Can you imagine being able to rent a car without having a driver’s license? No? Why then, is it considered okay to rent a MEWP without proof of operator training? How can a “week-end warrior” decide to paint the house, cut down a tree, or perform any other task and walk into a big box retailer or hardware store with just a valid credit card and rent a MEWP without any question of their ability to safely operate the equipment?
After 40+ years in the access industry and experience with ladders, scaffolding and aerial lifts or mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs), I can say people were incredulous when asked if they wanted ladder training, and equally confident they knew how to use scaffolding and MEWPs.
I’ve observed some of the more obvious misuses and improper applications imaginable with all of these devices. Ladders, scaffolds and MEWPs are basically easy products to use – after some simple and basic training. A MEWP is a well designed and manufactured piece of equipment that provides the safest means to gain access to temporary work at height. They are designed for the purpose of elevating persons, along with their necessary tools and materials, to work at height.
A MEWP can be driveable with the work platform elevated. Unlike a car that is intended to be driven on prepared surfaces intended for vehicle traffic, a MEWP is often driven on unprepared ground surfaces. What could possibly go wrong?
It’s hard to imagine you can get electrocuted operating a car, but electrocutions are the leading cause of fatalities among MEWP operators. As you know, electrical lines are elevated on telephone poles and driving a car near or under lines is safe. A MEWP, however, is intended to elevate the operator and occupants above the ground.
Even safety training for MEWPs define the need to maintain at least 10 feet from an energized line. Nonetheless, accident data report that over 50% percent of MEWP electrocution accidents had the bodies in contact with the power source. They obviously knew how to make the MEWP move and elevate – they just were unaware of the hazards associated with their operation and how to protect themselves against the risk.
MEWP operator training includes a demonstration of the ability to proficiently identify and operate all of the functions and controls on the MEWP. It also includes how to perform a pre-start inspection, how to plan the route of travel, how to do a work site inspection, and how to set the MEWP up for work, as well as park and secure it. All of these skills are included in the hands-on practical evaluation.
Before a trainee even gets near an actual MEWP, they must complete a theory training session. Included in the theory training are numerous topics, such as purpose and use of operation manuals, knowledge of how to perform a daily pre-start inspection, knowing and understanding factors affecting stability, and the highly critical recognition and avoidance of hazards associated with operation.
It is the employer of the operator who must ensure the person is properly trained on the MEWP classification in use and familiarized on the specific MEWP model prior to authorization. They must be assessed on a regular basis to ensure their proficiency. Renting the right equipment for the task but not having a trained and familiarized operator is a violation of OSHA and ANSI requirements and places all in the work area at risk.
Homeowners and self-employed individuals do not have OSHA regulations to protect them. They do not have an employer to ensure regulations and standards are known and followed. While an individual might be able to rent a MEWP, they must also understand their responsibility to ensure their own safety. All MEWP renters should ask for training and complete it. Yes, you can legally rent a MEWP, but you need training to safely operate it.