Stating a “safety first” philosophy is easy enough for organizations, but it takes deeds to save lives, not just words. For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, their Fall Protection Competent Person 24-Hour Course is just that; a meaningful step toward a culture of safety, not just another catchy phrase.
“Year after year, falls are the leading cause of fatalities on construction sites,” said Brad Lein, training program manager of USACE’s Fall Protection High Hazard Working Group. Lein led the second iteration of the course that trained 15 USACE Sacramento District employees Feb. 7-9 at the district’s Folsom Resident Office.
The intent of the course is to mitigate falling risks that are inherent to all construction sites. With billions of dollars in construction projects for civil works, national defense, and veterans services in progress, the risk of an injury or fatality within USACE is high on any given day.
To reduce that risk, USACE requires the presence of at least one competent person in fall protection whenever employees are working at height, and completion of the three-day course is a prerequisite to serve as that person.
The students in the Sacramento class were a collection of quality assurance inspectors, construction representatives, and safety specialists who learned how to select, inspect, and maintain fall protection equipment, as well as how to develop a compliant fall protection plan for their teams that span from California to Utah.
In addition to classroom lessons about standards and laws, the training included significant practical exercises where the trainees learned about anchorages, body harnesses and connectors.
On the second day of training, a representative of 3M Company conducted a fall protection awareness demonstration using a “drop truck” capable of simulating the impact of a worker free falling from various heights. The demonstration illustrated with shocking precision how violent and damaging even a fall from a short distance can be, and how the proper use of fall protection harnesses can make the difference between tragedy and bad scare.
Lein said the still-evolving course was “created by USACE for USACE” to make sure construction representatives have the resources they need to abide by their own requirements.
“Our working group will hold at least two classes this fiscal year with a goal of providing several courses across the enterprise in FY24. We’ll take lessons learned from this session to help us continuously improve the program.”
Some course graduates, like Carlton Jones, go on to become part of teaching cadres who help multiply the number of people competent in fall protection at their home stations. Jones, who has been a safety professional for 25 years, helped Lein instruct the course.
Jones said that when they advertised the course to area engineers within the district’s military construction and civil works divisions, seats in the class were quickly snapped up by employees who were eager for the training and knowledge.
“From my perspective, that’s a good indication that a culture of safety is deeply embedded at the Sacramento District,” said Jones. “Our people want to look out for each other.”
Eric Hailston, the lead quality assurance representative at the district’s Fort Hunter Liggett Resident Office, said the depth and breadth of the course far exceeded his previous fall protection training with respect to the level of competency he gained.
With 15 years of construction experience and the Fall Protection Competent Person 24-Hour Course under his toolbelt, Hailston confidently said that he “can now properly and officially train personnel in my resident office as authorized users of fall protection equipment.”
Fellow student Edward Stewart shares Hailston’s plan to pay it forward when he returns to the district’s Natomas Resident Office. The senior Construction Control Representative has worked in construction for 14 of his 21 years with the district.
“The course greatly increased my understanding of fall protection methods that can be utilized during construction, and focused on how I can take that important information and transfer it to co-workers and contractors to make sure everyone goes home safe.”
Learning how to calculate fall risk and determine the proper harness may not rank at the top of the construction veterans’ career achievements, but it may very well be one that saves a teammate’s life.