Making sure the right people receive the right training

Falls from heights are one of the biggest causes of workplace deaths, contends Mariaan Smit.

Common causes of fatalities are falling from ladders, through fragile roofs or surfaces, and from scaffolding. As an example, while drilling into a concrete column at the third level of a building, six men were working on a scaffold structure that was not secured to the building. While they were busy drilling into the column, the scaffold was pushed away from the building and fell over, causing the whole team to fall with the structure. Five of the six men were seriously injured and the sixth worker died.

Defining height

Working at height can mean any place where a person can fall a distance and where that fall can cause injury, particularly if safety precautions are insufficient or absent. This can also be defined as working in a place where a person could be injured by falling from such a place, even if it is at or below ground level. It includes injury from falling from, off or into.

Two points that should be investigated during accident investigation are training and fitness to work.

Height risks

The risks of working at height are numerous and include employees falling from a height or structure, objects falling from a height, structures such as scaffolding falling over, employees being hit by objects falling from overhead cranes, or a place where there is the potential for ground collapse, to name but a few. Taking into consideration that the risks will differ from site to site and situation to situation, height safety training must be adaptable and should involve plant and environmental specific risks. Generic training should therefore be combined with plant specific risks at all times.

Risk assessors should always consider the following as part of the hazard identification and risk assessment process:

Slips, trips and falls, e.g. tripping over materials on an elevated work platform Being hit by a falling object The potential of objects and persons falling Selection of anchor and tie-off points Selection of appropriate demarcation Has a Fitness to Work certificate been issued? Proof of training and competency to work at height Selection of appropriate barricading and other fall protection Is after hours security in place and access to the general public restricted? Physical stressors, e.g. twisting to reach a tool from an awkward position Condition of supporting structures such as roofs Heat, radiation and electricity, e.g. preventing static electricity discharge High risk work environments, e.g. excavation areas Defining the fall clearances in writing, e.g. tear out distance and length of lanyard

Defining training objectives

The aim of height safety training should be to improve the overall operational safety of employees, plant and equipment during work that is executed at elevated levels. The objectives should be specific, realistic and measurable. The outcome of the training should be a person who is competent to work at height.

Knowledgeable stakeholders should be involved during the phase of setting the training objectives, so as to ensure that all risks of working at height for a specific project or task are addressed. The risks can be fixed like an overhead crane, or they can vary, such as on a construction site. The difference in risks will determine the specific involvement of the knowledgeable stakeholders. If the risk is constant, for example in the case of an overhead crane, one only needs to consult initially with the electrician or production manager regarding the risks and then build it into the training that needs to be given. In the case of a shopping mall construction site, however, it may be necessary to make changes to the training after consulting with stakeholders such as electrical and civil engineers. Establishing the objectives of such training may need a little bit of brainstorming and in depth analysis of risks involved before the objectives can be defined. The golden rule is that training is never generic, but addresses the inherent risks in each case.

Training topics

The following are topics to consider as part of the training manual.

Equipment must be inspected and tagged for conformity and safety. The training manual must also consider the correct storage and maintenance of equipment, as well as the duties of both employers and employees.

Selection of the correct equipment for the job should include:

Safety nets Industrial rope access

Fall protection systems such as barricades, guard rails, body harnesses and life lines – fall protection should always be considered as the first PPE option

Fall arrest equipment such as body harnesses, deceleration devices and life lines – fall arrest equipment should be considered as the last PPE optio

The health, safety and environmental principles must be considered when working at elevated positions: Working platforms Ladders Scaffolds Walkways Suspended platforms Material hoists Conducting rope access work

The fall protection plan should:

Address the required training, equipment needed and the procedures and methodologies to be used when working at heigh

Be implemented, amended and maintained when required

Be a documented and site specific plan

Include the hazard identification and risk assessment

Determine the required control measures and have a written method statement indicating how risks will be eliminated

