Preparing New Hires for Fall Protection

Preparing New Hires for Fall Protection

How to train and equip new hires to ensure they understand and wear fall protection gear.

When the pandemic first struck in, many states enacted stay-at-home orders or forced construction businesses to shut down in a jarring, sudden stop. Many employees found themselves furloughed or laid off. As states have gradually opened back up, construction businesses have come back online and, thankfully, most have brought their employees back to work. However, many construction workers chose not to return—some found other employment out of necessity, others were content with expanded unemployment benefits, and some older workers who are more vulnerable to the disease decided this might be as good a time as any to retire.

This means many construction companies have open jobs they need to fill. Many companies now have (or soon will have) a “freshman class” of new employees joining them to fill the shoes of the workers lost to the disruption caused by COVID-19.

Having so many new faces on your team can be refreshing, of course, but it also means you need to train and equip your new workers so that they have the knowledge and personal protective gear to keep them safe on the job site.

Fall hazards remain one of the biggest safety concerns in construction, so it’s especially worth taking the time to train and equip new employees who will be working at heights about fall protection specifically. This training can also serve as a golden opportunity for your veteran employees to get a bit of a refresher and review the state of their equipment as well.

Training New Hires on Personal Fall Protection and PPE

In an April 2020 memo, OSHA acknowledged the challenge of completing training in light of the pandemic and business closures, and gave enforcement officials some discretion when considering an employer’s training efforts. OSHA said:

In instances where an employer is unable to comply with OSHA-mandated training, audit, assessment, inspection, or testing requirements because local authorities required the workplace to close, the employer should demonstrate a good faith attempt to meet the applicable requirements as soon as possible following the re-opening of the workplace.

This is welcome news, but it doesn’t let employers off the hook. The part at the end about making a good faith attempt to meet the training requirements as soon as possible should not be overlooked.

Completing OSHA-mandated training promptly and preparing new employees to recognize the hazards on the job can go hand-in-hand. Fall prevention training should cover the hazards related to ladders, scaffolding, and roofing work. You should also teach your workers about the personal fall protection equipment available to them, including how to use it and when they need to wear it. 

OSHA offers a free lesson plan and training guide that can be used as a basic crash-course. Many suppliers of fall protection equipment also offer customized training, including more advanced fall protection safety training and specialized training for using the types of equipment they provide, such as full body harnesses, self-retracting lifelines (SRLs), and others. It’s worth inquiring about these training opportunities, especially before sending new workers to a job site for the first time.

Equipping New Hires with Personal Fall Protection Gear

In addition to training, you’ll need to outfit your new employees with personal protective equipment, including personal fall protection gear. Ideally, each employee should have their own safety equipment. This ensures that there is always enough equipment to go around, and that each employee has gear they’re familiar with using and that fits them comfortably and properly.

If your employees will be using shared equipment, make sure you are cleaning your equipment between each use to prevent the spread of germs. Most manufacturers recommend cleaning with dish detergent—no harsh chemicals—and water to prevent damage to the integrity of your fall protection equipment.

Take an inventory of the new equipment you’ll need for each new employee. If outgoing employees left gear behind or if you have a pool of shared safety equipment, inspect each piece carefully for any signs of wear or damage and replace anything that you flag. Don’t forget to include any small items like gloves and safety glasses that you might be ordering continuously anyway.

It’s important for all employees—but especially new hires—to understand when and how to use personal fall protection equipment in order to prevent serious accidents, and that their gear is in perfect working order when they need it.

An Opportunity for Veterans to Refresh and Review Their Habits and Equipment

Why limit your training and equipping efforts to new employees?

A changing of the guard can be a chance to review your team’s equipment and to do a little spring cleaning if necessary. When you’re getting ready to order equipment for new employees, take a moment to inspect your existing equipment for signs of aging or wear and tear. You can typically save money by adding other gear replacements or upgrades to an order you have to place anyway.

In fact, while you’re sending your new employees through their training, it could be an opportunity to get your veteran workers involved and give them a chance to get a refresher, too. It’s a perfect time to review your safety practices and protocols to make sure your crew is working safely. Asking your veterans to help train the new workforce is a great way for them to share their knowledge and expertise while also letting them see the training materials again with fresh eyes.

Although this is a time of great disruption and change, it also presents an opportunity for new beginnings as many employers are forced to bring in new workers. As challenging as change can be, with these fresh faces come new perspectives, new energy, and new ideas that can add tremendous value to our workforce. Here’s hoping your new hires, properly trained and equipped, turn out to be excellent additions to your team in the months and years ahead. 

This article originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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