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What training do you need?

Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher
Leigh W Sparrow, Publisher

July 19, 2014 - The other day I was asked “what training do you need to drive a crane?". While this might seem a simple question with a simple answer, it is actually a good deal more challenging.

As you know our publications cover access equipment - ranging from a podium step to a 112 metre truck mounted lift - telehandlers from ultra compacts up to 30 metre 360 degree models, and cranes from the smallest pick & carry machine to a 5,000 tonne lifting machine. So there is clearly a broad variation in the training and qualifications required.

There has been some debate in the past year or two on whether a one day course to gain an IPAF Pal card is sufficient to be allowed to jump into such a wide range of aerial lifts. Clearly there is a big difference between hopping into a 12ft self-propelled mast lift to taking the controls of a big spider lift or truck mount.

The same principle applies to telehandlers, while cranes are more complex again. One argument is that budding operators ought to take a tough test, as one does to gain a car driving licence. However there is a great deal of difference between being able to answer theoretical written questions and operate a crane or telehandler on an artificial course, than being qualified to operate this type of equipment on a wide range of busy congested sites, where every load will vary.

Platforms are a little different in that the load is always the same and the variables are largely limited to ground and climatic conditions. For small indoor machines these are very few and most limited to potholes/kerbs etc.. Large heavier machines or machines with outriggers require additional skills that involve assessing the terrain and ability of the ground to support the equipment etc… Wind and overhead electrical cables are also a major factor to be considered. So a more in depth course with a tougher exam, and perhaps longer practical session seems to make sense for these units.

When it comes to cranes operators need all of this, plus knowledge of how to properly and safely rig the crane, as well as understanding load slinging, rigging and signalling- since an operator should have a final veto over any lift with similar authority to the captain of a commercial aircraft.

The fact is that on all of these larger and more complex pieces of equipment the length of a training course or the toughness of a written exam and practical test will not a skilled operator make. Any good equipment owner will have its own training requirements and in most cases obtaining an operator’s ‘licence’ is simply one of the first steps in the process.

Good companies will initially put a new, inexperienced operator out with a highly experienced, well respected senior operator – who in most cases will be operating a larger crane or work platform where a second man is required for setting up, and perhaps assisting with slinging and signalling etc..  On simpler jobs the new man will also have the chance to operate the machine under the watchful eye of the senior man. Once he is deemed fully competent and able to work on his own, he can be assigned to a smaller unit from where he aims to work his way up to larger machines.

This apprentice type of training is the only way to safely gain practical experience and hopefully have good working practices ingrained. While also being assessed for having the right attributes to make a first class operator.

The machines that fall in the middle are big self-propelled lifts, small trailer and spider lifts, they are used by tradesmen not dedicated operators and yet are more complex than a small scissor lift and encounter more external challenges. For these a critical element is that the ’user-operator’ proves a clear understanding of the variations in ground conditions and their implication on the stability of the machine they are operating. This is usually built into the better training programmes, and covered in more depth in a bolt-on advanced module such as IPAF Pal +.

Perhaps the industry ought to consider an additional voluntary qualification, gained not through another training course, but by achieving a minimum number of incident free operator hours, recorded in a log book similar to that used by pilots. With operators having the chance to take a very tough, advanced exam once a minimum number of hours have been verifiably logged?

Such a move which is probably already in operation in some parts of the world, would help raise the prestige and standing of first class operators. All too often those operating large, highly sophisticated multi-million dollar machines are not given the same levels of respect as - for example – a pilot of a small commercial aircraft, and yet the knowledge, experience and skills required are similar, if not greater.

Perhaps if there was a sensible, practical qualification – or ranking system - which was adopted internationally professional operators would have something extra to strive for, while helping raise the prestige of this important job, and we might also find it easier to attract talented young people into the role?  

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Scott McCall
August 4, 2014 10:17

IPAF - If you work to the letter of the law the 1 day IPAF course has very little operator training time, it is a morning of theory and almost a whole afternoon of testing. I witnessed an audited course recently where the "Instructor" was criticised by the IPAF auditor for "Giving too much instruction to the delegates!!!"

Yes it is down to the instructor to verify if the delegate is capable, but when the majority of courses are run by rental companies, how many really want to fail a potential rental customer incurring that customer more cost and time away from the job?

I do not have the IPAF failure rate, but having taken the course a couple of times and having had a lot of contact with IPAF trainees I would suggest the low failure rate is more to do with a low standard than excellent training.

Maybe IPAF should become a testing body, using their own Examiners to test delegates at test centres? With the training companies providing training and putting the delegates forward for test when they feel they are capable and ready. This should increase training time on machines and give additional credibility for the qualification by splitting training and testing.

July 27, 2014 21:52

What about just trusting people not to be stupid? In my experience, most -in fact pretty much ALL- of the people I come across just don't do anything silly. They don't die on a regular basis. Their eyes are becoming damaged because of the ridiculous requirement to wear unnatural adornments. Their peripheral sensation is numbed through wearing of gloves...... People are completely garbed up alongside members of the public! What, oh what, is going on? Millions of years of evolution is being dismissed by some smartarses who want to justify their jobs! This isn't going to end for a while. Too much money involved.

Lewis Major
July 26, 2014 11:17

I think the whole experienced operator and training system needs a complete overhaul. 1 days training for an IPAF card 3 days to operate a self erecting tower crane, sorry in my eyes this is not right or correct. All these machines on site are incredibly dangerous killers and yet we quite happily let people with very little experience and or intelligence operate them. Long gone are the days where every body had a bucket load of common sense and could be relied on. Pressure to get the job done and weak inexperienced operators that won't or don't know when to say NO is where the route cause of most accidents lie. Proper training and assessment with a governing body with teeth not just handing out cards like confetti, and a system of revoking licences after accidents or until investigations have concluded.

Plenty to discuss


Alan Howes
July 20, 2014 00:03

Many valid points and comments. A great Editorial.


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