Determine the emergency procedures that must be followed

Further topics to consider in the training manual include:

The implementation of control measures Weather conditions The conditions of supporting structures Guard rails, toe-boards and barriers Stability and safety of working platforms The permit to work system Legal appointments, e.g. scaffold inspector appointee and boatswain chair inspector appointee Emergency procedures


The competency of both the training organisation used and the trainer should be verified before a person decides who to use as a training provider. The definition of competency should always be kept in mind when selecting the training service provider. A competent person will always have the required knowledge, training, skills, experience and qualifications in the right fields. This means that a person competent in providing training in the safe erection and usage of scaffolding may not be competent in providing training in safe rope access work. One needs, therefore, to carefully consider the risk assessment before appointing a training provider. Both the training provider and the training materials should be registered at a recognised training organisation.

The medical practitioner examining the employee for Fitness to Work must hold a qualification in occupational health and medicine. Such a doctor is referred to as an Occupational Medical Practitioner (OMP). In order for the OMP to make an informed decision, it is imperative that he or she is provided with the Occupational Risk Exposure Profile (OREP) for that specific worker. If the OMP is not notified that a person must not weigh more than a certain amount due to the weight restriction of their body harness, for example, such a person may be declared fit to work – posing a direct threat to the fall arrest protection of such a harness. On these grounds the OMP may refuse to perform the Fitness for Work examination if the OREP is not provided. The OREP is also referred to as man job or task specifications.

Target groups

We need to identify the different groups involved in height work. Training material on fall protection and fall prevention measures ought to be included in the curriculum of designers, architects and engineers involved in the design and building of structures. One should not assume, however, that it was part of their curriculum, and so measurements should be in place to verify their knowledge of the above.

Levels of literacy may vary among the workers required to perform height work. Training should be adjusted to accommodate this and one should consider different training classes for different literacy levels. This also applies to language ability.

Always consider the five stages of learning, irrespective of the target group:

The learning process The readiness of the learner The cognitive thinking process of the learner The readiness for the testing period The feedback phase

Never forget that the social worlds, the physical worlds and the cultural worlds of the learners will always differ. This will have a direct impact on the readiness of the learner and how the trainer will present the learning stimulus.

Trainers’ tools

The following are tools that can be used by trainers.

The lecture

The lecture is the most common method used for safety education as it is cost effective, in the sense that large groups can be targeted at once. One should keep in mind that written and oral examinations should be part of the formal lecture process.


Questions can be used in different ways during training to obtain different outcomes. Try to avoid close ended questions unless you need to obtain simply a straight yes or no answer.

Ten reasons for asking questions:

Obtain information Focus attention Arouse interest Express interest Enlighten or provide more information Persuade Assess ability, attitude and information Make a request Issue an invitation Divert attention to another point of interest

Always remember to use Rudyard Kipling’s six honest serving men during questioning: What, Why, When, How, Where and Who. As Rudyard said so wisely: “They taught me all I knew.”

Visual aids

Visual aids can be used to bridge the sensory void of only hearing the training material, as the more senses that are involved, the better the learning outcome.

Examples of visual aids include:

Electronic devices such as projectors and computers DVDs Chalkboards Charts and diagrams Hand outs


Care should be taken when using both individual and group projects as a training tool, as they take time to prepare and the individuals must be capable of undertaking and completing such activities as required by the project. It is still a good option to consider should one want to determine what was learned. If, for example, scaffold training is the requirement, erecting a scaffold can be a good practical project to determine the effectiveness of the theory learned.


Roleplay is used when a trainer wants to determine how the learner will react, behave or perceive things in a certain situation. Interest and motivation are maintained, as active involvement of the learner is required. Learners can, for instance, act in a roleplay where one is the instructor and the other is the employee who needs to learn how to correctly wear and use a body harnesses.

Worker selection and training

It is imperative that one should employ great care and judgment when selecting and training height workers. Height workers should be physically and mentally fit to work at heights and should meet the following minimum requirements.


