Contractors warn of safety risks from inexperienced machinery operators

Powered Access familiarisation training
Image: Heather Rugeley

Two major contractors have issued warnings about the health and safety risks caused by operators using construction equipment which they are not familiar with.

In a debate hosted by Construction Management and the International Powered Access Federation, safety experts from Laing O’Rourke and Sir Robert McAlpine described operator familiarisation with site machinery they use as “essential” but were concerned that it may not always be carried out properly.

“Familiarisation is absolutely essential,” said Craig Hook, Sir Robert McAlpine head of lifting solutions. “But with all of the programme constraints, you can get into a situation where a machine is being delivered before the subcontractor arrives on site. How do you then make sure that they are properly familiarised? Making sure that you’ve got the team ready to receive the machine and have them ready to receive a proper demonstration from a representative of the rental company is really important.”

Hook believes that the IPAF ePal card, which captures operators’ experience and their hours of use on a particular type of machine, will be a “significant help”, providing “the confidence that somebody knows what they are doing”.

George Mosey, Laing O’Rourke head of health & safety for Europe, noted: “The realities are that you could have the most experienced, seasoned professional who has accrued 10,000 hours on a certain piece of equipment but they get paid the same as someone who’s literally just got their ticket the day before.”

‘Crisis of professionalism’

He added: “At the moment there is a crisis around professionalism in the industry. We need to reward those that have the experience and the competence and there needs to be an incentive there to people to invest in themselves to secure time-served experience.”

The hirer perspective came from Mark Keily, Sunbelt Rentals SHEQ director and chair of IPAF’s International Safety Committee.

He said: “So many times today, a contractor will tell us that he wants the operator to be familiarised, but when the kit is delivered to site, that operator is in an induction or is not available or the teams have swapped around.

“So we end up not being able to deliver the familiarisation to the operators.”

Brian Parker, IPAF head of safety & technical, argued that machinery familiarisation should be considered separate from training.

“Familiarisation isn’t training, it never has been,” he said. “It is a demonstration of the control functions, the safety features, the characteristics of that particular piece of equipment.  

“We certainly know that some of the incidents that have happened have been down to a lack of familiarisation on the actual equipment.”

To read the debate in full, along with other technical articles about powered access, read Powered Access magazine, published with this month’s CM.

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