Operator Training Issues

Occupational Health & Safety, (c) Stevens Publishing Corporation.

All aerial lift standards require operators to read the operator’s manual prior to use. Without this familiarization, an aerial lift is a potentially dangerous tool. Casual users–those who need this information the most–often omit this step.

In a California case, a young man who had no previous lift experience or knowledge about outriggers and had not read the manual, borrowed a vertical lift to put up a “grand opening” sign at a restaurant. The young man positioned the lift on an inclined sidewalk without outriggers and consequently the lift overturned, causing injury. The man then sued the manufacturer for making an unsafe product.

In court, his attorney inquired about the possibility of setting up the machine with incorrectly installed outriggers. While this is physically possible, the young man could have set up and leveled the machine correctly if he had read the operator’s manual. The attorney pressed on to determine whether the machine could be improperly set up without reading the manual. The response suggested that if an operator has not read the manual, he has no business using the machine. Consequently, the court sided with the defendant lift manufacturer.

In the event of the inability of operators to read or understand the language of the manuals, ANSI standards have provisions that allow others to explain the manuals. The issue of training is in a state of change. Previously, an experienced operator (one with sufficient familiarity or training with a given machine) would be held more responsible for his or her own actions than an inexperienced operator. Currently, with the recent ANSI A92.6 standard, the employer must ensure all employees operating self-propelled aerial work platforms have proper familiarization (training as well as reading the operator’s manual) before use.

If the present ANSI A92.6 standard had covered the lift operated by the young man putting up the restaurant sign, the restaurant owner would have needed to ensure his proper training. In situations when the employer cannot provide training, he or she must seek out someone who can. Likewise, the lender of a machine is responsible for the proper familiarization of the borrower. However, this responsibility cannot reasonably be held to the manufacturer.

The date of occurrence is critical in determining which training standards apply. The operator’s effort to gain familiarity with a machine may be important in an older occurrence or potentially irrelevant in a current occurrence, when the responsibility of operator training lies with the employer. Casual lending of machines may lead to severe consequences ┬áconcerning the issues of training and familiarization.