Posted on Jun 2, 2017

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has updated its Outreach Training Program, including the courses for the construction industry. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has given the courses a thumbs-up in a study, saying they’re well-designed and operating efficiently.

The GAO compared OSHA’s design and evaluation efforts for its training program with leading practices in GAO’s training guide (which OSHA isn’t required to follow) and federal internal control standards. Based on its finding, the GAO stated that it won’t issue any recommendations for OSHA.

The agency’s report stated, “OSHA took steps to design the Outreach Training Program so that workers receive consistent and quality training by using data to identify the content of the training, developing training materials, and issuing detailed requirements for training providers.”

OSHA created its specialized training program to help ensure safe and healthy working conditions. Using a “train-the-trainer” model, the program authorizes someone who completes the curriculum to conduct training courses for employees in certain industries.

The training isn’t a requirement. However seven states require workers to complete OSHA’s 10-hour construction safety training course before being allowed to work on state-funded construction projects. The seven states are: Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York and Rhode Island.

The construction training program teaches workers about their rights, employer responsibilities, and how to file complaints as well as how to identify, abate, avoid and prevent job-related hazards. It includes 10-hour and 30-hour versions. The longer course is geared to supervisors or others with safety program responsibility.

Recent Updates

The updated program closely resembles the previous training, with instructors delivering the 10-hour or 30-hour courses at vocational schools, union facilities and factory floors. Among some of the revisions are:

  • Class time is shortened to 30 minutes from 60 minutes. This means that if a 10- or 30-hour class is held over many days, participants are required to meet for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Prerequisites for taking a trainer course include five years of safety experience in the industry covered by the training. In order to substitute education for two years of experience to meet this requirement, students must have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Construction-specific updates:
  • Minimum teaching time is 2.5 hours.
  • A new elective, Foundations for Safety Leadership.
  • To stay current on relevant OSHA matters, authorized trainers must complete the Update for Construction Industry Outreach Trainers course every four years. The Trainer Course in Occupational Safety and Health Standards for the Construction Industry may also be used to maintain authorized status.

OSHA has also clarified some issues:

  • Time spent on testing and other paperwork or recordkeeping activities doesn’t counts as “contact hours,” and
  • Students must be sent home after 7.5 hours of class time, and they can’t return until at least 8 hours later (so, if a class ends at 10 p.m., the students can’t return before 6 a.m. the next day.

The curriculum follows a robust topic design that is constructed to ensure that each individual receives similar training no matter what the work situation.

Specific Course Work

Overall, the training modules must cover a specific set of topics with an allotted time devoted to each topic. Although there’s a small degree of flexibility, typically at least two OSHA-specific electives are delivered in the 10-hour course and six in the 30-hour course.

The required 10-hour Construction topics include:

1. Introduction to OSHA,

2. Personal protective equipment and lifesaving equipment,

3. Health hazards in construction, and

4. The Focus Four Hazards, which covers:

  • Falls,
  • Electrocution,
  • Struck by (for example falling objects, trucks or cranes), and
  • Caught In or Between (for example trench hazards or equipment).

The elective topics include:

Cranes Stairways
Excavations Ladders
Material handling Hand and power tools

The required 30-hour curriculum mirrors the 10-hour version but is more in-depth. Elective topics are expanded to 12 hours.

Disadvantages of the Program

Nevertheless, OSHA Outreach Training isn’t meant to be the only training for employees. There are several other important considerations.

Critics note that the Outreach Program doesn’t offer any additional indemnity or level of compliance over other training alternatives, despite frequent employer assumptions that it does. Firms providing the training to employees are still legally responsible for workplace accidents and fatalities. OSHA cautions participants that training is intended to provide basic safety hazard awareness. It’s mainly up to employers to ensure operations are properly performed.

Also, a fundamental weakness of this or any type of standardized safety program is that the training rarely addresses the hazards specific to any single employee role or worksite. To be more effective, safety training should emphasize specific learning objectives relevant to the work experience.

Some analysts suggest that a better idea might be to base safety training on an analysis of the hazards of a specific job. Some common job tasks that would comprise a routine hazard analysis are:

  • Jobs that cause (or may cause) consistent injuries or illness,
  • Jobs that cause (or may cause) severe or disabling injuries or illness,
  • New jobs,
  • Jobs that have changed recently, and
  • Complex jobs that require written instructions.

Hazards that are identified during a safety analysis can then be incorporated into company training. In addition, training and education can help workers feel competent enough to identify and report hazards they may encounter.

Finally, the program doesn’t satisfy the training requirements specified in OSHA standards for construction. Additional training is required to address exposures and hazards that employers may face either directly or indirectly. Workers should be well-versed in OSHA standards for operations conducted at their worksites.

Stepping Stone

Given the number of fatalities and injuries sustained by construction workers, it may be worth considering the Outreach Training Program as a stepping-stone toward further improvement.

Fear the “Fatal” Four

The Focus Four hazards were responsible for nearly two-thirds (64.2%) of fatalities in construction in 2015.

According to the Department of Labor, 4,836 workers were killed in all private sector jobs in 2015, the highest total since 5,214 in 2008. On average, that amounts to more than 93 a week, or 13 deaths every day.

Of the total, 937 (21.4%) occurred in construction — more than one out of every five.

The leading causes of construction deaths (excluding highway collisions) were falls, followed by being struck by an object, electrocution and being caught in or between two objects.