Workers should understand spoken English as well as any other language generally used in the site’s specific geographical area.

Physical ability

Workers should undergo a medical examination. This examination should, at the least, check for and potentially exclude the following:

Uncontrolled high blood pressure Uncontrolled sugar diabetes Insulin dependent sugar diabetes Epilepsy Heart disease A history of vertigo, dizzy spells or fainting A history of psychiatric treatment Workers using medication that could alter vertigo, dizzy spells or cause drowsiness Obesity – many harness systems have a maximum weight limit of 136 kg Diminuished acuity of far vision Poor peripheral vision Reduced depth of vision Impaired hearing ability A lack of muscular coordination Slow reaction times Leg, arm, foot and hand prosthesis Alcohol and drug dependency

Work conducted at an elevation of less than 40 metres should at least pass the open eye Rhomberg balance screening. Work conducted higher than 40 metres should pass the close eye Rhomberg balance screening.

The OMP appointed by the company must determine the minimum medical standard for physical fitness to work at height. The previously mentioned examinations are just a guideline to follow.

There is a difference between Fitness to Work examinations, medical surveillance testing and wellness screening, although as detailed below, the three all overlap one another:

The Fitness to Work examination ensures that the individual can complete a task safely and without risk to themselves, the employer or a third party – it should form part of the risk control measures

The purpose of a medical surveillance programme is early identification and management of conditions that could cause occupational diseases due to exposure to: occupational hazards, such as poor ergonomics; physical stressors, such as noise and vibration; and chemical exposures. Medical surveillance is recommended by the OMP based on the duration of the task, the materials being used and the potential for the worker to be exposed to hazards

The purpose of a wellness programme is to assist employees in identifying and managing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes

Psychological ability

The previous construction regulations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act of South Africa require the height worker to be declared physically and psychologically fit to perform work at height. The new Construction Regulations that were promulgated on March 7, 2014, only state: “Evaluation of the employees’ medical fitness necessary to work at a fall risk position or such similar environment.” The mental ability of a height worker should still be taken into consideration in the fit to work outcome. nSimulating height situations may be used to reveal a concealed phobia of heights by evaluating the behaviour of the person being tested.


Workers need to have knowledge and understanding of the hazards and risks involved in working at heights. They need to understand the intentions of all safety precaution measures that are put into place. This includes an understanding of how to apply safety equipment to themselves and the environment, and how to maintain and store it. Then they also need to prove competency in their specific trades and demonstrate that they fully understand how to practice safe work at height in their specific trade. Knowledge should be reviewed through both written and oral examinations by a competent trainer.


Workers need to undergo a practical test, whereby skill is tested in practical manipulation and handling of equipment needed to work safely at heights. These skills will depend on the type of work, the working environment and the safety equipment required by that environment. Again, this training and practical evaluation of skill should be conducted by a competent trainer.


Height work has numerous risks, as indicated by the definition which included exposure from falling from, off or into, not to mention all the other risks involved in just performing the work an employee is trained and hired to do. Selection and training of a height worker should, therefore, always consider the generic, environmental and task specific risks involved before a person can be declared competent and fit to perform work at height.


1. IPIECA & OGP International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, 2011. Fitness to work – guidance for company and contractor health, HSE and HR professionals, Report Number 470.

2. Anglo Fatal Risk Guideline, 18 Dec 2008. Working at heights, AA_AFG_000007 Issue 0; Approved

3. The National Safety Council of the United States of America, 1992. Accident prevention manual for Business & Industry, Engineering & Technology, 10th Edition.

4. Saunders R, Wheeler T, 1991. Handbook of Safety Management, Pitman, Avon.

5. Gregersen T, 2013. Accidents, consequences and lessons, Safety case studies, Interpak Books.

Published: 12th Aug 2014 in Health and Safety Middle East