Starting at the Top

March 1, 2008
I don't know how many aerial work platform-related accidents occurred in 2007, but however many was too many. Yes, accidents happen sometimes. But most

I don't know how many aerial work platform-related accidents occurred in 2007, but however many was too many. Yes, accidents happen sometimes. But most “accidents” are caused by carelessness, or negligence, even sometimes momentary.

But it's not the statistics that matter. What matters is that each person injured or killed because of a failure to observe aerial safety precautions, is a human being — somebody's son, somebody's husband, friend or dad (or daughter, wife or mom as the case may be).

How many aerial incidents involved rented equipment? Since most aerial units operating on jobsites are rented, probably a pretty high percentage. How many of these accidents could have been prevented by a rental company paying closer attention to safety procedures and teaching safety precautions to their customers? Or how many occurred because of unauthorized use that the rental company didn't foresee or couldn't prevent? I have no way of answering that, but again, the numbers would be too high.

Whatever the percentages, some could have been prevented and if this issue inspires even a few of our readers to improve safety practices, it will be worth it.

Some of you are profoundly committed to safety; some of you give lip service to it and figure if you give somebody a piece of paper to sign that says they know how to operate the machine and were offered training, that you are protected legally. That may be true to a degree, but I'd like pass along some thoughts expressed by Ken Pustizzi, CEO of Trico Lift.

“It starts with a serious conviction that comes from the top, a real commitment to being proactive,”says Pustizzi. “You have to believe every life that touches your business matters. You're not committed until you're willing to truly take every measure to safeguard people and safeguard your equipment. It all boils down to the options: Do you want to do what it takes for everyone to be safe and alive? Or do you want to count on your luck?”

Yes, you have a business to run. If you can't get machines out quickly, customers might go somewhere else. They are in a hurry to finish a job and they don't want to take time to be reminded of issues learned long ago in Aerials 101. But that rationalization won't bring back a child's father if the worst should happen because of carelessness, when a few minutes of explanation from your staff might have made a difference.

Sometimes it's a simple thing: Doing a machine walk-around to make sure all the controls are functioning properly before the day's work begins. Making sure foot pedals aren't jammed with mud or snow. Taking a few minutes for a quick jobsite inspection every morning to make sure there are no new ditches or potholes or debris left around that could get in an operators' way. Make sure nobody took the rails off a scissorlift; make sure operators don't disengage controls such as the back-up signal because they find the noise annoying. Make sure customers really have had hands-on training, not just watched a 15-minute video and say they have been trained. Make sure they wear lanyards and harnesses. Make sure your own employees really have read the owners' manuals and are able to answer questions about them and that there are manuals on the machines.

I personally felt inspired to do an issue on aerial safety after attending the Saf-T conference last year organized by Guy Ramsey and Maximum Capacity Media, and we look forward to the next one. It's a great place to learn about aerial safety. And we at RER renew our commitment to re-visit this topic regularly and seek our readers' input on how to do it better.

I've been to hundreds of rental companies and on jobsites and I know that a lot of companies can do the basics, but there is a difference between the basics and a real commitment that comes from conviction. I encourage you, at the minimum, to review your company's procedures and make sure they are effective. But don't forget it's a matter of committed company culture that requires thought and self-examination.

If you really think about how aerial accidents occur, you'll find a number of physical causes and you can figure out ways to prevent them. Employees at all levels of the company must make a difference and it must be reinforced from the highest levels of each rental company that attention to those details matters, and that saving a life is as important as closing a deal.

It's good business, and it's the right way to live in the world.