Safety Training: Simple Answers to Basic Questions

By Joe O'Connor | Oct 15, 2010
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There seems to be no end to studies and theories on education and training that focus on methodology and effectiveness. Yet, for the lay person who simply wants the basic questions on safety training answered, they offer much more than is needed. These basic questions are: What training do I need to provide? How do I train? When and where do I conduct training? And, the most basic of all, why do it?

The why seems to stand out. The answer, “For safety reasons,” comes from two perspectives. The first focuses on why we want to address safety at all. The reasons for this rests with the timeless three—compliance, cost and morality. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has promulgated a series of regulations mandating safety training. Failure to comply will result in financial and possibly criminal penalties. Perhaps more important than compliance is the cost. Employees who have not been trained in the proper safety procedures are more likely to be involved in accidents, which affect a company’s bottom line. When an accident occurs, costs associated with medical and workers compensation expenses are a factor. In addition, hidden costs, such as downtime, administrative time lost on paperwork, reduced productivity, etc., must be considered. Furthermore, there is the impact accidents have on your workers compensation premium. But the most important reason for safety training is the moral obligation we have to each other: No one wants to see a worker injured or killed. Imagine living with the fact that more training could have saved a life.

Answering the “why” brings attention to and helps with answering “What training is needed?” It’s simple. Conduct any training program useful in helping to prevent an injury, illness or death at work. Therefore, employers must determine the hazards that are present, what types of problems each hazard presents and if training is part of the solution.

In many cases, OSHA has already determined training is a part of the solution. There are more than 60 education and training requirements in the OSHA construction standards (see list at right) and even more in the general industry standards. Many of these are applicable to activities performed by electrical workers. Unfortunately, this list of requirements cannot be used as a catch-all, but merely as a general guide and starting point. The requirements in 1926.21, Safety Training and Education, alone shift the burden back on employers to determine hazards and training needed, regardless of a specific regulation addressing a given hazard. It states, “The employer shall instruct each employee in the recognition and avoidance of unsafe conditions and the regulations applicable to his work environment to control or eliminate any hazards or other exposure to illness or injury.” For example, no OSHA regulation exists to warn employees to protect themselves from the sun or heat. Yet, regulations exist in New York state that require public employees to be trained on the hazards of exposure, such as skin cancer or heat exhaustion, and types of protection, such as the use of sun block or protective garments. OSHA cited a construction employer in Texas after a worker died of heat exhaustion from working in 102°F heat.

To determine the hazards present, conduct a hazard assessment. Before the job begins, review project documents and historical information on related activities. Accident investigations and other injury/illness documentation, such as previous OSHA logs, will reveal problem areas. Also conduct a walk-through survey of the job to develop a list of potential hazards. Basic hazard categories include impact, penetration, impression (roll-over), chemical, heat/cold, harmful dust, light (optical) radiation, and biological hazards. Be sure to remember the obvious: electrical.

Training option
The next step is determining what training will address the problems created by the hazard. This is easier than you think. Workers need to know the hazard exists and how to perform their work or use equipment in a manner that avoids the hazard. For example, to climb a ladder, a worker needs to know they must center their body and follow the “three-point contact rule.”

This leads to the next question—how do you get his information to employees? The answer depends on the topic and nature of the learning outcome needed. To teach basic knowledge, such as the effect of given amperage on the body, one can use almost any method. Lectures in the form of toolbox talks are the most common and convenient; however, posters, videos and PowerPoint presentations help to get the message across.

Gaining in popularity, in our age of technology, are computer-based programs. These can be applications that are loaded onto a single computer or network or hosted by the vendor on their site and accessible through an Internet connection.

To teach critical thinking and problem-solving skills, discussion and group learning may be best. Getting employees to recognize new hazards would be an example of a critical thinking skill. To teach physical skills, such as donning a respirator, hands-on training would be most effective.

Of course, the deeper you analyze education, the more complex the execution of training can become. There are varying studies and opinions on the methods for best retention. For years, the learning pyramid has been used to show the increasing levels of retention. It placed lecture at the top of the pyramid, moving down through demonstration, practice by doing, and teaching others at the bottom of the pyramid as the means with the greatest retention. But, this recently has come under scrutiny.

Of greater importance are factors that enable the learner to better focus on the material. Workers need to be able to relate the new content to existing knowledge. Lessons need to build on that knowledge. Maintaining a logical sequence in a lesson is critical. Colorful graphics illustrating content will improve attention and allow workers to follow it more easily. Most of all, content must be relevant. Showing fall protection hazards affecting roofers will have little effect on electricians.

Trying to navigate these details can be overwhelming and counterproductive. The most important thing is to get accurate information to the employees. It is also important to do the best job you can by using common sense and by varying the methods. A good illustration of this would be training someone to erect a scaffold. Lecture, demonstration and practice-by-doing are all great teaching methods; even better is a combination of all three. Using a lecture with demonstration to instruct a worker how to build a scaffold, followed by a session where the individual erects it on their own while being monitored, will achieve the best results. A term used to describe this is “blended learning.” It has proven highly effective where computer-based learning is combined with on-the-job training.

