For anyone working at heights, gravity is the enemy. All it takes is one little bump, losing your balance for just a moment, or a slight trip to send a worker on a dangerous fall.

That's why the risk of falling needs to be constantly controlled and mitigated. This is achieved in large part through fall protection equipment and fall arrest devices, but no equipment is going to keep a worker safe unless they're also aware, informed, and prepared. Training, then, is an essential component of any fall safety program.

OSHA 29 CFR 1910.30(a)(1) requires employers to provide training to any employee who might be exposed to a fall hazard.

But this is where it gets a little complicated. Section (a)(2) of the standard requires the training to be done by a qualified person but doesn't define what "qualified" means in this context. There is also little indication of how to approach training or what makes a good training program.

In this article, I'll go over the important details that are left out of generic safety standards governing fall protection training. By the end, you should have a good idea of what it takes to provide good fall safety training for your workers.

Who Should Train the Workers?

Providing workers with good training starts with finding someone qualified to deliver it. Employers can either hire an in-house trainer or outsource training duties to a third party.

In-House Trainer

All trainers will follow the training standards of the organization that certified them, but an in-house trainer will also tailor their training program to your company. They'll be able to use company-specific examples and create very relevant hands-on training scenarios.

Having your workers train with company tools and in their own work environment also ensures that what they learn from the training session translates perfectly to their working reality.

Third Party Trainer

Most companies, however, cannot afford to maintain an in-house trainer, and others simply prefer the convenience of working with a third party.

There's nothing wrong with this; however, I do recommend supplementing the generic training with some company-specific exercises and materials created under the direction of a competent person.

The competent person you select for this task should have some experience with your workplace. I say this because in-class training often focuses on legislation and generic set-up, but your workplace and its demands might be very different. For instance, most fall protection training stresses the importance of placing the anchor above the dorsal D-Ring, but this is not feasible at all times for workers doing roofing or working beside an excavation or shaft.

The Qualities of a Good Trainer

The person you select to deliver fall protection training to your employees should have experience working at height. It's likely that their experience will not be an exact match for the work that is carried out on your workplace. They might, for instance, have a residential construction background while your company deals in commercial building projects. But their experience should have given them a first-hand understanding of fall protection systems and a knowledge of what it's like to be doing difficult work at a dangerous elevation.

First-hand experience is not enough, of course. Your trainer or facilitator should have the ability to convey their message clearly and in a way that keeps their audience captivated. They should also be comfortable using a number of different instruction methods, including visual and auditory material, as well as leading hands-on exercises. Multiple modes of delivery ensure that the participants will remain attentive and will better absorb the message.

Your trainer or facilitator also needs to be good at demonstrating the proper use of fall protection equipment. To do this, they'll require the technical expertise needed to select appropriate fall protection materials and to set up relevant scenarios.

Fall Protection Training Done Right

There is no firm consensus on how to train fall protection, but most companies seem to prefer class-based training.

Successful in-class training delivery focuses on three domains of learning; cognitive, psychomotor, and affective.

Cognitive Learning (Instruction)

The cognitive domain refers to what the employee will know after completing the training.

For fall protection, this should include:

  1. Hazard identification
  2. Regulatory bodies
  3. Fall protection systems and planning
  4. Fall restraint systems
  5. Anchor points
  6. Body harnesses
  7. Connectors
  8. Shock absorbers
  9. Fallen worker rescue (including self-rescue)
  10. Selection, care, and proper use of fall protection equipment

The cognitive component of the training is usually delivered through a slide presentation, using a mix of photos and videos enhanced by the trainer's commentary.

The trainer should present pertinent legislation, different types of equipment and their applicability, and the dos and don'ts of fall protection.

To be effective, these sessions should be interactive and involve a two-way dialogue between the trainer and the trainees. Too often, trainers focus so much of their time and energy on covering legislation that they leave too little room for proper hands-on exercises.

Psychomotor Learning (Demonstration)

The psychomotor domain refers to the mastery of the physical skills a trainee will be expected to have after their training in complete. At a minimum, this should include:

  1. Inspecting the equipment
  2. Putting on and adjusting the harness
  3. Selecting compatible fall protection elements
  4. Choosing an appropriate anchor point
  5. Installing the fall protection system (including anchors)
  6. Safely uninstalling the system
  7. Using rescue equipment (such as relief straps and ascending/descending ropes)

To impart these skills, trainers should first explain the equipment and all of its components. Then, they should demonstrate the proper use of the gear. They might, for example, assemble a fall protection system or show how to use relief straps and rescue devices. The employees should then have the opportunity to manipulate, make use of, and become familiar with the fall protection gear that will soon be keeping them safe.

Later, the trainees should be asked to analyze scenarios, either depicted in a video or simulated at the training facility. They are expected to draw on what they learned from the demonstrations. The trainees should be able to pick out the best system for a given scenario and explain their choice.

Finally, when the trainer is satisfied that the trainees have achieved an adequate level of understanding, they should put their skills to the test in a controlled environment. Trainees should don and set up the equipment themselves and once they have done so correctly, they should test their fall protection systems. This will show them what it's like to be stopped at a leading edge or what it feels like to hang suspended from a body harness.

Affective Learning (Understanding)

Affecting learning concerns the values, attitudes, and beliefs that workers are expected to demonstrate after the completion of training.

A good trainer will be able to help the trainee better understand the fall hazards and the benefits that come with properly applying what they have learned. The trainer should convey the dramatic and dangerous consequences of not wearing or improperly installing fall protection equipment.

The end result of the affective component of the training should be a team of employees who are not only aware of the risks that come with working at height, but who also actively reinforce, promote, and defend safe behavior and work processes.

This is, admittedly, difficult to measure. But a high level of participation and engagement is a good indication that it is working.

Additional Training

So, now you've delivered the training and your team is ready to work safely at height. Are you really done?

If you used a third party facilitator to train your workers, you should have someone who is familiar with your worksite provide site-specific supplementary training.

You will also need to provide your workers with regular refresher training to ensure their continued safety. While most legislation states that workers should be retrained when they are no longer proficient, there is no specified interval for refresher training.

Every company should establish their own timeline for refresher training, although it is usually provided every one or three years. Some events should also trigger a need for retraining. For instance, changes in the fall protection equipment workers will be using, an incident like a fall from height (whether fatal, injurious, or resulting in a successful rescue), or a near miss.

In Canadian workplaces, fall protection trainers typically issue training tickets with an expiration date three years after the training has been completed. Employers are encouraged to retrain employees after these tickets have expired, though provincial codes do not specifically require it.

Doing Fall Protection Training Right

Your fall protection equipment can only keep workers safe if they know how to use it and work safely with it. Whether you hire an in-house trainer or outsource training to a third party, doing fall protection training right is essential.