Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Falling Back on Training

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Falling Back on Training

Article excerpt

Training is a cornerstone of OSHA's new fall protection regulations. Here's what the experts say it takes to implement an effective program at your company.

This month, OSHA's updated fall protection standard goes into effect. While there are a number of new requirements, such as a phase-out of the use of body belts and non-locking snap-hooks, experts consider one new requirement particularly vital to the success of any fall protection program: employers must properly train all workers who might be exposed to a fall hazard.

"This will open up a big can of worms for employers," said Ron Adams, a project engineer for Miller Equipment, Franklin, Pa. "Not only do employers have to contend with understanding the requirements of the full standard, but they will also have to train their employees to understand specific requirements."

Where past fall protection standards covered training in general terms, OSHA's new fall protection standard spells out in detail what employees must know. This includes everything from correct procedures for implementing fall arrest systems to proper handling and storage of equipment and materials.

"In one respect, [the new standard] is good, because it allows employers to cite the regulatory burden as a reason for implementing training. The number one reason people say they use fall protection at all is because OSHA requires it," Adams said. "But when you look at the cost of not using proper fall protection, OSHA fines are small compared to the price you can pay in insurance, liability and downtime, not to mention the possible loss of life."

Adams makes the point that implementing effective training is a must for any company that wants to keep costs down and maintain safe work practices. But what exactly is effective training, and what are the obstacles to achieving it?

According to fall protection expert J. Nigel Ellis, CEO of Research & Trading Corp., Wilmington, Del., effective training is, at least in part, a product of the specific industry in which a company works. "People copy what other people in their industry are doing, whether it's a competitor across town or some other company," Ellis said.

According to Andrew Sulowski, executive director of the International Society for Fall Protection, industry-specific considerations definitely define the scope of fall protection training. "Fall protection only became a separate field of safety engineering over the past 15 years," Sulowski said. "Fall protection is applicable to all workplaces, but there are special considerations for different occupations.

"Work on electric utility lines, for instance, differs from work on communications towers that are sometimes as much as 1,000 ft. tall, which is quite different again from working on residential roofs," Sulowski said.

The use of the correct equipment for specific conditions is also important, according to Sulowski, a senior technical specialist for Toronto, Canada-based utility Ontario Hydro. He said working outdoors in cold climates, for instance, calls for special considerations.

No training program can be effective without support from the top of the company, according to Jack O'Donovan, safety director for Gilbane Building Co., Providence, R.I.

"We're a construction management company," O'Donovan said. "So our training efforts aren't aimed at our work force, but at the management level people of the subcontractors we hire. We show them the different types of fall protection equipment available, and sell them on the necessity of proper fall protection. You have to work downwards through management. We have found that this approach usually puts management solidly behind fall protection training."

Training vs. Demonstration

Effective fall protection training starts when companies begin to understand the distinction between training and demonstration, according to Ellis. "A manufacturer might come out and show how a rope breaks or a lanyard works or how to set up a tripod, but that is not training, that is demonstration," Ellis said. …

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