During almost 1,900 inspections of worksites in 2019, government inspectors issued nearly 2,000 citations over management's failure to meet fall protection training requirements. These citations resulted in almost $3 million in proposed penalties.
In 2016, the National Safety Council (NSC) published data showing that almost 700 workers died following a multi-level fall. Over 48,000 workers suffered injuries from a fall severe enough to require time off work.
Unfortunately, not much has changed in the years since. Falls from heights are still the second-leading cause of unintentional fatal workplace accidents, second only to motor vehicle accidents. Over 27% of the 900,380 non-fatal work injuries resulting in days away from work in 2018 were related to slips, trips, and falls.
These statistics provide clear motivation for employers to ensure they get their fall protection and prevention training right. Here is what you need to know to ensure that you do.
Employers are legally obligated to ensure workplaces have appropriate safety measures in place to prevent falls. They must also supply fall protection in the form of engineering controls or personal protective equipment (PPE) when necessary.
However, none of this is of any use if employers do not train their workers on how to use equipment properly and prevent falls. That is why the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has also made worker training on fall hazards and the proper use of fall protection a legal obligation for employers.
Under OSHA rules, employers must provide fall avoidance and equipment training to any employee exposed to fall hazards in the workplace. A competent person must lead the training, and there are specific requirements for a competent person from both OSHA and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Employers must also present training in a language that the employee understands. This is critical. It isn't enough, for example, to provide training in English if some of your workers speak only Spanish. All of your workers must understand the training they are receiving.
There are also specific requirements depending on the nature of the workplace. For example, there are specific training requirements for fall protection for workers in construction. However, general industry and maritime standards also cover non-construction training standards for fall prevention. There are also state regulations for safety and training that often exceed OSHA requirements, so these must be consulted in any state where a company operates.
In 2016, OSHA passed a final rule expanding fall protection standards to the general industry and acknowledging that many of these workers face the same fall hazards as those in the construction industry. This required employers to identify fall hazards in their workplaces and to institute fall protection plans and procedures. It also requires employers to train workers in recognizing and avoiding falls.
Training Content And Style
Hands-on training is almost always preferable to a lecture or seminar format. Allowing your workers to don or use safety equipment, for example, will help them understand its use and its limitations. According to the OSHA rule, the training should teach employees to recognize and avoid fall hazards.More specifically, the training must include:
- The nature of fall hazards in the work area
- The correct procedures for erecting, maintaining, disassembling, and inspecting the fall protection systems to be used
- The use and operation of guardrail systems, personal fall arrest systems, safety net systems, warning line systems, safety monitoring systems, controlled access zones, and other protection to be used
- Each employee's role in the safety monitoring system when this system is used
There are additional specifications to follow for specific industries. For example, if a roofer uses mechanical equipment, they must be trained on particular limitations for handling such equipment on low-sloped roofs.
Verification and Certification
Employers are required to issue a written certification that each employee completed fall prevention training. The certificate must include the employee's name, the date of training and the signature of the trainer or the employer.
Employers also must retrain an employee they believe did not understand the initial training or demonstrate a lack of skill in the area of fall protection. Retraining must also be provided to employees when new equipment or fall protection mechanisms and procedures are introduced, or changes render protection systems, equipment or processes obsolete.
Levels of Protection Training
Four levels of fall protection training can be provided for workers:
Awareness level training offers the bare minimum and usually includes a brief on-site session and discussion. It does not typically have hands-on practice and may lack the specificity and thoroughness required to keep a workplace safe.
Authorized-user training is considered the best practice for keeping workers safe. It is usually specific to a job and the particular fall-related hazards a worker may face.
Competent person training covers a broader number of hazards. Employers will often supply this training to supervisors who must be aware of all risks the employees under their care may be exposed to. The competent person receives more intense training because they must be able to address situations and recommend solutions. They will also provide training to employees.
Qualified person training is the highest level of training and usually involves a specialized degree or training that allows this person to make design change recommendations or design safety systems. Generally, an employer will designate one person as the qualified person.
OSHA has gathered a wide variety of resources to help employers deliver fall prevention and protection training to their workers, including posters, fact sheets, videos and case studies. These resources focus on many topics, including ladders and scaffolds, safety gear and other fall protection systems. For employers and supervisors, OSHA has published a Fall Prevention Training Guide Lesson Plan. Alliance Program participants have also developed several ToolBox Talks that focus on fall prevention that employers can access.