Studio Mechanics Union Embraces AWPT Training

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“Safety is an attitude” is more than just an expression to Dennis de la Mata, training and safety officer of Motion Picture Studio Mechanics Local 476 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, “it’s a way of life.” And he comes by this feeling through experience. “A few years ago I had an accident where 800 pounds of truss pieces fell on me,” said de la Mata. “I was hospitalized just under a month and spent almost two years in rehab. During that time, I replayed that accident time after time in my head and came to the same conclusion each time— it could have been prevented through proper training. From that moment on, I decided to do everything I could to make our workplace safer.” A 30-year union member who has worked on films such as the “Blues Brothers,” “Backdraft,” “Batman,” and “Groundhog Day,” de la Mata became the union’s training and safety officer following his recovery, and dedicated himself to finding new and better ways to help members receive the best possible training in areas that affect their jobs.

The 500 active union members work in a wide variety of crafts that includes electricians and carpenters, and grips and props. Each position may require training in a number of areas and de la Mata is working on sources for proper training programs in each.

Recently the union completed construction of a state-of-the-art training center that was designed to meet the varied needs of its members. The center features a huge classroom with audio and video capabilities and incorporates an I-beam mounted on steel columns in the middle of the training area where de la Mata can teach fall protection safety and other programs.

Following a review of members’ training needs, de la Mata found that a great many of them require training in performing work overhead. Because of their versatility, aerial work platforms (AWP) like scissor lifts and telescoping boom lifts are often used to reach the overhead areas. They are safe, productive, and can be used in a variety of applications. To date, more than 40 percent of Local 476 members have undergone training in the use of aerials, however, the training varied widely and de la Mata felt that a more thorough and comprehensive program was needed.

Recently he attended the Construction Safety Council show in Rosemont, Ill., where Gary Riley of American Work Platform Training (AWPT) presented a two-hour program on aerial work platform (AWP) safety. AWPT is the North American subsidiary of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF). During this presentation Riley provided an overview of the proper use, setup, and maintenance of AWPs and identified additional hazards that must be considered when AWPs are used. He also invited interested attendees to an eight-hour session the following day that provided supervisors, safety managers and those responsible for training with an in-depth look at AWPs. The focus was on enabling them to know if the aerial lifts being operated are being used and maintained properly.

De la Mata was so impressed with what he learned from Riley, that he was convinced the members of the Studio Mechanics Union would benefit from the intense training offered.

AWPT training programs are based on the successful ISO-certified programs developed by leading industry professionals and IPAF. All AWPT training programs are ‘North Americanized’ to meet the requirements of current ANSI and CSA standards. The programs are reviewed annually to assure compliance with any changes in legislations, regulations, or additions/deletions/improvements requested by the IPAF programs committee during the year

Upon successful completion of a training program, AWPT issues a PAL Card (Powered Access Licensed-Registration) to all program graduates that denote the type of aerial platform the person has been trained to operate. Knowing who, on a site, has been trained to operate a particular device could prove invaluable when staffing a project.

Following the session, de la Mata told Riley that he wanted all of his union members that needed aerial platform training to go through the AWPT program and obtain a PAL Card. Although more than 200 union members had previously gone through other APT programs, de la Mata wanted other union members to experience what he went through. He contacted NES Rentals, Des Plaines, Ill., an approved AWPT training center, to discuss an ongoing relationship where union members who needed it could receive training and their PAL card.

A few months ago de la Mata and a group of Local 476 members attended their first AWPT training session. “It was an eight-hour program that included both hands-on and classroom sessions. And it was intense,” he said. “After years of experience using them, we thought we knew everything about operating a lift, but we learned a lot of things in the AWPT program that we didn’t know. We can take that back to our jobs and help make it a safer place to work. It was well worth the time,” he added.

To date, more than 30 Studio Mechanics Union members have received their PAL cards through NES. “Our goal is to have over 200 members trained within the next two years,” said de la Mata. “And if we find more people who need training in the safe operation of aerials, we’ll train them too,” he added.

Currently, de la Mata is working towards obtaining his AWPT instructor card so he can more closely assist local Mechanics Union members in their quest of a PAL card. And because of his experience with the AWPT program, he is working to introduce the program and the PAL card on a greater scale throughout the union. In addition, under OSHA guidelines, he is also putting together an OSHA 10-hour outreach program tailored specifically towards the studio environment.