Height safety training

By Wendy Cramer
Thursday, 25 January, 2007

Wendy Cramer, Safety Solutions Editor

Falling from height continues to be one of the most common causes of workplace injury and fatality in Australia. Would specific, accredited training reduce these statistics?

Technology in both barrier and fall arrest systems has advanced considerably in the past 10 years. So if the equipment at hand is generally sufficient to protect workers at height, is it reasonable to assume that perhaps it is not being used correctly?

Safety Solutions has conferred with two height safety experts - Gordon Cadzow from the Fall Protection Manufacturers Association (FPMA) and Clive Marple from Beaver - to find out what kind of training is currently required for employees working at height and whether or not they believe it is adequate.

Is there a minimum training requirement for someone working at height?

CM: As far as I am aware there is no legal requirement regarding minimum training requirements. Courses can run from a two-hour classroom session to five-day classroom sessions with practical training. Some employers regard toolbox training (15 minutes) as being sufficient.

GC: Australian Standard 1891 specifies that training &quotshould" be made available to people required to work at height. This is an optional term, and therefore there is no absolute requirement for employers to provide training. The individual members within the FPMA have attempted to have &quotshould" converted to &quotshall" (a mandatory term) without success. This is one area in which the Association will be lobbying as an organisation in the public domain.

Which body is responsible for regulating fall protection training?

GC: Most states have an accreditation authority and there are reciprocal rights and collaborations between states to try and standardise parts of the puzzle. Effectively there are two parts to the accreditation process.

One relates to the accreditation of the training organisation and successful operations are accredited as a registered training organisation (RTO). This accreditation is effectively a quality accreditation process and covers the competencies of the organisation on the issues of course presentation requirements, certification and recording of attendees, administration skills etc.

The other relates to the accreditation of the course content. However, this accreditation, which is administered by state vocational education training (VET) organisations, accredits course content in terms of competencies delivered.

For example, a height safety course competency delivered may be ''correct fitting of a full body harness''. However, the course detail is not vetted by any technical body to ensure that the method instructed is correct.

Currently, there are only single competencies approved courses in height safety, relating to specific industries such as roof plumbers and metalliferous mining. Some VET organisations have already advised that height safety training does not comprise a ''vocation'' as it is only part of another vocation (such as roofing) and therefore cannot receive the necessary full accreditation.

This is an area in which the FPMA will be developing a further action plan.

What minimum level of training would you recommend for someone working at height?

GC: The dangers associated with working at height are the same for the frequent worker as the infrequent worker - only the probability changes through practice and frequency.

There are a number of basic areas that must be covered:

  • Hierachy of control - engineering out the need to work at height
  • Regulations and codes of practice
  • Effects of falls on the human body
  • Basic height safety rules such as fall clearance, swing falls and anchorages
  • Equipment requirements, components and functions for anchorage, body harness, connector, decelerator and rescue plan
  • Equipment selection and compatability
  • Equipment donning and correct connection
  • Equipment inspection
  • Use of equipment
  • Basic rescue planning

CM: As this is a high-risk environment - the number of deaths confirm this - there should be a base line of competencies required which could be covered in an eight-hour period, which would require a 24-hour refresher every year to update new developments in legislation and products.

What kind of experience are fall protection training organisations required to have?

CM: Currently, training companies come from all sorts of backgrounds from one-person operators that have seen an opportunity to make some quick money to companies that have invested heavily in resources.

The most dangerous height safety training companies are those that have made the transition from recreational climbing into industrial height safety without equipping themselves with the necessary industrial tools, regulations and standards. There are no legal requirements for experience.

What kind of experience do fall protection training organisations need to have?

GC: The FPMA fully supports the exclusive use of RTOs for the delivery of training courses in fall protection. However, this number will be reduced based on the experience of the trainers and on the training equipment available.

The RTOs that have the necessary climbing facilities, anchorages, vertical and horizontal systems and the PPE will also have to have trainers that are physically experienced in height safety operations and rescue, and be physically able to climb and conduct a rescue if necessary. Not only that, those trainers will have to be fully conversant with the technical details of the approved training manuals and comply with the FPMA-approved training material.

There is a view that such professionally managed and approved training will be demanded by individual workers and employers, worker organisations and business insurers alike to reduce the number of lost time and fatal accidents, reduce employee and employer risk and drive down insurance costs.

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