We don’t learn to drive by reading manuals and watching videos. Granted, our classroom education begins this way, but very few of us would have passed our drivers test if the first time we attempted parallel parking was during the exam. We learn to drive, and become good at it, by practicing. Our safety is too important not to get a hands-on education.

The same is true for fall protection training. Those who are required to wear fall protection equipment are at risk every time they go to work. It’s important that these workers learn how to use fall protection and rescue equipment properly, what a properly fitted harness feels like, why they must use fall protection equipment and other important considerations.

Training basics
Fall protection training can be conducted on-site at a manufacturer’s or consultant’s facility, or a trained fall protection consultant can be brought to the company’s site to conduct the training. Many manufacturers and consultants offer “Train the Trainer” courses that educate and certify safety directors in charge of the fall protection program to teach employees fall protection essentials.

Training should start when a new employee is brought on board, and a competent trainer should conduct assessments at least annually. Regulations and standards require refresher training every two years at a minimum; sooner if the workplace changes, new systems/equipment are issued, or the worker doesn’t display adequate knowledge. A written evaluation and skills demonstration should be performed to ensure that the employee is knowledgeable in all types of fall protection equipment that he or she is authorized to operate.

Training tracks
Managers should be aware of two different training tracks. The first track is a course for workers who are working in the same situation with standard equipment on a regular basis. This is a shorter course that establishes an understanding of the systems available on-site and where they are to be used. The longer course is for workers who are at a variety of locations who may need to use personal judgment in the selection, setup and use of fall protection, including temporary anchorages. This course develops a toolbox of skills and knowledge to work safely when there isn’t a pre-determined system or anchorage.

OSHA and ANSI require workers who perform tasks at height to be trained in fall hazard identification and protection procedures. Training should be twofold, including lessons that cover general fall hazard and fall protection knowledge as well as practical skills.

ANSI Z359.2 requires trainers to develop a fall protection training guide to include an outline and timeline of the course, learning objectives, prerequisites, required training aids, student to instructor ratio, methods of evaluation and minimum performance requirements for students. The standard also requires training and evaluation documentation to be kept on record.

Classroom education for authorized persons should begin with coursework that teaches the trainee how to recognize fall hazards, how to eliminate or control fall hazards, applicable regulations including OSHA and ANSI and responsibilities the standards designate to the trainee, and how to use written fall protection procedures.

Following this portion of the training, which is best conducted using a variety of lecture, demonstration and audio-visual media, the coursework should transition to a more hands-on approach. The second part of the training course includes how to select, inspect, use, store and maintain fall protection equipment.

Hands-on education
Training to address the inspection of equipment should be conducted in accordance with manufacturers’ recommendations. Trainees should be taught to inspect equipment prior to and following use and should demonstrate knowledge in identifying markings and ensuring all required markings are present and legible; ensuring all elements affecting equipment form, fit and function are present; and identifying evidence of defects in or damage to hardware, straps, rope, mechanical devices and connectors.

Trainees must be taught how to properly use fall protection equipment. This includes:

  • how to don, adjust and properly interconnect the equipment;
  • how to identify attachment locations and determine component compatibility;
  • understand how the equipment functions;
  • how to estimate and limit the maximum arresting force;
  • how to determine free-fall and total fall distance;
  • what to do after a fall to prevent injury; and
  • how to properly plan for and execute a rescue.
Training in the maintenance and storage of fall protection equipment should also be taught in accordance with manufacturers’ instructions. Trainees must be made aware that equipment can be susceptible to heat, UV damage, excessive moisture and chemicals, and therefore, storage must take these elements into consideration.

A person should emerge from a training course knowing fall protection terminology, types of fall prevention, types of fall arrest systems, how to calculate fall clearance, how to identify potential swing fall hazards, how to inspect and maintain equipment, how to size and put on a harness, how to use a personal fall arrest system and rescue system, how to connect different components, and what the various regulations are that govern fall protection.

Employer is responsible
Inadequate training can be a risk factor for non-compliance. If a worker doesn’t know how to properly use a fall protection system, he or she may choose to go without. If the worker does use the system incorrectly, it’s just as risky because an improper connection can cause a component to disengage.

Accidents that involve a fall are costly. Lost time, increased insurance and lawsuits are just some of the potential expenses that can result from a workplace fall. But the primary consideration should be safety. The employer is responsible for the safety of all employees, so get your workers and site supervisors trained and ensure they have access to and are using the necessary equipment to get the job done safely.