Evaluation is an obvious component to the success of any method. Where a computer--based program is used or a lecture is given, workers need to be tested and monitored following their training. If the worker fails to demonstrate that they have the knowledge and/or skills to perform their job safely, retraining is needed. This is a mandate that has found its way into regulations. Both Subpart L, Scaffolding, and Subpart M, Fall Protection, include this language.

Where and when
The final aspect of training is where and when training is conducted. In simple terms, start at the beginning. An employee orientation is critical. Address the basic hazards in general terms when workers are first hired. This can be done in the office or any other location, especially if using an Internet connection to a software-training application. In addition, hazard-specific training should be done before beginning a project. Detailed instructions on how to address new hazards associated with that project can be given as well as a brief review provided on common hazards involved in the work. Reviewing what has previously been discussed regarding methods, additional training should be scheduled when accidents or near misses occur.

Weekly toolbox talks should be conducted. They can be used to address required training or just to keep safety on the top of the mind. The timing of toolbox talks as required training would coincide with the presence of hazards. To promote top-of-the-mind safety, toolbox talks can be coordinated with accidents or near misses that have occurred within your company or ones that have been highlighted in the local news. Review the causes of the accident and precautions that could have been taken. As the name indicates, either type of toolbox talk can be conducted in the field or at any other convenient location.

Toolbox talks should not be confused with job briefings. A job briefing must be done before beginning a job. It reviews the “hazards associated with the job, work procedures involved, special precautions, energy-source controls, and personal protective equipment requirements.” Multiple job briefings may be needed during the work shift if the jobs are repetitive in nature or if new jobs will be performed.

Whether its toolbox talks, job briefings or other formal training, the key is to get information to the employees. Although there are certainly methods to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of training, it is best to keep it simple. Failing to train for lack of expertise in education methodology is foolish. Employers need to rely on common sense, ensure the accuracy of information provided, deliver content in varied methods the best they can and monitor workers to ensure learning is successful.

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 and [email protected].

Construction Training Requirements*

Safety Training and Education 1926.21
General Safety and Health Provisions 1926.20
Employee Emergency Action Plans 1926.35
Medical Services and First-aid 1926.50
Ionizing Radiation 1926.53
Nonionizing Radiation 1926.54
Gases, Vapors, Fumes, Dusts, and Mists 1926.55
Hazard Communication 1926.59
Methylenedianiline 1926.60
Lead in Construction 1926.62
Process Safety Management of Highly Hazardous Chemicals 1926.64
Hazardous Waste Operations/Emergency Response 1926.65
Hearing Protection 1926.101(b)
Respiratory Protection 1926.103
Fire Protection 1926.150
Powder-Operated Hand Tools 1926.302
Signaling 1926.201
Woodworking Tools 1926.304
Gas Welding and Cutting 1926.350
Arc Welding and Cutting 1926.351, 1926.350
Fire Prevention 1926.352
Scaffolding—Training Requirements 1926.454
Welding, Cutting and Heating in Way of Preservative Coatings 1926.354
Ground-Fault Protection 1926.404
Fall Protection—Training Requirements 1926.503
Cranes and Derricks 1926.550
Material Hoists, Personnel Hoists, and Elevators 1926.552
Material Handling Equipment 1926.602
Site Clearing 1926.604
Excavations General Protection Requirements 1926.651
Concrete and Masonry Construction 1926.70
Bolting, Riveting, Fitting-Up and Plumbing Up 1926.752
Underground Construction 1926.800, 1926.651
Compressed Air 1926.803
Preparatory Operations 1926.850
Mechanical Demolition 1926.859
Chutes 1926.852
General Provisions (Blasting and Use of Explosives) 1926.900
Blaster Qualifications 1926.901
Surface Transportation of Explosives 1926.902
Firing the Blast 1926.909
General Requirements (Power Transmission & Distribution) 1926.950
Overhead Lines 1926.955
Underground Lines 1926.956
Construction in Energized Substations 1926.957. 1926.955
Ladders 1926.1053 1926.957
Training Requirements 1926.1060
Asbestos 1926.1101
Commercial Diving Operations1926.1076
Carcinogens 1926.1103
Vinyl Chloride 1926.1117
Inorganic Arsenic 1926.1118
Cadmium 1926.1127
Coke Oven Emissions 1926.1129
1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane 1926.1144
Benzene 1926.1128
Acrylonitrile 1926.1145
Ethylene Oxide 1926.1147
Formaldehyde 1926.1148
Methylene Chloride 1926.1152

*From 1998 OSHA Publication “2254 Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines.” General industry and new training standards promulgated since 1998 are not listed.

About The Author

Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or [email protected].





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