“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. To him, it's a way of life. He comes by this feeling through experience.

“A few years ago, I had an accident where 800 pounds of truss pieces fell on me,” remembered de la Mata. “I was hospitalized just under a month and spent almost 2 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, Groundhog Day and many others, de la Mata became the union's training and safety officer following his recovery and worked to find new and better ways to help union members receive the best possible training in areas that affect their jobs.

The 500 active union members include workers in a wide variety of crafts — from electricians and carpenters, to grips, props and many others. Each position may require training in a number of areas, and de la Mata is working to develop or locate 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 the training needs, de la Mata found that a great many members require training in performing work overhead. Because of their versatility, aerial work platforms like scissor lifts and telescoping boom lifts often are used to reach these areas because they are safer, more productive and can be used in a variety of applications. To date, over 40 percent of Local 476 members have undergone some form of training in the use of aerials. In the past, however, the amount and quality of this type of training varied widely and de la Mata felt that a more thorough and comprehensive training program was needed.

THE RIGHT TRAINING

Recently, de la Mata attended the Construction Safety Council Conference in Rosemont, Ill., where Gary Riley of American Work Platform Training (AWPT) presented a 2-hour program on aerial work platform (AWP) safety. AWPT is the North American subsidiary of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF).

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 attendees to a more in-depth, 8-hour session the following day to help supervisors, safety managers and trainers understand whether their aerial lifts are being used and maintained properly.

de la Mata attended the additional session and was so impressed with what he learned from Riley that he was convinced that the members of the Studio Mechanics Union would benefit from the aerial work platform safety training program offered by AWPT.

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 annually are reviewed to assure compliance with any changes in legislations, regulations or to include any additions, deletions or 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 denotes the type of aerial platform the person has been trained to operate. Knowing which workers on a site have 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 who needed aerial platform training to go through the AWPT program and obtain a PAL Card. Although over 200 union members previously had taken other aerial platform training programs, de la Mata thought that other union members would find the AWPT program valuable.

FIRST TRAINING SESSION

de la Mata learned that NES Rentals in nearby Des Plaines, Ill., was an approved AWPT Training Center and contacted them to discuss an ongoing relationship so that all members of the Studio Mechanics Union Local 476 that needed aerial platform safety training could receive training and their PAL Card through NES. A few months ago, de la Mata and a group of Local 476 members attended their first AWPT training session.

“It was an 8-hour program that included both hands-on and classroom sessions, and it was intense,” said de la Mata. “After years of experience using them, we thought we knew everything about operating a lift, but we learned a lot of things in [training] 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.”

To date, over 30 Studio Mechanics Union members have received their PAL Cards. “Our goal is to have over 200 members trained within the next 2 years,” he said. “And if we find more people who need training in the safe operation of aerials, we'll train them too.”

Currently, de la Mata is working towards obtaining his AWPT Instructor Card so that 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, de la Mata is working to introduce the program and the PAL Card on a greater scale throughout the union.

And de la Mata's dedication to safety training doesn't stop with aerial platforms. Using OSHA guidelines, he also is creating an OSHA 10-hour Outreach Program that specifically is tailored to the studio work environment.


Bill Hindman has been president of Industrial Marketing Services of Des Plaines, Ill., for over 30 years and also handles marketing communications for Aerial Work Platform Training, the North American subsidiary of the IPAF.