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Mostly virtual

Pandemic-prompted shutdowns have forced a pivot in the way construction safety training is delivered

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Photos: Associated Builders and Contractors

Back to the jobsite

The pandemic has made online training a necessity not only for construction workers still on the job, but also those who are returning to work after being laid off.

According to an ABC analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry had a net loss of 3,000 jobs in January.

For those rejoining the workforce, training priorities should start with the basics, said Kevin Cannon, senior director of safety and health services for the Associated General Contractors of America.

“I would approach it as if they were a new hire starting from scratch, just entering the industry for the first time,” Cannon said. “Focus on the things that injure and kill the most construction workers: falls, electrocutions, struck-bys and caught in/betweens. Even if an individual has had fall protection training in the past, it doesn’t hurt to revisit training on fall protection. If it’s an equipment operator that’s been sidelined for some time, offer some brief introductory training on that.”

He added: “One of the things that we and the members on our steering committee have continued to stress is to focus on the things that you focused on prior to COVID. Whatever the most prominent hazard is that’s associated with the work you do, continue to focus on that. If you work at heights, continue to emphasize fall protection and enforce the policies.”

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An instructor for Associated Builders and Contractors presents workplace safety training to a virtual audience during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photos: Associated Builders and Contractors

Is virtual learning here to stay?

Cannon is still a believer in in-person training, “especially when you get into your more technical topics, such as cranes or fall protection or trenching.” But as virtual safety training has become more common in the construction industry during the pandemic, it’s more likely online classes will remain part of the education landscape.

In a virtual environment, trainers have the ability to gauge in real time how much their students are learning, Newquist said.

“With Zoom, we can set up quizzes,” he added. “If we’re talking about fall protection for an hour, you set up a quiz for the middle of class and say, ‘Let’s see how much we remember.’”

Online training also allows Newquist to share his presentation with students before each session. “That gives them a chance to read up and ask questions,” he said. “If you give them the presentation in advance, they can follow along with it.”

For certification classes, such as forklift training, Newquist sees two possible options. Trainers with large studios can bring in the equipment and film the training. Or, blending learning – combining virtual training with in-person training – could become more popular, particularly for comprehensive hands-on training that requires an extensive time commitment.

“There’s no reason that you couldn’t do three days online and a day at the training facility,” he said. “Even with something as simple as first aid and CPR, you take the online portion, then you come in and do the practicals. With OSHA standards, you could bring people in to do the practical exercises where you see the equipment or machinery or fall protection gear. People are going to be excited that there are so many ways to do this.”

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