The subject of fall protection is complex and comprises both knowledge and experience. The more knowledge or training employees have, the more readily they will be able to integrate that knowledge into their work practices.

A “competent person,” who typically is the site superintendent, foreman or safety person, should also receive hands-on training as well as classroom training. They must work in close proximity to their at-risk workers when those workers perform tasks at heights.

Once a competent person has completed a comprehensive training course, they must be able to identify both existing and foreseeable fall hazards before the at-risk workers are exposed to these hazards and clearly understand how and why the Hierarchy of Controls is used in the abatement selection process. This Hierarchy of Controls is the accepted methodology for identifying, evaluating and controlling fall hazard exposures.

The number of competent persons an employer needs to have trained depends on several factors:

  • The number of at-risk workers;
  • The number of shifts worked at the facility;
  • The total number of at-risk worker teams each competent person will be responsible for at any given time.


The competent person must pre-plan project work activities in order to eliminate or control fall hazard exposures before work starts. Usually, the more time spent in pre-planning, the greater the likelihood of eliminating the fall hazard or changing the work method such that the hazard can be controlled. If the competent person does not leave sufficient time to properly pre-plan control measures, then it may become infeasible to abate the fall hazard or doing so may create an even greater hazard.

The selection, use, limitations, inspection and storage of fall protection equipment are critical elements of a competent person’s training program. When using fall protection equipment and working at height above a lower level, the competent person must select the proper equipment to ensure that the at-risk worker will not hit any objects or the lower surface in the event of a fall.

Rescue 101

OSHA CFR 1926.502(d)(20) requires prompt rescue of a fallen at-risk worker. Therefore, a rescue program must be a pre-planned activity and must be included in a comprehensive training program.

A competent person assumes controlling responsibility over their at-risk workers. The degree of responsibility with such a position requires that proper training be provided and refresher courses given at reasonable intervals. The time and expense invested up front is an integral part of any firm’s overall fall protection program and in developing a proactive safety culture.

SIDEBAR: Training hot buttons

Be sure to include these critical components in your fall protection training program:

  • Standards & regulations
  • Structural engineering requirements
  • General industry requirements
  • Construction industry requirements
  • Job safety analysis of fall hazard exposures
  • Hierarchy of Controls
  • Certified anchorages
  • Lift equipment
  • Scaffolding
  • Ladders
  • Selection and limitations of equipment
  • Rope access
  • Rescue