PASMA training during covid-19 pandemic

Guidance for training centres and instructors

What's covered?

Version 2 – published 2 July 2020

Working at height has always involved an element of risk, which is why it’s so important that people are trained to use scaffold towers safely. Our instructors work hard to minimise those risks during training sessions, to prevent anyone falling or injuring themselves, and to teach good habits that will be carried back to the workplace.

Of course, we now have a new risk that must be addressed and that is the risk of spreading coronavirus. With careful planning, it’s possible to minimise the risk of COVID-19 being passed on during PASMA training sessions, just like we already successfully manage other risks.

This guidance will not tell you how to run a PASMA training course safely. The truth is there’s no one-size-fits-all answer and it depends on your individual business and circumstances. For example, your training environment, the resources available to you and the country you’re in. You may even need a separate plan for each training centre you run.

So, what will this guidance do? It will help you make your own plan for running PASMA training courses safely within your own business. It’s a starting point to help you figure out what you need to do before training resumes.

Before we go any further, we’ll clarify that no one at PASMA is an expert on COVID-19 or minimising the risk of it spreading. We have based this guidance on our own interpretation of publicly available information from official sources in the UK that to the best of our knowledge and belief, were up-to-date and accurate at the time of writing.

We’ll also point out that our guidance relates only to PASMA training courses. It will not help you plan more generally for re-opening other areas of your business and keeping staff safe.

Please refer to this guidance when planning for a safe return to PASMA training, but do not rely on it over and above official sources.

PASMA training should only go ahead when you’re satisfied you can do it safely and when government guidelines for your country permit it to happen.

1. General considerations

This section explains some key principles that should guide your approach.

1.1 Follow government guidance

Familarise yourself with the government guidance in your country, and follow it. It is likely to change regularly and it’s important you keep on top of your responsibilities and good practice. These links will help: Belgium | England Malaysia | Netherlands | Northern Ireland | Qatar | Scotland | Singapore | South Africa | UAE | Wales

Our guidance is based on UK government sources and we advise you check it against the advice in your own country.

1.2 Hygiene and cleaning

It’s in everyone’s interests that you facilitate good hygiene practices, for example by providing hand washing facilities (soap and water) and alcohol-based hand gel. Remind staff, instructors and delegates to cough and sneeze into their elbow or a tissue, dispose of used tissues immediately and to avoid touching their face. This is especially important at points in the course where materials are passed from one person to another.

Consider how frequently you deep clean your facilities, including door handles, desks, chairs, toilets, lift buttons, handrails and equipment. We have some specific pointers relating to cleaning tower components, which you’ll find later in this document.

Safety & Health Practitioner published guidance on selecting and using the correct disinfecting chemicals and methods, which you may find helpful.

1.3 Social distancing

We’re all getting used to staying apart from others and this rule applies in the training centre just as it does in the supermarket or park. In the UK, government advice is to stay 2 metres (2m) apart wherever possible and that’s what our guidance is based on. However, different distances are recommended in different parts of the world and so you should check local guidelines. 

Think of all the areas your delegates visit between arriving and leaving, such as your reception desk, classroom, practical area, toilets, break areas, smoking areas, prayer rooms and corridors. Walk through their journey from one area to another. What will you have to change to ensure they can stay distanced from each other, the instructor and other staff? How can you make it easier for them to comply? For example, removing extra chairs from break areas, introducing one-way systems and using floor stickers to mark out suitable distances.

Identify any points when you cannot facilitate the recommended distance. You must find ways to minimise the time that will be spent in closer contact and mitigate the risk by taking other precautions, for example have people side by side or facing away from each other, rather than face-to-face. Please follow government guidance carefully.

1.4 Communicate with delegates

Ahead of their training date and in your promotional materials, tell your clients and delegates about the measures you’ve put in place to ensure their safety. They may be nervous about the potential risks and it’s your job to reassure them.

Give delegates clear instructions for what to do on arrival, for example what time to get there and what entrance to use. Explaining what will happen during their time with you should help put their mind at rest and ensure everything runs smoothly. You could highlight what hygiene facilities are on site, remind them of good hygiene practices and ask them to stay apart from others.

Consider what they need to bring with them on the day, keeping in mind that this list might be different than it was in normal times. For example, they should bring a copy of their online training certificate if they’ve done the theory session online and you may want to ask that they bring their own pen and PPE.

