When We Fall on Training

Years ago, I had the opportunity to spend a few years working at what my company termed a “Mega Project.” My boss at the time called it “training you can’t pay for.” That was partly due to the size and scope, but also the unique position we were in.

Better training identifies hazards and potential hazards

By Jason Maldonado

Maldonado Jason

My company acted as agent for the owner in this particular situation. It was a sweet gig most of the time. However, we had no contractual teeth to drive contractor safety compliance so we had to figure out how to influence without authority. We were fairly successful at it on most fronts, but training was one area we never got a handle on. (We were actually told to be hands-off by our client.)

Toward the tail end of the project when finishes and final decor were being installed, there was an incident involving a subcontractor that could have gone catastrophically wrong. The glaziers were installing marble paneling on the side of the building using a suspended scaffold. All seemed well, and they had finished the majority of the building without incident. As each section was completed from top to bottom, they would move the scaffold over along with the counterweight system that held it in place from the roof.

“We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

It was early in the day when reports started coming in saying there were two workers stuck on the scaffold. I made my way there as fast as I could to find two men definitely stuck. The scaffold was no longer hanging level. One side was quite a bit lower than the other, placing the deck at nearly a 45-degree angle. You could see from the ground that something appeared to be wrong on the roof, but it was too early to know. They were suspended about 15 feet below the top of the building with no way out and obstructions were blocking any means of using a lift.

Here’s where training came into play. There was no rescue plan in place and the workers on the scaffold had only just received training for the operation of the scaffold a few weeks prior. No one knew how to get them down, including the fire department. Their high-angle rescue training (I say that facetiously) lacked any type of rigging qualification.

Ultimately, a safety representative from another company found a 20-foot extension ladder and lowered it down so they could precariously climb up to the roof. It wasn’t great. We also learned, once on the roof, that training had failed in another way. The counterweight system was a big metal rig with lots of sharp edges. As it happened, the section of roof where the incident occurred had just had its PVC membrane installed and was nice, new and shiny. The workers, in an effort to protect the roof, had placed squares of carpet under the rig. In the end, the carpet had allowed the rig to slide under the weight of the workers and paneling, which resulted in the incident. I’ll never be able to say for sure, but perhaps better training would have helped them realize the carpet was a hazard.

I’ll leave it at this. Train as though your life depends on it. Otherwise, chances are likely you won’t get it right. As the Greek poet Archilochus said, “We don’t rise to the level of our expectations; we fall to the level of our training.”

Jason Maldonado has worked as a safety and health professional for 17 years in a variety of industries. He is the owner and lead contributor of, as well as an accomplished author and speaker. His first book, “A Practical Guide to the Safety Profession: The Relentless Pursuit,” is available now.