Virtual Training Helps Companies Stay Focused on Safety

With COVID-related distractions on jobsites, safety training is more important than ever.

Safety training is critical for all construction companies, no matter what’s happening in the world, including a pandemic. That’s doubly true for companies performing trench or excavation work. If the work continues, so must safety training.

Maintaining a focus on safety is especially important in the time of COVID-19, when workers may have additional distractions to contend with, such as keeping masks in place and maintaining social distancing.

“The hazards that people can face in excavations or in confined spaces haven’t changed, so it’s important to raise workers’ awareness again,” said Tina Davis, United Rentals Trench Safety representative.

For companies using competent persons, it’s also critical to ensure that those workers are in fact competent. “Having gone through competent person training two, five or ten years ago means nothing if you can't prove that you retained that knowledge and understand the hazards and can take appropriate actions to mitigate them,” said Davis. If a designated competent person doesn’t retain that knowledge, it’s time to repeat the training.

A new way of training

When the pandemic hit, the United Rentals Trench Safety group acted fast, pivoting to offering virtual instructor-led training in English and Spanish. Three virtual classes are now available:

  • Confined Spaces in Construction
  • Excavation Safety for Competent Person
  • OSHA 10-Hour Construction

Each class features the same comprehensive curriculum as the in-person classes and are taught in real-time by the same experienced instructors. The classes, held over WebEx, are interactive. The instructor can ask questions and participants can answer them and also ask their own questions. A second trainer sits in to assist with any technical issues and ensure that everyone has a good learning experience. All class materials are available for download.

Convenient and flexible delivery

Although the virtual classes cover all of the material required by OSHA — and a little more — United Rentals has found a way to condense the instruction. The standard in-person excavation safety class, for example, runs about six hours, but the virtual class is just four hours. “We understand that it can be difficult to keep someone on a video chat for more than four hours,” Davis explained.

If the public class times aren’t convenient, employers can set up private classes at a time that fits their schedule, at no extra cost. They can choose to train only a handful employees at a time or 50 or more, depending on workloads and the company’s budget that month.

Since the pandemic began, the Trench Safety group has taught approximately 500 virtual classes and reached more than 4,600 students. The popularity of the classes means the company will continue to offer them going forward.

“Virtual is such a flexible means of delivery, and it’s a great option for times when rain is in the forecast and contractors realize they need something for their crews to do,” said Davis. “You can knock out some training requirements instead of having the crews sitting around.”

Tips for companies utilizing virtual training

To help ensure that workers get the maximum benefit from virtual classes, Davis offers these suggestions.

Carve out the time. “As versatile and flexible as virtual safety training can be, it shouldn't be looked at as the type of thing that can be done while the employee is doing something else,” said Davis. Remind employees that there’s a test at the end.

Find the right place. Choose a space where workers can remain focused. If you’re training several people, bring them together, properly distanced and masked, in a room where they can view the class on a TV monitor.

Consider having a facilitator present. The facilitator can take attendance and make sure everyone is staying engaged.

Ask questions. Whether the facilitator poses them or participants do, asking questions is one way to see that learners get the most out of the training.

Visit the Trench Safety Virtual Training Calendar to view the class schedule and register for a class. You can register up until the night before the class.

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