Tell them not to attend for training if they should be self-isolating because they or a household member have experienced coronavirus symptoms. You may want to review your policies to ensure delegates aren’t discouraged from cancelling, even if they feel unwell at the very last minute.

Go over the rules and procedures with them again on arrival and remind them regularly throughout the day.

1.5 Communicate with instructors

The training instructor has overall responsibility for the health and safety of delegates on the day – and of course, their own safety is equally important. It’s vital they understand the new policies and procedures you’re putting in place to minimise the coronavirus risk. This will allow instructors to follow these rules themselves but also to ensure delegates do so too. Make a point of reminding them regularly.

Your instructors must be empowered to deal with delegates who show symptoms of coronavirus, either on arrival or during training. The delegate should be sent home unless they need medical attention, in which case the instructor must know how to respond appropriately. Make sure they know your plan for handling this.

Make it clear to your instructors that they must not conduct a training course if they or a household member has experienced coronavirus symptoms and should be self-isolating.

If you’re booking a freelance instructor, please take extra care to keep them in the loop. For example, they will need to know where to go when they arrive and should be given plenty of opportunity to ask you questions. If there are instructors you use regularly or you have booked for an upcoming course, update them if your guidance changes. Check in with them at the end of the day to see if they identified any areas of risk or have any ideas on how to improve procedures.

1.6 Face coverings and gloves

You might decide that face masks, shields or gloves, would offer some protection for your delegates, instructors or staff during any short periods when social distancing is impossible.

Delegates and instructors may wish to wear them for their own peace of mind, even if you do not recommend or require it.

1.7 If someone is unwell

Don’t let delegates continue with the course if they are showing symptoms of coronavirus, whether this is apparent on their arrival or symptoms develop during training. Consider putting a sign on your door asking people not to enter the premises if they have symptoms.

Plan how you will respond if someone does start displaying symptoms, whether it’s a delegate, instructor or member of staff. Consider how you would tell them to go home and what you’d do if they needed medical attention or to be collected by someone else.

Consider what you might need to do if someone with coronavirus has been on your premises. ACAS says that the workplace does not necessarily have to close in those circumstances, but you should follow cleaning advice.

The World Health Organisation recommends that event and meeting planners gather contact details from attendees. They say you should “state clearly that their details will be shared with local public health authorities if any participant becomes ill with a suspected infectious disease. Anyone who does not agree to this condition cannot attend the event or meeting.”  This advice is not specific to training courses, but is useful to note. You may wish to ask delegates to notify you if they experience coronavirus symptoms after attending a course, so you can contact the other attendees.

You may be required to report cases of COVID-19 under RIDDOR.

1.8 Ventilation

The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises that good ventilation can help reduce the risk of spreading coronavirus. Where possible, open windows and doors to increase the supply of fresh air. You can also use ceiling fans or desk fans to improve the circulation of outside air and prevent pockets of stagnant air in occupied spaces.

2. The course

We will now talk specifically about PASMA courses, thinking about all aspects of the day from start to finish.

2.1 Risk assessment

Review your risk assessment and update it to acknowledge the additional risk presented by coronavirus, for example a potentially delayed response from emergency services. We recommend keeping a copy of your training centre’s COVID-19 risk assessment and procedures into the course folder, along with the usual risk assessment. 

2.2 Arriving at the centre

Consider how you can manage this while maintaining social distancing. For example, would you stagger arrival times for delegates or mark out 2m gaps for people having to queue? You might want to tell delegates to wait outside until their agreed arrival time and remind them to arrive on their own.

Do not shake hands. The World Health Organisation suggests that as an icebreaker, people could practice ways to say hello without touching.

As always, delegates must personally sign the course register. Ask them to wash or sanitize their hands before and after doing so, and to use their own pen.

2.3 Theory sessions

The theory session for our most popular courses can now be completed online, from a home computer, tablet or smartphone, in advance of the practical session. This allows you to secure future bookings even during times that delegates are unable or reluctant to attend in person, but importantly it also minimises contact time when they do come to your training centre. The courses currently available online are Towers for Users, Low Level Access and Work at Height Novice. Towers for Managers will follow shortly.

Delegates who do Towers for Users e-learning will also get access to TowerGame, which (if they wish) lets them practice assembling towers on their computer in preparation for their practical.

