Interview: New IPAF president on what’s next in ensuring safety when working at height

Karel Huijser became president of the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), taking the reins from Dinolift’s Karin Nars at the Federation’s annual general meeting in March. Euan Youdale reports on Huijser’s vision for his term, and for the effort to bring increased safety to those working at height.

In his full-time job Karel Huijser is JLG’s general manager and vice president for Europe, Africa and the Middle East (EAME), drawing on a wealth of experience as he embarks on a two-year stint as IPAF’s highest ranking board member.

Now, as its president, Huijser shares his views on the direction IPAF is taking in an ever-evolving access market, in which safety continues to be the driving force.

AI: How does it feel to be president of IPAF?
Karel Huijser Karel Huijser, IPAF’s new president.

Huijser: Actually, it feels good. It’s a great honor and a privilege for me to be elected as IPAF president, and I am glad to share it with CEO of Riwal Pedro Torres, who is now vice president of the IPAF Board, and CEO of Partnerlift Kai Schliephake, now deputy president of the IPAF Board.

In the 12 years since joining JLG and becoming involved with IPAF, the industry has changed quite a bit. When I started, there were fewer OEMs and more rental companies. Today, EMEA has become the theater for almost all OEMs and, due to consolidation, fewer rental companies. This has changed many things, but one priority has remained: A commitment to safety.

Safety is at the heart of IPAF and is a key element close to my heart, also in my role at JLG, coming to this industry as I did, from the outside. All IPAF members share the same purpose – to enable safe working at height – and this is what drives me the most. We are not in this industry just to make money or further our own ambitions, we are also in this industry with a mission, and a shared purpose of bringing people back home from work safely.

As president of IPAF, I look forward to working closely with the executive leadership, the IPAF staff, the board and the council members to advance its diverse initiatives worldwide and drive progress and excellence within the powered access industry in 2024 and beyond.

AI: How does the IPAF president and board contribute to the Federation?

Huisjer: Together with Pedro and Kai, our role in these executive leadership positions is to support the organization and represent the interests of its members worldwide, which include manufacturing, rental and those operating our machines. Using our experiences in the industry, we will contribute to shaping future policies and standards that govern the powered access industry.

AI: What are your goals for the two years of your presidency?

Huijser: Inclusion and belonging - We definitely want to continue the subject of diversity and inclusion that Karin started before us. She focused on women in access and introduced the next generation at our last IPAF Summit. When she and Peter asked me if I had a top HR person to talk about the next generations, I thought it might be an even better idea to have the next generation present. So, we had two millennials, Kasia and James, talking about Generation Z while they both just became parents of Generation Alfa babies. We all listened to the “young” ones that day, let’s not forget to continue with listening to them. That makes it sustainable.

Storytelling - Sustainable safety is my personal long-term goal. Put simply, safety not only concerns today but also the future. Sustainable safety emphasizes the importance of considering the long-term impact of safety initiatives on the environment, society, and future generations. We can learn so much from history. But let’s talk about what we learned in the past let’s talk about the good but also the bad. If things go wrong, shame on us if we don’t learn from it.

I talked about my first experience of a fatality within my organization during the Summit, telling our stories will help us all. Data and numbers are important, but we need to talk about it more. It will help us to learn and enable us to prevent potential hazards and risks. We also need to speak up. I call it an act of leadership. If you see someone not wearing a harness, go and tell that person. I would like to encourage everyone to use storytelling as a tool. By this, I mean sharing personal experiences regarding safety at work, to encourage others to keep safety foremost in mind.

Globalization - This one is really for the next two years – we want to become larger outside the UK. China and USA are still large opportunities, but extra focus will be given to India and Saudi Arabia. Of the presidential team, Pedro will lead the globalization movement. He will also keep an eye on the financials of the organization. The Council is truly global and will also play an important role in our globalization effort. Kai will focus on the role of the council and lets its influence be pivotal for the federation.

AI: What will IPAF’s key initiatives be going forward?

