ECU students broadcast aerial lift safety techniques

ECU graduate student Chris Bland outlined the errors that led to the death of a Notre Dame videographer when a scissors lift was toppled by wind, during an April 20 presentation broadcast from ECU’s global classroom. (Photo by Cliff Hollis)

A graduate project by two East Carolina University students resulted in safety recommendations for aerial lift videotaping by athletic programs that have been broadcast to universities in the Big XII, Conference USA and the University of Virginia.

The presentation, “Aerial Lift Safety and Football Practice,” was broadcast April 20 from ECU’s global classroom. It addressed a crucial collegiate sports issue in the spotlight in October 2010, after a 20-year-old Notre Dame student was killed while videotaping football practice. The student was standing inside a 40-foot scissor lift toppled by a wind gust exceeding 50 mph.

Scissor lifts are used for obtaining aerial video of outdoor practices in many collegiate sports, including the ECU Pirates football program.

Chris Bland and Landon Hoefer, both graduate assistants for the football team, recommended classroom and hands-on instruction to ensure each lift operator has sufficient knowledge on precautions, visual inspections and workplace hazards.

“Users must demonstrate that they can safely operate the machine before they go up there,” said Hoefler.

Bland and Hoefer also recommended attaching an anemometer to the lifts’ railings to measure winds speeds and shutting down the lifts if wind speeds exceed 35 mph.

ECU head football coach Ruffin McNeill supported Bland and Hoefler’s findings. “When that wind blows, safety overrides everything,” he said.

McNeill said the Notre Dame incident has made everyone in collegiate athletics more aware of the dangers associated with aerial videography. “I tell every video guy about Ruff’s rule,” he said. “If you’re nervous or scared, you come down. That’s Ruff’s rule and they all know it.”

The student research was completed as part of a graduate occupational safety course taught by associate professor Michael Behm. Behm said he chose to broadcast the program to fellow universities because the students’ recommendations were so important. “If content from a unique, well-researched class project stays within our classroom at ECU, then we lose an opportunity to help others,” he said.

“Football personnel know about the Notre Dame incident but may not be sure how to prevent it from happening in the future through specific safe work practices,” Behm said.  Tom Leonard, associate director of Environment Safety and Health at the University of Virginia, reported that UVA football staff who attended the broadcast learned from it and had positive feedback.

Adding the service component gives the students’ project additional value, while remaining in line with ECU’s mission of service, Behm said. “Teaching, research and service are highly valued in our department and hopefully this philosophy will stay with our students so they will become better citizens,” he said.

Video of the presentation is archived at http://gc.ecu.edu/mediasite/SilverlightPlayer/Default.aspx?peid=e5a68928e4914922b8cce5890b3426321d

For additional information, contact Mike Behm at 252.328.9674 or behmm@ecu.edu.

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