When e-learning is used, the theory is done entirely from home. It means the instructor can skip straight to the written assessment and then the practical when the delegate arrives at your training centre. They do not need to repeat the theory session at the training centre.

On any one course you may have some delegates who do the theory online and some who do it with you in the classroom. In this scenario, they would all come together for the written assessment and practical.

A few useful notes about e-learning:

  > If someone’s PASMA qualification is about to expire, we will extend it when they complete the theory in our Online Training Portal

  > Employees on furlough can still do training

  > The online theory session can only be accessed by delegates who make a booking through a training centre. They must come to you for their written assessment and practical; they will not be able to complete the course at any other training centre

  > You may find the answers to your questions in our e-learning FAQs 

Consider eliminating the risk of extended time in a classroom by offering e-learning theory sessions where they are available.

For theory sessions that you do run in classrooms, whether that’s through choice or because it isn’t available online, factors you will want to consider include:

  > Social distancing, including when delegates leave the room for toilet breaks

  > Seating arrangements – Delegates should be seated 2m apart. If there are short periods where this is impossible, the UK government recommends people sit side by side or facing away from each other, rather than face to face, or using screens or barriers to separate them from each other.

Consider when and how to distribute paper course materials. For example, materials could be laid out the night before and you should wash your hands before and after doing so.

2.4 Written assessment

The written assessment is always done at a training centre, with an instructor present. This applies even for delegates who have completed the theory session online. Again, you will need to facilitate social distancing during this time. The instructor should communicate clearly with delegates about how they will be handing out and collecting the test paper. You should consider designating a place for delegates to leave their completed papers.

This part of the course involves documents being passed from instructor to delegate and back again. So, it’s a time for the instructor to be especially careful about not touching their face and washing their hands as soon as possible – and reminding delegates to do the same. You may want to request delegates bring their own pen for the exam, but you’ll inevitably need a back-up plan for those who forget.

For the avoidance of doubt, the written assessment is still closed-book.

2.5 Practical sessions

Rescue plan

Review your rescue plan. If a delegate became ill or injured while working at height and needs to be rescued, your plan likely involves close contact between that person and the rescuer. Acknowledge the additional risk this now presents. Consider what you would do if there was an extended wait for an ambulance or you had to drive the delegate to hospital.

Components

How long does the virus that causes coronavirus live on aluminium? We don’t know, but we’ve seen some evidence that it lasts longest on shiny, hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel – up to 72 hours, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Consider:

  > How often will you deep clean tower components and how will you do this?

  > Can you rotate equipment used by different classes on different days?

  > Should delegates be encouraged to clean components after use?

Components will be passed between delegates and touched by multiple people. We suggest the instructor reminds everyone not to touch their face during the practical session and tells them to wash their hands before and immediately afterwards, even if they’ve been wearing gloves.

In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive says that equipment and work stations should be cleaned between uses.

Instruction manual

Instruction manuals are available on the PASMA app and website, so they can be accessed from each delegate’s phone. This may be preferable to a paper copy being shared by multiple people.

Social distancing

Make every effort to maintain an appropriate gap between people. For example, by placing marks on the floor to show delegates where to stand so that they are distanced but also can clearly see the instructor and training.

In normal times, delegates work in close proximity during practical sessions. During this unusual period, instructors should adapt the way they manage delegates so they can be kept apart.

In these challenging times, and for an initial trial period, training centres are permitted, and indeed are encouraged, if they have them available, to utilise one-person towers for the practical training and assessment of Towers for Users. Each delegate should build and dismantle a one-person tower on their own, up to 4m platform height. Subject to the proviso that the instructor must demonstrate and describe to the delegates the processes to assemble both 3T and AGR (Advance Guard Rail) conventional towers by assembling the base section and stabilisers on each and, with the assistance of a delegate and maintaining social distancing, build the towers to their full 4m platform height.

Instructors should complete an additional practical assessment form to record that a one-person tower was used. This will be available shortly in the Downloads section of our Online Registration System.

If you do not have one-person towers available, or if you are running a different course, you can still adapt the practical session to allow social distancing. For example, similar to that described above, asking each delegate to assemble the base section and install stabilisers on 3T and AGR (Advance Guard Rail) towers and then, assisted by another delegate (or the instructor), complete the assembly and dismantle. While this will inevitably mean that the practical session and assessment will take longer to complete, this method will ensure that social distancing is maintained and not compromised.

