After months of preparation, testing, late nights and cups of tea, the RTITB Operator of the Year 2011 Grand Final kicked off on Friday 16th September to great success.

From the 105,000 qualified counterbalance operators eligible to enter, just 10 made it through to the Grand Final, following the completion of their respective National Finals. In order to fully test the skill and nerve of the competitors, the final consisted of 8 tests; 5 practical, 2 static and 1 theory and in keeping with the structure of the National Finals, the specifications of each test were kept hidden from the competitors until the big day.

Featuring a bold and vibrant fairground theme, both the competitors and guests were spoilt for entertainment thanks to the range of games, competitions and of course, the 8 tests. The tests, designed by Simon Doherty, Technical Development & Standards Delivery Manager at RTITB, consisted of a series of fun, challenging and imaginatively named tests, including ‘Helter Skelter’, ‘Crazy Ghoul Dual’ and ‘Hook a Duck’. RTITB also utilised a range of attachments including a carpet boom, double pallet handler, and clamp attachment provided by B&B attachments.

Although each of the competitors enjoyed the light atmosphere the theme provided, the importance of the competition to them was clear to see throughout the day as they put everything they had into each test.

Following the day’s events, Jane Willis, Director of Cross-cutting Interventions Directorate of the Health & Safety Executive gave a speech stressing the importance of correct and safe operation, citing just how pivotal the competition is to the industry, before announcing Gary Maher from Jarrow as the 2011 champion. Along with winning the title of Operator of the Year, Gary was also presented with a brand new Toyota Aygo Ice. Gary’s achievement proves the importance of working safely and correctly in the workplace and how the only way to operate is the right way. As a competitor in the original 2008 competition, Gary won a place at the Grand Final but unfortunately failed to place in the top three. However, his determination and dedication paid off when he was announced the winner at Friday’s awards show, held at Telford Golf & Spa hotel.

Commenting on his win, Gary, who is trained and employed by TNT Express Services UK & Ireland, said: “It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I keep turning to my wife and saying ‘have we just won a car?’ It’s all a bit surreal at the moment.” First runner up of the competition was Telford local, Colin Price, trained by AES Training Services Ltd and employed by Cables to Go.  Colin was hugely surprised to be announced as a runner up and was awarded with £2000 worth of holiday vouchers. Second runner up was awarded to Simon Bottomley from the Isle of Man. Trained by Manx Industrial Training, and employed by Nazaleze, Simon won £1000 worth of shopping vouchers and amazed everyone with his abilities following ankle surgery a few months ago.

The competition was designed to highlight the importance of properly trained operators within the workplace, and the 2011 competition has greatly surpassed the already high standard set by the original competition. In 2008, Ken Saward from Swansea was declared champion, returning for this year’s Nationals and Grand Final as a guest judge. The day itself saw an attendance of over 150 people, including the competitors’ families, trainers and employers, all of whom were greatly impressed by the level of skill delivered by each of the competitors and have been highly complimentary of what RTITB were able to achieve on the day.

With the competition widely acknowledged as a great success by all in attendance, the only way for the Operator of the Year competition to go from here is onwards and upwards, and RTITB is eager to see how far the competition can go.

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