Employers’ Training Obligations

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Most of OSHA’s standards have a “training” section requiring employees to be trained to perform their work in a healthful and safe manner. These standards use words like “Instruction” or “training” interchangeably. Some require “effecting” or “adequate” training. Some require training “in language” or “in a manner” that is understandable to employees.

OSHA has defined “instruction,” “training,” and other terms used synonymously to mean “to present information in a manner that employees receiving it are capable of understanding.”  OSHA has published many letters of interpretation over the past decades supporting this definition. The overall idea is that these terms are all synonyms referring to communicating hazards and protective measures to employees. A huge emphasis has been placed by OSHA on making the communication understandable. Various letters of interpretation and compliance guidelines have outlined the need to communicate hazards and protective measure in a language the employee can understand (not just in English if there are employees not entirely fluent in English), as well as using language that matches an employee’s education.

Since technical vocabulary is often not easily translated, and many people who speak English as a second language, employers cannot assume that employees can learn in English just because they can speak some English. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure that employees understand the information communicated to them in training or instruction.

Matching an employee’s education is equally important. Many employers provide written materials to employees as a form of training. If employees cannot read, or have limited reading skills, then this would not meet OSHA’s intent for training because the employee cannot understand the training. In addition, training cannot be provided that is too technical for employees to understand.

Some OSHA standards have a specific requirement that employers verify that employees retained the skills or knowledge they were trained. Other standards require retraining when employees show proof that they have not retained the information. Regardless of whether a standard expressly requires verification of understanding, OSHA’s enforcement guidance directs compliance officers to verify employers provide their employees with training and to verify that training was provided in a way that employees could understand.

Computer-Based Training & Training Videos

Training tools that have been increasing in popularity are computer-based training and training videos. Computer-based training could be interactive computer programs, online PowerPoint or videos, or many other training tools based on a computer. OSHA’s position on these programs is that they make a “valuable training tool in the context of an overall training program. However, use of computer-based training by itself would not be sufficient to meet the intent of most of OSHA’s training requirements.” OSHA has issued a very similar statement regarding training videos. OSHA warns employers to be cautious of only using generic “packaged” programs to meet their training requirements.

OSHA feels, in order for a training program to be effecting, it is important to have a live opportunity to ask questions where they are unfamiliar with material. Multiple letters of interpretation have suggested that this question and answer opportunity must be immediate because questions early in a presentation might determine an employee’s ability to understand the remainder of the material. Some standards, such as Bloodborne Pathogens, specifically require an opportunity for questions and immediate answers. Hands-on training and exercises are thought to be equally important to effective training. This gives employees the opportunity to familiarize themselves with equipment, safe practices, and personal protective equipment in a setting that poses no actual hazard.

*Unless specific citations are shown, all answers are based on interpretations provided by authorized officials. As such, all information is deemed reliable, but not guaranteed.