Posted on: 04/18/18

Skill fade just at the wrong time…

Reax Ltd are based in Blackpool, UK (www.reaxltd.com). Training Manager Andy Williams picks up on an often ignored aspect of safety in the workplace:

A shout, a momentary pause and then the thud of harness impacting human body accompanied by the clatter of metal work. Your colleague has just fallen off. Their fall arrest lanyard has done it’s job, preventing them hitting the floor and reducing the impact, but you know that damage has still been sustained. A quick swing into hard steel work has shown their head no mercy.

Motionless, probably unconscious.

You can’t leave them hanging there. Time to remember your training…

What skills will you need to draw on? You’ll need to keep yourself safe, that your number one priority. Skill learnt on a work at height course from a few years ago will be needed. Fall Arrest climbing, Work Positioning to operate rescue equipment above the casualty. Been climbing much recently? Either way, keep your core skills under control, adrenaline’s coursing through your body now.

Time to help.

Get the rescue kit out, which karabiner goes where… haven’t seen it for a while. In fact the last time you saw it was at the training centre. 2 years ago. Or was it 3? Ropes, slings, friction, connectors. Can you just figure it out? Need to get them down, time is of the essence. Suspension Trauma, or Intolerance, or whatever it was, will that effect your casualty? Time to think about first aid. Now when did you last look at that?

Scenario over. No casualty now, just you having a think about Skill Fade. This is what happens when skills are not used and time elapses. Technical skills drop out of the back of our minds, essential safety concerns taught in training are lost, forgotten. There is a wide range of research related to Skill Fade (See below for further reading). Many disciplines have recognized it and researched it in their context. There’s no question that it exists and could well jeopardize your safety, and the safety of those you manage, supervise or work with. So what can be done about it? Well, firstly we need to recognize some of the causes of skill fade. The following causes are drawn from research by Arthur et al (1998). Comments in italics by the author:

Retention Interval: When was the last time a training course was attended? Some courses are valid for 2 or even 3 years. For technical skills, especially those used rarely, like rescue skills, this is a very long time.

Degree of Overlearning: Has a trainer or instructor tried to teach too much, possibly too quickly, and given irrelevant information which doesn’t really equip people for real life work situations.

Methods of Testing for Original Learning and Retention: How has the training course been assessed? Did the original training result in a person who was competent or just allow boxes to be ticked?

Instructional Strategies and Training Methods: All theory and no practical? Trainers who just talk about themselves? Was there a clear learning progression in place?

Individual Differences – Ability: Not much can be done about this; some people retain skills better than others!

 

Conclusion

Skills fade is something we all need to think about. Anyone involved in work at height, rescue or confined space work is susceptible to it. So then, what needs to be done?

Well, regular training certainly needs to take place. And this training needs to be thorough in that it covers everything necessary. Training can’t just be a ‘tick box’ exercise. It needs to be designed by specialists who understand their subject. In addition I’d suggest that training in these more specialised, high risk areas usually can’t be carried out by an in-house HSE manager or similar: it needs people who regularly work and train in the particular area in question.

All of those involved need not only to have attended a course but need regular refreshing of their skills to ensure that they can use them in the heat of a rescue or first aid emergency. Also, where possible skills need to trained in the environment in which they are most likely to be used. For example, a First Aid course designed for office workers, as many are, will not equip an offshore worker or telecoms climber very well.