Training is to learning as Boardwalk is to Monopoly. It isn’t the game, but it is an important piece; everybody wants to own it, and it is hard to win without it.

Often recognized as the missing link in fall protection, “lack of training” and “inadequate” training are frequently cited by statistics and legal cases as some of the primary causes of fall-related injuries and/or fatalities. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported for 2004 the highest recorded number of fatal work fall injuries since 1992, while all other workplace deaths rose only slightly. Review OSHA Fatal Facts and you will discover training listed as one of the most common deficiencies in a safety program.

One of the first steps to developing an effective safety training program is to evaluate your safety culture. A safety culture that supports, expects and reinforces safe worker behavior contributes to a higher and more successful level of learning. A company’s safety culture provides tremendous influence on and value to its workers.

Measure your training

Use the following scorecard to measure your safety culture’s training program (scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest):
  1. Values
    _____ Measures safety knowledge
    _____ Matches worker roles, responsibilities and management expectations
    _____ Has management support
    _____ Company safety policies and procedures are consistent to safety expectations
    _____ Incorporates adult learning techniques
    _____ Measures learning by observation, discussion and testing
    _____ Communicates and reinforces desired safety changes, actions and behaviors
  2. Teamwork
    _____ All divisions are represented at introduction and/or planning meetings
    _____ Safety committee members visit and observe various divisions
    _____ Committee solicits and values feedback from division and committee
    _____ Management, including legal, purchasing and design, are active participants in safety meetings
  3. Change
    _____ Information and goals are clearly outlined and explained
    _____ Staff, resources and deadlines are assigned to each safety task
    _____ Progress is evaluated on a frequent basis
    _____ Regular program updates until goals are achieved
    _____ Annual evaluation
Score __________________

Maintain credibility

After doing your evaluation, the next step is to determine why and how you develop your safety training programs. A common complaint among workers regarding training courses has to do with the lack of upfront planning to keep “flavor of the month” training out of the safety program. Employees become immune to these knee-jerk approaches and tend not to take safety efforts to heart since they believe the program will be changing soon — “Why should I bother to take training seriously when I will be asked to change what I have learned in a matter of months.”

Your staff isn’t saying they don’t want to make an effort to add to their safety knowledge, nor are they objecting to strengthening their safety skills. They are, however, voicing concern about learning information not applicable to or of little perceived value to the safety effort. This concern is then validated when the safety program is scrapped and management moves on to the next “flavor.” This tactic only lessens the credibility of your safety training and, in turn, threatens worker safety.

A safety culture that supports or requires worker behavior that eliminates the contributing factors to fall-related injuries and fatalities, and a workforce that understands why and how you developed your fall protection training programs, are two key elements of effective training.

Statistics and indicators

If you question the need to strengthen or initiate a fall protection training program, take a look at the numbers. While OSHA regulations and safety equipment requirements are the most commonly recognized safeguards, they are not enough.
  • BLS reported its highest number of fatal work fall injuries for 2004 since 1992.
  • Top three work-at-height activities with the highest fall fatalities: roofs, scaffolds and ladders.
  • Worker ages with the highest fall fatalities are 25-54 years old.
Real life indicators of the need for proper and adequate fall protection training include:
  • Number of hazards designed into the workplace;
  • Maintenance activities performed without fall protection;
  • Unidentified anchorages;
  • Unsafe work practices;
  • High number of non-compliance violations;
  • Rising number of product liability cases;
  • Number of workers not wearing or improperly wearing fall protection equipment;
  • Lack of safety language in design, construction and purchasing contracts;
  • Lack of site-specific fall protection training; Number of untrained staff who have been given safety responsibilities due to the downsizing of staff.
Lack of training isn’t the result of lack of care as much as it is a lack of understanding the components of an effective fall protection program. Also, where there is a lack of training there is a tendency to view fall protection equipment as the cure-all for all fall hazards. Equipment alone cannot solve all fall hazards. It has a higher defeatability level (hierarchy of control and ever-present gravity) and can create a false sense of security.

Learning versus training

How is training different from learning? Training is a part of the learning process and requires certain elements to be in place before it can occur. ANSI Z490.1 Standard – Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training provides guidelines, tools and approaches to training. Effective programs incorporate adult personality traits and learning styles as an active part of their safety learning programs. These tools show us which learning tools delivered in various mediums are most effective for the introduction, understanding and application of knowledge. The guidelines also educate teachers/trainers that one medium is not an effective learning tool. Learning cannot be accomplished via one method or one time. Learning requires introduction, application and evaluation via discussion, lecture, practice and retention activities. The role of learning in the fall protection process:
  1. Introduces fall protection concepts;
  2. Creates a common foundation of knowledge to move toward a common goal versus separate directions;
  3. Facilitates teamwork;
  4. Develops safer work practices and behaviors;
  5. Creates a lasting safety legacy.
Learning is the awareness, introduction and understanding of what you want, need or are required to know; training is the practice and application of this knowledge. If your training program expects staff to perform without learning why or how, you are setting the groundwork for failure, lack of understanding and hostility. Training involves practice, application, evaluation, reinforcement and re-training. It is a method to measure learning and to observe if it is taking place. Fall protection needs to be reviewed, improved and implemented in order to reduce the unacceptable high number of fall-related injuries and fatalities.

There are simple, cost-effective ways to revitalize and strengthen your safety training efforts. Work with a consultant to review and evaluate your safety training programs. They can make recommendations with an objective perspective and also guide you from thought to implementation. Universities such as Marshall University in Huntington, W.V., and Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., offer adult learning courses your in-house trainers can attend.

Most importantly, clearly identify compliance, company safety policies, best industry safety practices and work activity requirements, and evaluate if your training programs prepare your workers to safely meet those obligations. Safety isn’t simple, it just isn’t complicated.

Sidebar: Standards can help

The proposed ANSI Z359.1 is a safety milestone for fall protection. Comprehensive in nature, it gathers all the elements of a fall protection program under one umbrella and provides the tools to implement these elements effectively and with understanding. By combining the guidelines of Z359.1 and Z490.1 you can improve the quality of life for employees and your company, strengthen the employee/employer relationship, generate a competitive edge and acquire predictable results for your fall protection program.

Sidebar: Proactive safety cultures share the following characteristics:

  • They create buy-in to new information and plans of action.
  • They are an integral part of workers’ safety value system.
  • They reflect a caring, purposeful and committed culture.
  • They connect people together and facilitate the implementation of improvement.