The person who learns how to assemble towers in a PASMA Centre today will be assembling towers in their workplace tomorrow. Knowing how to do it safely, while maintaining social distancing, will be a valuable and essential skill. Explain the risk of spreading coronavirus during tower assembly and use and why it’s so important not to touch your face and to wash your hands.

For the avoidance of doubt, delegates are still expected to move a tower during the course, as this remains part of the assessment.

Instant Upright one-person tower
Pop Up Products Mi Tower
Euro One one-person tower from Euro Towers
Boss Solo one-person tower

Examples of one-person towers from (l-r) Instant Upright, Pop Up Products, Euro Towers, Boss Towers

2.6 Photos

When your instructor takes the delegates’ photos for their PASMA cards, it’s important this is done from at least 2m away.

2.7 Breaks and welfare facilities

UK government advice for workplaces is that staff should be encouraged to bring their own food.” This advice is for staff, but it may be useful for training delegates too. You could also ask them to bring their own drinks, e.g. flasks of tea. Social distancing needs to be in place during break times. If space is limited, the government suggests this could be achieved by extending and staggering breaks.

Consider what toilets, smoking areas and prayer rooms your delegates will have access to and how you can ensure cleanliness and avoid queues or crowding. Ensure there are sufficient facilities, even when social distancing is maintained, and use clear signage to direct delegates.

2.8 Number of delegates

We’ve been asked if training centres should reduce the maximum number of delegates they accept onto PASMA courses from the usual 12. This is a decision for you to make based on the space and facilities you have available and any adjustments you need to make to ensure social distancing.

2.9 Timing

The measures you’re implementing are likely to change the amount of time needed for a course.

In the current circumstances and for a period of time yet to be determined, we’re allowing centres to conduct morning and afternoon practical sessions for different groups of delegates who have completed the theory online. However, you might want to consider extending the practical session to last a full day, giving the delegate more ‘hands-on’ time assembling and dismantling towers.

Our Training Committee will discuss the issue of timing at their next meeting and we will issue clearer guidance to you afterwards.

2.10 Leaving the centre

Plan for all candidates to make a safe, socially distanced exit from the training centre.

3. Final points

3.1 Useful sources

> Social distancing, keeping businesses open and in-work activities during the coronavirus outbreak (Health and Safety Executive)
> Getting your workplace ready for COVID-19 (World Health Organisation)
> Coronavirus: advice for employers and employees (ACAS)
> The HSE has a Working Safely helpline where you can get help and advice on how to protect people from coronavirus in your workplace
> Site operating procedures protecting your workforce during coronavirus (Construction Leadership Council)
> Working safely during coronavirus outbreak (Heath and Safety Executive)
> Air conditioning and ventilation during the coronavirus outbreak (Health and Safety Executive)
> Risk assessment tool for businesses in England (UK Government)

3.2 LinkedIn group

PASMA members can join a small, private LinkedIn group dedicated to discussing the challenges that arise while running or working in training centres during the coronavirus outbreak. Please use it to share problems and offer solutions.

3.3 Suggest an amendment

We want your feedback on this guidance. Is it helpful? Is there anything missing? Have we got anything wrong? Have you found any innovative approaches that you want us to share with other members? If you have photos of social distancing in action during your courses, that would be even better.

Please let us know about any specific points in the course where you think social distancing will be a challenge. We will be updating and evolving this guidance as time goes on and are keen to find solutions to any problems.

Email your feedback to marketing@pasma.co.uk.

3.4 Record of amendments

Version 1 – published 14 May 2020

Version 1.1 – published 19 May 2020 (updated to reflect the fact that training centres can now use one-person towers for the practical training and assessment segment of Towers for Users)

Version 1.2 – published 28 May 2020 (updated to include images of one-person towers)

Version 1.3 – published 5 June 2020 (added Table of Contents and amended first sentence for clarity)

Version 2 – published 2 July 2020. This guidance was updated to:

  > Include some additional sources that we thought would be helpful

  > Bring it up-to-date with the latest UK government guidance

  > Add information about ventilation following new guidance from the HSE

  > Clarify some specific areas we’ve been asked about by members