If the turnout is any indication, participants in the first National Conference on Workplace Safety and Health Training are quite interested in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's (OSHA) plan to make training a key part of future standards.
Approximately 600 people, far more than originally expected, spent Oct. 24 through 26 in St. Louis listening to a variety of labor, management, academic and governmental experts. The speakers included the directors of the three government agencies who sponsored the event: OSHA, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
"The idea is to bring together the people who do the training and find out what works," OSHA Administrator Charles N. Jeffress said.
The conference is related to two controversial, proposed standards his agency is preparing to release: ergonomics and safety and health programs. Jeffress said he hopes the conference will improve the quality of comments on the rules when they are published.
In his remarks to conference participants in the closing plenary, Jeffress asked for help in "building a record" so that worker training will be a "central part" of the new programs. OSHA has established a Web site that makes it possible for anybody to participate in rulemaking.
Pam Tau Lee, a speaker at the conference who works in the School of Public Health at the University of California in Berkeley, agreed. "One of the purposes of this conference is to build support for including worker training in OSHA's new safety and health program standard," she said.
In return, Jeffress promised his listeners he will "fight like hell" to obtain the resources and national policies needed to promote worker safety and health.
If worker training is to be included in any new OSHA standard, the conference made it clear there is still much debate about what kind of program is most effective. For example, plenary speakers discussed whether training should be management or worker centered, whether a systems approach or a behavioral approach best addresses worker safety, and the value of new information technology.
Most union representatives strongly resisted the behavioral approach to worker training because they said it blames workers instead of changing an unsafe workplace. While union members at the conference insisted on the value of worker participation in all aspects of training and safety management, they tended to neglect a question raised by Dick Day, an OSHA/EHS program manager in Kansas City.
"I think something they're missing is the cost of this kind of worker training," Day said. "It takes time, and who's going to pay for that time?"