To sum them up:

  • “Crushing Can Kill!” – Worldwide safety campaign
  • Digitization of IPAF’s training systems – Full paperless training experience for the operators and training centers, reducing admin for centers by more than 50%
  • New operator training course to launch worldwide – end 2024
  • Further developments of ePAL app including access control and automated digital logbook entries
  • As mentioned earlier; getting more than 50% of IPAF’s revenues from outside the UK over the next two years

In March 2024, IPAF launched its global safety campaign, entitled “Crushing Can Kill!” – this aims to raise awareness and reduce entrapment and crushing incidents.

There have been numerous fatalities and injuries due to this. The campaign emphasizes the importance of training, proper planning, and safety protocols. Industry participation is so important. Together, we can prevent and reduce entrapment and crushing-related incidents.

AI: What are the most pressing issues in the industry that IPAF must focus on?

Huijser: Again, let me first sum them up...

  • Attracting and retaining talented people in our industry is becoming harder. What IPAF is doing? – IPAF apprenticeship programs, engineering roadmap, EDI initiatives, Women in Powered access, highlighting best practice at the Summit.
  • The electrification of powered access – how quickly do manufacturers and rental companies move? Is the infrastructure there to support it?
  • Downturn in economies in Europe and Asia is a huge challenge with big effects for manufacturers and rental companies.

Of course, safety is the main issue to be addressed, but we also recognize the need for greater sustainability, increased digitalization, and workforce development. These are the areas that deserve our attention.

AI: What are the challenges and opportunities for IPAF?

Huijser: In terms of challenges, IPAF needs to ensure consistent safety standards globally and adapt to rapid technological advancements. When it comes to opportunities, I believe that

Karel Huijser Immediate Past President Karin Nars presents Huijser with the IPAF president’s chain.

involves expanding IPAF’s international presence and leveraging digital tools for improved training and communication.

In which parts of the world is IPAF aiming to develop its presence?

If we look back to 2023, there was 10% growth in membership in the Americas, 7% growth in Asia Pacific, and 3% growth in Europe. Only the Middle East and Africa saw a small 3% fall in membership.

We want to become larger outside the UK. China and USA are still large opportunities, but extra focus will be given to India and Saudi Arabia.

Two council bodies, in Hong Kong and Singapore, were dissolved in 2023, and IPAF is working to create a new Asia Council.

AI: What are the challenges to expansion in, for example, the US?

Huijser: The US market has a highly competitive landscape with established industry associations and training providers. IPAF can play a complementary, supportive role because of it’s globally recognized training programs and commitments to safety standards. It should not be seen as “competition” but more as extra resources.

Building strong partnerships with key stakeholders, such as equipment rental companies and OEMs, would also help enhance IPAF’s visibility and credibility in the US market. IPAF is still seen by many as a European initiative, hence the earlier mentioned needed globalization effort.

In his own words: Huijser history

Having studied in Delft in the early 1980s to become an industrial designer by trade, I started my career in the mid-1980s at the DAF Trucks design center. I also worked in various roles at General Electric and Tennant.

Later in my career, at the age of 50, I decided to go back to school – at the Columbia Business School in New York City – to become a Master of Science in Leadership. Here I learned about value-driven leadership and leading change management. Following that, I joined JLG in 2012 as general manager and vice president, JLG EMEA.

When I joined JLG, I found out quickly that people in this industry don’t just strive to make money or further their own ambitions, we are also in this industry with a mission, and a shared purpose of bringing people back home from work safely. I also was warned that if you join this industry, you will never leave. People connected by a purpose is the key behind the attractiveness of this industry I think. We make a difference in the lives of those that operate and service our products and solutions. Through my leadership role at JLG, I became involved in IPAF and have been working closely alongside the organization throughout my career with the company.

Family force

On a personal note, although I have always enjoyed my work intensely, my family is the driving force in my life. I’m married and have four children and two grandchildren. My wife and I also fostered five children, one of whom is now grown up and part of our family, and one (a 13-year-old!) has recently just joined us. It’s an honor to give these kids security, unconditional love and a safe home.


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Ollie Hodges Publisher Tel: +44 (0)1892 786253 E-mail: [email protected]
Lewis Tyler
Lewis Tyler Editor Tel: 44 (0)1892 786285 E-mail: [email protected]