Bill Hindman
Sunstate Equipment employees receive training from Gary Riley of NES Rentals as part of a fourday AWPT Instructor Training course

Safety: Beyond Competition

Aug. 1, 2014
Cooperation among major rental companies leads to a safer workplace.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines safety as “an environment free from harm or danger.” Safety is the one thing we all want in our workplace whether it is in an equipment yard, an office, or on a jobsite. And a safer workplace can be achieved with better and more thorough training, no matter where the location or whatever the job.

Training is especially important for companies that rent construction equipment. With around $22.3 billion in revenue in 2013, construction equipment rentals in the United States represent close to 67 percent of the total rental market. And, according to recent data from the American Rental Association that was published in the ARA Rental Market Monitor, construction and industrial equipment rental revenue is predicted to grow 8.2 percent in 2014, 11 percent in 2015 and another 10 percent in 2016, when construction equipment rental revenues will reach almost $29.5 billion. With this kind of growth, rental companies need to address construction equipment training on a much higher level than ever before.

Some of the most frequently rented pieces of construction equipment are aerial work platforms. In 2013 aerial work platforms, including scissorlifts and boomlifts, accounted for more than $7.5 billion in rental revenue in the United States alone according to a study commissioned by IPAF (the International Powered Access Federation). That represents slightly more than one-third of the total equipment rental revenue of the entire United States during 2013. With projections even higher for 2014 and beyond, the need for more thorough operator training on AWPs is becoming a clear priority among rental companies around the country.

Proper AWP training comprises two parts – theoretical training and hands-on training. There are a number of training programs currently on the market today available from equipment manufacturers and private training companies, so rental companies have a choice of programs. Although the hands-on portion of the training must be completed where equipment is available to operate, the theory (traditional classroom) portion can be completed almost anywhere.

Recently IPAF introduced an eLearning module that allows trainees to complete the theory part of the AWPT (American Work Platform Training) program online, at their own pace, at any time of the day or night, so they don’t have to take valuable time off work.

“They use the same material as in a traditional classroom session and learn the same skills,” says Tony Groat, IPAF North American manager. “Trainees who complete the online session must still pass a supervised theory test at an IPAF Training Center and must successfully complete a half-day of practical training and testing before being issued a PAL Card (Powered Access Licensed-Registration) as proof of a successfully completed AWPT operator training program. Currently more than 500,000 operators worldwide hold a valid PAL Card.”

Key to the development of the new eLearning program was testing in the “real rental world” with actual instructors and students. For this, IPAF partnered with IPAF member, NES Rentals, to help develop and test the program as it evolved. NES Rentals (No. 11 on the RER 100) has been an IPAF member since 2007 and a Training Center since 2010. Headquartered in Chicago with 76 locations throughout the East Coast and Midwest, NES was a natural choice for testing the initial program.

“It was a natural progression for us to add AWPT training from IPAF to our programming,” says Teresa Kee, director, environmental, health and safety for NES. “And the new eLearning program makes it even easier for us to deliver a high quality program on a consistent basis. Successful completion of the AWPT program leads to the issuance of the internationally-recognized PAL Card, the gold standard for aerial platform training throughout the globe. And that’s the difference.”

Since 2010 when it first became an IPAF Training Center, NES has had several employees in its training department continue on in their training to become AWPT Senior Instructors. Senior instructors are those people with sufficient knowledge and training skills to be able to train both operators and new instructors in the program.

The AWPT program from IPAF is different from many programs in that it’s dynamic and constantly updated. Feedback and shared input is gathered from active training centers, manufacturers, rental companies and end users all over the world to ensure that IPAF training covers not only what the standards require, but also what the real world needs. Additional feedback comes from IPAF’s accident reporting program, the first program ever instituted to collect aerial work platform accident data. All certified IPAF and AWPT instructors are also required to attend periodic programs offered at IPAF Continuous Professional Development seminars to help stay abreast of the latest standards and training techniques.

Sunstate comes on board

NES is not the only major rental company to embrace the IPAF program. Recently Sunstate Equipment Co., based in Phoenix, Ariz., an IPAF member since 2010, became an approved IPAF Training Center as well. Sunstate Equipment (No. 9 on the RER 100) is one of the Southwest’s largest equipment rental companies with 56 locations throughout nine states. Last year Sunstate trained more than 8,000 customers and new employees, with 60 percent of those trained on the safe and proper use of aerial work platforms and forklifts. The company plans to offer the AWPT eLearning program to its customers and employees in the Phoenix area for now, with plans to grow strategically into other markets with the program in the future.

John Rankin, Sunstate’s director of training, has the responsibility to find or develop and implement thorough and compliant training programs. After becoming an IPAF member in 2010 Rankin was introduced to the IPAF training program. Although he was very impressed with the IPAF program, Sunstate had its own program in place and did not feel it was the right time to add an additional training program.

This mindset changed when both Rankin and Sunstate’s senior equipment safety trainer, Jake Kidd, attended the SAF-T Symposium hosted by Maximum Capacity Media in Nashville, Tenn., in July of 2013. While there, they met with Tony Groat and IPAF director of operations, Giles Councell, and learned more about the AWPT eLearning program offering. The timing of this news was perfect as Sunstate was in the process of revamping its own AWP program, which included evaluation of various online programs. Groat shared how instrumental NES Rentals had been in the development of the eLearning program and felt they needed to meet with Teresa Kee and Tony Radke, NES’ Manager of Safety Education, who spearheaded the development of the AWPT eLearning within the NES organization.

Following the Nashville meeting, Rankin and Kidd went to Sunstate’s senior management team and informed them of the new eLearning program available from AWPT. Soon after, a decision was made to adopt the program and begin the process of becoming an approved AWPT Training Center.

The process began with an evaluation of Sunstate’s training facility in Phoenix, to ensure it met IPAF criteria. Next, a group of Sunstate employees participated in a four-day AWPT Instructor Training course. AWPT Senior Instructors Tony Radke and Gary Riley of NES Rentals led this training. The training included both Instructor and Operator courses, with subject presentations by each participant. This was followed by the trainees teaching the Operator course to a group of students on the final day under the evaluation of Radke and Riley. The successful Instructor participants each received their IPAF/AWPT Instructor PAL Card.

[SLIDESHOW: AWPT Instructor Training Course]

Chris Watts, Sunstate’s president and chief operating officer, says this about the process of becoming an approved AWPT Training Center: “We owe a great deal of thanks to NES and appreciate the fact that they put safety in the workplace ahead of any competitive considerations between our two rental companies. Like them, we already had a training program in place, but we recognize the benefits of offering our customers a choice of programs. The AWPT eLearning program is very thorough and really gets in-depth regarding safety. Both our customers and our employees will benefit from this program.”

Safety training is just about the most important thing a rental company can do for its customers. Only with proper training and familiarization on equipment can we reduce the number of accidents. Training is the key to unlocking a safer workplace. And, with cooperation among rental companies like that shown between NES Rental and Sunstate Equipment, we can make a difference in the workplace.

Bill Hindman is president of Industrial Marketing Systems, Fountain Hills, Ariz. He can be reached at [email protected].


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