Sustainability, digitisation and adopting new technologies are all key to building back from the coronavirus pandemic, according to presenters at this year’s IPAF Summit

Sustainability, digitisation and adopting exciting new technologies are key to building back from the coronavirus pandemic, according to presenters at this year’s Summit of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), hosted for the first time ever as a virtual event along with a digital prize-giving for the International Awards for Powered Access (IAPAs) on 18 March 2021.

The theme of the IPAF Summit will consider the question of sustainability in powered access, the challenges of operating safely and effectively in the post-Covid-19 era, and the opportunities of digital and technological innovation for safer work at height.

Suzannah Nichol, CEO of Build UK, said during her Summit-opening presentation: “How do we grow and build sustainable businesses? Pay suppliers on time, treat staff well, and invest in new technology. That’s what IPAF and Build UK have in common. We benchmark our members, and most now pay their suppliers within 30 days – while we’re not there yet, we have made great strides on this issue.

“We also want to make our industry more efficient, reduce waste and increase productivity. Why have one form when you can have ten, seems to be our industry’s mantra at times, and so we are building a new prequalification framework, the Common Assessment Standard. We think this will save the industry up to £1 billion a year, not to mention reduce paperwork and free up key staff for other more productive tasks.

“Last but by no means least we focus on people: Recruiting, training and retaining talent. Without the right people, we can’t operate. It is up to all of us to take our enthusiasm, passion and skills into schools to encourage young people into our industry. How we train people is really important and IPAF is definitely a leading light in that department. We need to provide more apprenticeship places and encourage young people into them. Finally, working flexibly has seen a major shift in the past year.

“Everyone who has participated in this event has the power to do things differently, every one of us has a part to play in making our industry better, and we all need to ask ourselves what part will that be?”

In answer to questions about the post-pandemic future, she added: “Construction work is holding up and the figures from February 2021 show we are back to pre-pandemic levels already, albeit a lot of that is catching up on the existing pipeline; we are keeping an eye on the pipeline for the future, and we need to do all we can to make sure that the UK is a great place to do business in future.”

Søren Brogaard, the new CEO of Trackunit, presented along with Peter Douglas, CEO & MD of IPAF, about the organisations’ collaboration in producing the new ePAL application for mobile devices, which is set to revolutionise the way operators store and share training certification – via digital PAL Cards – and log their equipment time.

It was also announced that IPAF would be establishing a new ePAL Committee that will drive future improvements to the app and wider safety of the industry, gathering feedback from IPAF members, equipment manufacturers, contractors and most importantly from operators themselves.

Peter pointed out the new app will bring tremendous benefits from an environmental and sustainability point of view. Reducing the physical assets of the PAL Card issuing and certification process from a typical year’s output that currently amounts to a 130-metre stack of printed paper and plastic that is shipped from supplier, to IPAF, to Training Centre and on to candidates. “And then, after five years, the candidate puts it all in the bin and starts again… the new app will lead to us reducing the number of steps in processing a PAL Card and cut down on all that waste.”

Søren explained the app has been “long in the making, at least in terms of an industry wish-list… and now it is finally here. It will allow us to communicate directly with operators and offer a centralised database of operator activities – ePAL is our commitment to enable collaboration between the operator and the digital eco-system.”

He ran through a digital demo of the new ePAL app, adding: “We all know filling out or populating paper operator log-books has been a little bit of a challenge. For the first time, this app will offer a centralised database that records an operator’s activities that can be anonymised and shared to the benefit of the industry as a whole.

“We can also use the app to encourage and make it easier to report an accident or near-miss incident through the new IPAF reporting portal. My hope is we can all share in a safer, digital future for operators.”

Karel Huijser (JLG), Pierre Boels (Boels) and Norty Turner (United Rentals) closed the Summit in a virtual round-table discussion moderated by Murray Pollok, Managing Editor of Access International, who began by asking “is the powered access industry doing enough to be sustainable?”

Pierre thought powered access was “in a good place” but also remarked that “everyone… wants power from wind turbines, but not necessarily in their back yard”. He felt the industry could be proactive in marketing cleaner electric-powered machines but is limited by a need to balance costs and what customers are willing to pay.

Norty countered: “Is any industry doing enough? I don’t think so… but we need to push hard to find new opportunities to do more. Pierre is right, what will ultimately drive it is the economics behind it. Just look at the automotive industry, it is really starting to flip. We will need to see similar in the construction industry, to get the economic imperative in balance with what the market will pay.”

He referenced small incremental changes across United Rentals, such as switching to LED lighting, moving away from petroleum-based lubricants or utilising sophisticated routing software to reduce emissions from fleet deliveries. He felt the access industry was ahead of other plant in terms of the capability of electric machines, and that contractor end-users are becoming more aware of sustainability across the board.

Karel also drew comparisons with the automotive industry, emphasising the importance of investing in and focusing on battery technology to drive innovation and affordable. “The awareness of this issue is good in Europe and especially in Scandinavia, and the US is beginning to catch up in this regard and so demand for electric-powered solutions is rising there.”

The conversation touched on how powered access rental embraces and embodies the circular economy, the importance of enhancing the life-span of machines and batteries, utilising tools such as the Equipment CO2 calculator from the European Rental Association (ERA), and looking at end-of-life strategies for powered access machines.

Participants agreed the pandemic would not halt the drive for sustainability; as Pierre said: “Going green is irreversible.” It has in fact presented opportunities to “go green”, such as less business travel and more use of video conferencing, but Norty said: “I believe events such as this will return to being ‘in-person’ once the pandemic is over.”

The presentations and discussions were interspersed by announcements of the category winners of the 2020-21 IAPAs, as well as video presentations from sponsors and a closing virtual delegate networking session. There was also a video about how IPAF member firms have supported clients, communities or charities in the pandemic.

The event was hosted by Mark Durden Smith, a TV presenter in the UK. Thanks to the support of event sponsors, registration for the event was free and more than 1,000 participants from no fewer than 67 countries worldwide.

Peter Douglas, CEO of IPAF, said: “It’s fantastic that despite the pandemic, attendees from all round the world were able to benefit from a high-quality series of speakers and to participate in the celebrations as we announced the IAPAs winners. We thank CMC, Sinoboom, Trackunit, ZTR, Hinowa, Alimak and Imer Group for their sponsorship.”

● Those wishing to view a recording of the IPAF summit, read all about the IAPAs-shortlists and category winners, or to view the sponsor of Covid-19 support videos can do so free of charge via the website.