Wednesday, September 21, 2011

OSHA Training Requirements: When Training Alone Will Not Suffice

Numerous OSHA standards require the employer to provide training (or instruction, or information . . .) to affected employees on various topics. And in many cases, a simple presentation of the required material (via discussion, video, or PowerPoint presentation) spelled out in the particular OSHA standard may suffice for the employer to comply with the regulation.

For example, the OSHA standard for portable fire extinguisher training (1910.157(g)) requires training for designated users, but it does not specify hands-on practice extinguishing a fire. Now I’m not saying it’s not a good idea to have users discharge a fire extinguisher, I’m just saying it is not specifically required by OSHA.

On the other hand, there are a few OSHA standards where training alone will not cut it! Some OSHA standards go a little further, or in some cases a lot further, and require the employer to conduct some type of practice, evaluation and/or confirmation that the training was understood by affected workers.

Here are a few examples of OSHA training standards that I’m talking about:

  • Respiratory Protection - 1910.134(k)(1) - Training and information. The employer shall ensure that each employee can demonstrate knowledge of at least the following:   (iv) How to inspect, put on and remove, use, and check the seals of the respirator;

  • Permit-required Confined Space Entry –1910.146(k)(1)(iii) - Each member of the rescue service shall practice making permit space rescues at least once every 12 months, by means of simulated rescue operations in which they remove dummies, mannekins <sic>, or actual persons from the actual permit spaces or from representative permit spaces. Representative permit spaces shall, with respect to opening size configuration, and accessibility, simulate the types of permit spaces from which rescue is to be performed.

  • Powered Industrial Trucks - 1910.178(l)(2)(ii) - Training shall consist of a combination of formal instruction (e.g., lecture, discussion, interactive computer learning, video tape, written material), practical training (demonstrations performed by the trainer and practical exercises performed by the trainee), and evaluation of the operator's performance in the workplace.

  • Resistance Welding 1910.255(a)(3) - Personnel. Workmen designated to operate resistance welding equipment shall have been properly instructed and judged competent to operate such equipment.

As you can see, just holding a training session for affected employees is not enough in many cases; the employer is required to go further to confirm the training was effective. The methods that must be employed to meet these additional requirements vary according to which specific OSHA standard you are reading, but include drills, observations, and/or demonstrations of the workers skills.  So remember these additional requirements when you conduct OSHA safety training on these topics, or when you conduct an evaluation of your or a client’s training program.

I’m certain these are the only OSHA regulations with such requirements, just the ones that came to mind as I wrote this article. So I would like to enlist the expertise of my fellow safety professionals and ask them to share their knowledge with others, by posting in the comment section below, any OSHA standard they can think of that has a similar requirement. I also invite other comments about this topic, so please share them with our readers. 

And last but not least, please pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Beware - Where Behavior Based Safety Programs and OSHA Standards Collide

Occasionally a company that has implemented an OSHA compliance program asks me for recommendations to help them “go to the next level” and “exceed OSHA compliance”. Often times I recommend they look into implementing a behavior based safety (BBS) program to compliment what they have in place. Many of you in the safety profession already know what a behavior based safety program is, but for those who do not, here is a very brief, over-simplified explanation;

A company enlists their employees to evaluate their jobs and identify a few “critical behaviors” that workers must execute to prevent injuries. For example, “always wear safety glasses when operating the drill press”, or “forklift operators must always look behind them as they travel in reverse”. Then several employees are trained and appointed as “observers” to occasionally watch and see whether or not affected co-workers are executing each critical behavior. The observers take no corrective action taken when someone is found not following the critical behavior; they are purely acting as observers who capture the data.
Observation data are then compiled and tallied (sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly) to create charts showing the “percentage safe” for each critical behavior, and those charts are then posted in the workplace for all to see. The idea is you create a consensus among workers for what constitutes “safe” behavior, and measure how well the practice is implemented. And as we all know, what gets measured and reported gets done.

Now, here’s the problem.

I was once retained by an attorney as a consultant and OSHA expert witness for the plaintiff in a case where an independent truck driver who was strapping down his load at a manufacturing plant was hit by a forklift traveling in reverse. The injured truck driver said the forklift operator never looked behind him when he put the forklift in reverse and backed into him, and the forklift operator claimed he couldn’t remember if he looked or not. The company claimed that all operators had been properly trained and evaluated, that they met all OSHA requirements for training forklift operators, that their forklift operators always looked behind them while backing up, and that at the worst this must have been an isolated incident of employee misconduct.

While visiting the plant to conduct an inspection of the forklift and the area where the accident occurred, I happened to notice that the company had several charts posted on their bulletin board for their behavior based safety program. And guess what one of the critical behaviors was? That’s right; it was “Forklift operators must look in the direction of travel at all times”, which is a requirement plucked right out of the OSHA standards for forklift operators. The plaintiffs’ attorney got hold of the company’s observation data for this critical behavior, and we found that the plants’ forklift operators as a whole (and they had a bunch) were non-compliant with this rule an average of 36 percent of the time over the past two years!

Now, what do the OSHA regulations say about forklift operators? OSHA standard 1910.178(l)(4)(ii) requires that “refresher training (and evaluation) in relevant topics shall be provided to the operator when the operator has been observed to operate the vehicle in an unsafe manner.” The OSHA standards also require the employer to “certify” (in writing) that each forklift operator has been trained and evaluated as required by the OSHA regulations; this would include all subsequent refresher training and operator evaluations conducted for operators seen operating unsafely, as outlined above.

So basically, the employer in this particular case had data they had collected that showed knowledge of a long-running problem that they did not address as specifically required by the OSHA regulations. As you can imagine, the case settled very quickly.  And I can also report that I know of a couple of other cases where OSHA compliance officers have used data from behavior based safety programs as evidence of employer knowledge of unabated safety violations in the workplace when they were writing up citations for violations of their standards.

Now, think of the many other “critical behaviors” that are commonly used in behavior based safety programs, like the use of safety glasses and other PPE, that have similar refresher training and documentation requirements spelled out in the OSHA standards. Can you see the conflict between the non-confrontational elements of a behavior based safety program, and the “you must provide refresher training” approach of these OSHA standards?

So my message is simple. I am not suggesting that you abandon your behavior based safety program if you have one in place. I have studied behavior based safety programs, have helped implement them, and have seen them be very successful. I’m just suggesting you be very careful when selecting your critical behaviors to monitor so you don’t set yourself up for a problem down the road when OSHA (or an OSHA expert) comes to inspect.

Have you ever had a similar experience with your behavior based safety program conflicting with the OSHA regulations?  Can you thing of other specific OSHA standards (besides forklifts and PPE) that have similar refresher training and documentation requirements that could be used against a company?

If you do, or if you have other related comments about this topic, would you please share them with others by entering them in the comments section below?  And please, pass a link to this blog post along to others in your network who you think may benefit from this information.