Safe work is efficient work and efficient work is profitable work. Any contractor who’s been around the track a few times knows that these statements are true. The “P&L effect” of a safe work environment, and the importance of OSHA compliance, are equally good reasons to choose the most effective training program for your workers.
Classes in confined space entry training (CSE) on OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.146, and excavation safety training for competent persons (CPT) on OSHA standard 1926 subpart P, are widely available from industry suppliers, private providers, universities and online sources. Although all are designed to satisfy OSHA requirements, the instruction methods and even the instructors themselves can be substantially different.
Given the importance of risk management in the construction business model, it’s well worth the effort to identify the best trench safety training programs for your particular business. Here are some things to consider:
Field perspective. If you had the choice, would you learn to drive a car from someone who has done it before or only read about it in a book? Many contractors find that instructors with hands-on field experience are better equipped to convey both the technical information and the practical application of CSE and CPT content to workers.
As one example, a worker entering a confined space may use a lifeline and retrieval system “by the book.” But if that worker suddenly loses consciousness from toxic gas, a few seconds can make a difference between life and death. Does the coworker above ground know whether to crank the winch to the left or to the right? By sharing real-life jobsite stories, an instructor with field experience can help trainees retain critical information.
Regionality. Regional differences in vocabulary, trade terminology and regulations can reduce trainee retention if they’re not addressed by the program. A blower in one area of the country may be called a ventilator or fan somewhere else — that small thing can be a stumbling block to learning. Soils differ widely from one region to another, and even the same soil may be described locally in different terms. Another consideration is state-specific requirements: Some states and municipalities have regulations that add another layer of compliance to the federal standards.
For these reasons, United Rentals Trench Safety has found it more effective to base instructors permanently in a region, rather than use a centralized curriculum with traveling instructors. While a more generic program can adequately certify workers, any local or state variances will need to be communicated by the contractor.
Touch and feel. Have you ever held a multi-gas monitor in your hand? Neither have most of the construction workers who attend confined space training classes. Being able to examine a gas monitor, tripod hoist or ventilation duct can be as valuable as reading about hydrogen sulfide or carbon monoxide levels in a textbook.
Again, one is not a substitute for the other — it’s a case of practical application reinforcing theoretical instruction. If you feel your employees will respond to “touch and feel” CSE and CPT training, then look for a program that includes access to equipment as part of the curriculum.
The convenience factor. With the advent of online training, CSE and CPT compliance can be accomplished with minimal disruption to the workday. There are some trade-offs, such as the lack of face-to-face interaction with an instructor. Nevertheless, web-based training can be the best practicable avenue for workers who find it easier to train on their own schedule.
A good middle ground, from a convenience standpoint, is to find a provider with a large branch network and a reliable schedule of holding classes at least once a month at each location. This has the advantage of face-to-face sessions without delaying project schedules. Alternatively, some providers will train crews at the contractor’s place of business — a more convenient option if you have a large group that needs to be trained at one time.
Ultimately, any recognized and complete trench safety training program with a good track record will tick the box on compliance and go a long way toward keeping your workers injury-free. But there are degrees of effectiveness and smart contractors connect the dots between safety, efficiency and profitability. When you put in the effort to identify a “best fit” training provider, you demonstrate a top-down commitment to the health and welfare of your crew as well as your business.
Brett Sondergard is Region Sales and Marketing Director for United Rentals Trench Safety.