For workers at heights, the risk of accident and injury from falls is a constant reality. Falls consistently rank among the top four causes of workplace deaths. Being prepared to respond to worst-case scenarios greatly improves the likelihood of a positive rescue outcome.
For employees, that means having access to the right equipment to handle various rescue and evacuation scenarios. But even with the best equipment, workers must be well-trained to use it, which includes knowing how to use it properly under the stress of a real emergency situation.
Under these circumstances, time is a critical factor.
Workers must be ready to act quickly and rely on their training to kick in automatically, as they might not have the time to clearly think through the list of possible actions.
Training workers to handle rescues is no small undertaking. Let's examine some best practices for at-height rescue training that can lead to better results if and when real-life emergency situations occur.
Start with Standards
The various safety standards provide a foundation for appropriate rescue training. For starters, OSHA 1926.502 and 1926.503 require employers to have procedures in place for prompt rescue (self or assisted), and to provide training for workers who are exposed to fall hazards.
ANSI Z490.1, Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training, spells out the requirements for fall protection training and rescue, as directed by the Training and Evaluation section of ANSI Z359.2.
ANSI Z359.2 calls on employers to establish competent and authorized rescuers, and conduct (at a minimum) annual training. Training must include equipment demonstrations, after which employees must show “their working knowledge through practical hands-on demonstration of skill.”
At the very least, employers should be aware of the bare-minimum requirements for compliance. To maximize the safety of workers at heights, however, these standards should serve as a starting point for a thorough rescue training program.
Repetition and More Repetition
An effective training program includes classroom and hands-on learning. Break up procedures into smaller skill sets so trainers thoroughly can cover and assess each skill element. Then, all elements can be brought back into one complete procedure. Workers should be tested on each individual element, as well as on the procedure as a whole.
Train in small groups to ensure that all trainees have adequate hands-on time to practice using the equipment. Each trainee should have an opportunity to set up the equipment to demonstrate his or her competency.
Repetition is vital to the training process. Training exercises should be repeated until there's both muscle and brain memory. Once rescuers master the basics, they can practice rescue procedures against the clock to add an element of stress that they would experience in a real rescue.
It's important to continuously assess that workers have absorbed the training information. Ongoing evaluation to confirm competency and progress should be part of the program, rather than conducting one round of testing. Here are some steps to effectively build continuous assessment into your training program:
- Make a checklist of required skills that each procedure requires.
- Review each individual skill and ensure that the trainee understands and is competent in each.
- Review each rescue procedure as a whole. Perform written and hands-on testing on the procedure.
- Evaluate the physical performance of the rescuer while using a real rescue scenario. Assess individual skills during the rescue and the competency to safely complete the entire rescue.
- Assess skills and equipment usage throughout the work year, and provide refresher training to ensure that the skills stay ingrained in workers.
Realistic Live Training
After they master the training exercises in the classroom, trainees should perform actual self and assisted rescues, with safety backup systems in place. Successfully completing rescues in a real-world environment gives workers the confidence to perform in an actual emergency scenario, while the use of a backup system ensures optimal safety during the training exercises.
While it might seem counter to conventional wisdom, you don't have to use a rescue dummy every time. In fact, with the proper safety precautions in place, a real subject can be used under the supervision of a competent trainer. This will give workers a feel for what might take place in a real situation and the care needed to rescue a co-worker.
With that said, be sure that there are backup secondary systems in place for live-person training. NEVER put your rescuer or live-rescue subject in danger without both people being safely secured with proper systems.
It's important to train on the towers, equipment, platforms and aerial lifts where the employees will be working, and to consider the potential impact of the weather conditions (if they're a factor).
Also, consider the rescue procedures that might be needed if a real-life incident goes beyond simply descending a victim straight down. You might need to tag the victim out (using a skate or guide line for angled descent), perform pickoffs, horizontally move the victim or cross-haul the victim around or over obstacles and equipment.
It's a good idea to train for situations involving challenges such as tower obstructions, difficult anchoring options, tight corridors and challenging landing areas over water, to name a few. If you train for a tough rescue, it makes the straightforward rescues that much easier.
Keep it Simple
An important aspect of successful training is making the techniques as simple as possible. In high-stress situations, simplicity is crucial to successful rescues. Training recall in real-world situations is enhanced when the tasks are simple.
Use equipment that isn't too complex to set up and operate. Systems also should be portable and easy to carry to at-height locations. Consider components that are designed to withstand harsh environments (fire-rated ropes and sealed brake systems, for example). Other elements to consider are:
- Use of anchor connectors with universal attachment and cut resistance.
- Versatility of equipment for self or assisted rescue.
- Redundant braking systems for safety.
- Replaceable ropes for repetitive (and affordable) training.
- Connection hardware that is certified to ANSI Z359.12 with 3,600-pound gate strengths.
- Equipment and systems that are certified to the latest ANSI Z359.4 rescue standards.
Falls aren't the only emergency situations that can occur when workers are at heights. Consider that medical conditions (such as heart attacks, heat exhaustion and hypothermia) or injuries (electrical shock, chemical exposure, bee stings and being struck by tools or equipment, for example) also could create rescue scenarios. Prepare your employees for prompt rescue for all circumstances when working at heights.
Change the rescue scenarios every year to continue to challenge workers and keep it interesting. With these tips in mind, rescue training soon will become every employee's favorite type of training.
Jeff Wild is technical manager for Boulder, Colo.-based Deus Rescue.