Don’t Hire Cowboys

Oct. 23, 2013

As I write this I’m sitting at Gate B6 in Chicago’s O-Hare Airport waiting for my return flight to Kansas City. I’ve spent the past 24 hours immersed in aerial work platform safety talks and conversations at the International Powered Access Federation’s U.S. Convention. This is the fourth IPAF event I’ve been to in as many years and I always leave inspired to spread the message about the importance of operator training and fostering a culture of safety from the top down in a rental company.

If you’ve ever considered attending one of these IPAF events or sending a representative from your company I highly recommend it. The gatherings always bring together an excellent mix of industry people from safety trainers and experts to labor union officials, rental people, aerial equipment manufacturers, OSHA officials, NIOSH officials, and attorneys with first-hand experience in representing companies like yours in lawsuits brought by customers injured in an AWP accident. The dialogue and discussions that come about organically during the Q&A session after each speaker are engaging and thought-provoking.

One of the issues that comes up often at IPAF events is the idea that many operators have never been trained properly to operate the AWPs they use to do their jobs on a daily basis. Because they do the work day after day, have some hands-on experience, ignorant as it may be, and the equipment is provided to them by their employer they think they are safe when working at height, even when they are misusing the equipment by standing on the guardrails or leaning out over the basket. The fact is, unless they have received both practical training AND training from a qualified trainer on the equipment itself, there is a lot they don’t know.

One of this year’s speakers, NES Rentals director, environmental, health and safety, Teresa Kee, talked about NES’ experience in using IPAF’s eLearning module to train more than 1,100 NES employees on AWP operation, including all shared services employees and rental coordinators. Each employee that has taken the eLearning course has also received practical training on the equipment and received a PAL card. As a result, NES is seeing benefits from the consistency of its training program and gaining better-informed, safer and more efficient employees and AWP operators. 

Over the past two days I’ve seen picture after picture illustrating workers grossly misusing the AWP equipment on their jobsite to accomplish tasks from machines that are either completely wrong for the type of work they are doing or positioned on the site in such a way that it’s clear the operator had no training in its proper use. In case after case you can see that proper training and education would have prevented the accident that happened. So what do we do? How can we put an end to this dangerous behavior from customers on jobsites? Beyond increasing your training programs and ensuring that every employee in your operation is properly trained in AWP safety and has earned the IPAF PAL card as NES has, you can be thoughtful and selective in who you hire.

Don’t hire cowboys! In other words, stay away from hiring individuals with a propensity to take risks and will stop at nothing to get a job done. In addition, remind rental customers at the point of rental that only properly trained employees should be authorized to use the equipment and that no cowboy behavior will be tolerated. Remind yourself and your employees that more important than getting a job done quickly is getting a job done safely.