Falls from height remains one of the biggest causes of fatalities and major injuries in the building, construction and maintenance industries. How can training help workforces to fight this scourge?

The South African Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (Saiosh) defines “working at height” as work in any place where, if there were no precautions in place, a person could fall a distance liable to cause personal injury or even death. This is not only in South Africa, but across the world in both developing and advanced nations.

“Fatalities as a result of falls from heights are second only to motor-vehicle accidents and account for around 10% to 20% of total fatalities annually,” says Herman Enoch, marketing and communication manager at Federated Employers Mutual (FEM) Assurance Company. He adds that it is not possible to pinpoint the most common causes, but there are a few issues requiring attention.

Simply providing employees who work at heights with quality personal protective equipment (PPE) does not prevent accidents, he says. “Just supplying PPE is not enough. There has to be education provided and continuous reinforcement on the correct use of the PPE. In addition, ongoing site inspections need to take place to ensure a safe working environment.”

One company that can aid with these aspects is NOSA – an international provider of business assurance, providing occupational risk-management services and solutions to all industries. The company also provides tailor-made consulting, training and auditing services and support products.

NOSA started providing working at heights training in October 2012. “Working at height training plays a significant role in upholding the safety of persons in the workplace,” says Justin Hobday, sales and marketing director at NOSA. “We provided several highly engineered working at height structures to Transnet Engineering in 2012. These structures were for technical engineers (TEs) to access areas in the business – such as the top of locomotives – where lifelines were not an option. These structures were manufactured in the United States, imported into South Africa and assembled by our teams at the various TE sites around the country.”

NOSA then provided unit standard (US) and Sector Education and Training Authority-accredited training to support these installations. Training included US 229998, 229995 and 229994, as well as confined space entry and rescue.

Michelle Bala, NOSA’s national training manager, reveals more about the company’s working at height courses:

This course is for individuals required to work at height and perform certain tasks at height. The learners will be able to apply fall arrest principles and use fall arrest equipment to safely work at height under the supervision of a qualified supervisor.

The course will equip learners with the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to take responsibility for installing, using and inspecting fall arrest systems and to perform basic rescues for persons working at height.

This course is aimed at those individuals who will be responsible for the safety and protection of persons working at height and to equip the learners with the necessary knowledge, skills and understanding to develop fall protection plans for persons working at height (as required by the Construction Regulations).

This course will enable the learner to understand and perform a range of advanced fall arrest rescues for persons working at height, and to supervise work at height activities.

Renier van Rensburg, a working at height trainer at NOSA, adds that the company also offers confined-space entry and confined space rescue training as it incorporates certain work at height and rescue equipment and principles.

US 229998 is currently the most popular course amongst the company’s clients. “Far more people are required to work at height than people who will develop fall protection plans and perform rescues, as these are more specialised fields,” says Van Rensburg.

He notes that the last few months have been challenging for NOSA, as for everyone else in South Africa (and the rest of the world). NOSA has nevertheless strived to deliver quality compliance training to its clients, in spite of the extreme physical restrictions. “Thankfully,” he says, “by taking advantage of the digital opportunities available to us, we have successfully adapted a large number of courses to a new webinar and e-learning stable of training, enabling and empowering our students to continue in their safety career journey.

“Parallel to this are our two newly launched digital platforms, our NOSA Client Portal and the new NOSA website, both of which went live in June.
“Each has features to streamline our engagement with clients, as well as extensive resources to assist individuals and companies to meet their legal obligations with regards to safety – specifically through mitigating the new risk of Covid-19, both at home and in the workplace. These new safety measures have extended to our own training centres, where we have implemented the strictest checks to ensure we can monitor and manage the potential risk.”

Van Rensburg states that NOSA’s safety protocols begin with full compliance with the general legal requirements:
• Social distancing is enforced in the classrooms, which has resulted in fewer students per class;
• Regular sanitising: this includes hands, work services and products. All are sanitised throughout the day, and before and after every use;
• Masks must be worn at all times by all persons; and
• A comprehensive policy is in place, carried out and observed by all staff at every training centre, to ensure everyone who visits NOSA premises is protected.

The future looks promising for the working at height industry. “New products, equipment and practicable solutions are constantly being developed. It is exciting to see how the industry continues to evolve,” Van Rensburg says. “Working at height training will remain and hopefully grow: it is hazardous work and should only be done by well-trained and competent persons.”

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