common areas where you’d like to see improvements in safety practices in the industry?

Again, it comes back to training. Last year alone, I taught three classes at companies that experienced a fatality and lost individuals in their 20s who had not been trained and, in fact, who had spent less than 15 minutes on the machine they were operating before the accident occurred. The lack of training is a common thread in the fatality response training I’ve done with end users over the years.

The challenge is getting the word out to companies using the equipment. Because they have little to no contact with rental yards or any other entity in the industry, and their safety person, if they have one, is focused on the common regulations that they are aware of, such as confined spaces, MSDS, etc. The need is to make sure they’re also aware of the MEWP standards that exist.

Another common error is the practice of operators using equipment in an unsafe manner, including standing or climbing on the platform guardrails to get up into tight spaces or reach an area that is above the machine’s working height. I can’t even estimate how many operators have told me in class that they have done that many times, often at the direction of their manager.

In cases like this, it’s important, first of all, to make sure you’re using the right lift for the job. And second, to consider whether any manufacturer-approved accessories, like the Genie Lift Tools Access Deck, could help the operator reach the areas they need to reach in a safe manner.

Another improvement that could strengthen safety on jobsites is ensuring that MEWP operators are properly trained on the correct personal fall protection equipment to wear and how to take care of it. I’ve trained operators who came to class with the wrong lanyard, and with leg straps hanging down to their knees. Some of the PFPE that I have inspected was so worn that you could poke your finger through the webbing because it’s been sitting in a puddle of hydraulic fluid in the back of their truck.

All these examples are simply the result of a lack of education, and the big challenge is to figure out how to get that information into the hands of the right people. In that regard, we still have a lot of work to do.