“To teach so as to make fit, qualified or proficient.” That’s what Mr. Webster says about training in the ninth edition of his dictionary. While that definition can easily be applied to scaffold training, the outcome of training is the real measure of whether someone is fit, qualified, or proficient. This definition requires that the trainer is also fit, qualified and proficient. What this means is that if training is expected to be effective, the trainer better know his stuff!
Before we can even worry about the quality or accuracy of scaffold training though, funds to provide training are necessary. Historically, training has been minimal due to misguided fears of losing a trained worker to the competition and the lack of profit motive to provide training. Only recently has it been recognized that training can be an effective tool to increase productivity, reduce lost time accidents, and thus boost profits. Until recently, user training has been almost non-existent; it only now has received a boost due primarily to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) requirement that all users of scaffolds be trained. In spite of the fact that scaffold training is required, training funds for compliance officers, believe it or not, has been less than adequate. Unfortunately, this has been true since the inception of OSHA. One would think that the agency that mandates training would at least provide for the proper training of those charged with the very enforcement of the training standards.
Interestingly, many assumptions are made in the evaluation of both the trainer and the trainee. Although there are numerous training programs available for scaffold users, inspectors, compliance officers, and erectors, the programs incorporate information and techniques that may or may not be accurate. Further complicating the situation is that program costs vary dramatically and typically do not accurately indicate the effectiveness of the training. Couple this with false perceptions of quality or expertise and all scaffold training effectively becomes, well ineffective. Wallet cards and certificates frequently become the measure of program quality or at least as an acceptable measure of adequacy, relegating course content to the category of inconsequence. The end result is training that has no content, only a title, and the intent of the standards produces counterproductive results.
So then, what constitutes training that meets not only the intent of the standards, but also provides meaningful information for students? The Federal OSHA Standards state it quite well in requiring that the training be supplied by qualified instructors, individuals who have the knowledge, expertise, experience, and training to not only recognize the hazards associated with scaffolding, but also have the ability to explain those hazards and the solutions to mitigate those hazards, to students. No longer does it suffice that the instructor knows how to read the standards or has some safety training. The scaffold student deserves more and should expect more. While the Scaffold Industry Association (SIA) Scaffold Training Program is one example of a comprehensive, and systematic, approach to proper training, it, and all other programs, require instructors sho are knowledgeable in the subject. In other words, the program is only as good as the individual instructing it. Membership in the SIA, or any other organization, does not necessarily indicate expertise in scaffold safety and usage. Being able to sell, rent, or erect scaffold doesn’t automatically qualify anybody either. On the other hand, advanced degrees in safety, engineering, marketing or education doesn’t automatically qualify the individual either.
You are on your own when it comes to determining who the qualified instructor is. No minimum standards have been set by any agency to help the employer determine a good instructor. OSHA has not accepted the responsibility to establish minimum criteria for instructors other than what is currently specified in the training requirements of the construction industry scaffold standards (29CFR1926.454). It is my opinion the Scaffold Industry Association should assume the responsibility for establishing minimum criteria for scaffold instructors. This will be a benefit to members and non-members alike. It will set the benchmark for determining the quality of the instruction and enable the scaffold user, erector, and others to acquire the knowledge to work safely and efficiently on scaffolds.