What Do You Mean By That? Use and Misuse of EHS Training Terms

July 1, 2011
More companies are realizing that EHS Training delivers benefits beyond compliance, including improved productivity, quality and competitive position. Instead of a “cost center,” EHS training is being viewed as a business investment – and EHS professionals are being asked to produce and document results that show it is a good investment.

When undertaking training required by OSHA regulations, are you aware of the appropriate definitions of EHS terms? Misunderstanding these terms can create confusion about standards and processes, resulting in non-compliance, incidents and injuries. Below are some terms we all should use with care.

“Compliant,” “OSHA-Approved” or “OSHA-Anything”

OSHA requires employers to train employees in areas impacting safety and health – sometimes with significant penalties for not complying. So “OSHA-approved training” that will “keep your company compliant” sounds very attractive. The problem is that OSHA and other regulatory agencies never formally approve, certify or endorse commercial products.

OSHA does “authorize” outreach trainers, enabling them to issue Department of Labor completion cards for training such as 10-hour and 30-hour programs. But even there OSHA draws clear boundaries, stating that outreach training is “not a certification program and must not be advertised as such. Outreach training program trainers, students and curriculum are not certified.” The agency adds, “OSHA does not ‘approve’ trainers or classes.” In short, terms like OSHA-certified or OSHA-approved always should raise a red flag.

To claim that third-party training will “keep your company compliant” also is inaccurate. Why? First, regulatory agencies put responsibility for compliance on the employer, not third-party training providers. Based on regulatory standards, an employer must choose and provide appropriate training to affected employees and document proof of successful completion.

A reputable training solution provider will design and revise courses to align with given regulations. But any training course can fall short of compliance if the company using it doesn’t deliver it correctly, applies it in the wrong situation or fails to properly document completion.

Also, compliance with most regulations typically involves more than any third-party vendor is offering. An online training course on personal protective equipment, for example, still requires hands-on demonstration of skills for compliance. Regulations like the powered industrial truck standard even require performing tasks on actual equipment in the actual environment.

Beyond that, training compliance is just one element of overall EHS compliance. Vendors with technology-based solutions that address that bigger picture legitimately can claim to simplify compliance by automating not only training management, but also your OSHA log of work-related injuries and illnesses, return-to-work programs, hazard analyses, hearing conservation audiometry and facility noise monitoring and more. But even the best, most comprehensive vendor only helps you fulfill regulatory responsibilities. In the end, regulators still evaluate you for compliance, not your vendor.

“Competent Person,” “Qualified Person”

Some OSHA standards require that employers deem employees “competent” or “qualified” for the EHS tasks they perform. The OSHA general definitions of these terms are:

• “By way of training and/or experience, a competent person is knowledgeable of applicable standards, is capable of identifying workplace hazards relating to the specific operation, and has the authority to correct them.”

• “A qualified person is one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, has successfully demonstrated his ability to solve or resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work or the project.”

OSHA standards for specific topics (fall protection, ladders, scaffolding, cranes, rigging, excavations, trenching, etc.) further clarify the minimum roles and responsibilities for those deemed competent or qualified. However, employers ultimately must determine what competent and qualified should mean in their specific setting. Employers also must ensure that competent or qualified employees not only have the knowledge, but also the demonstrated abilities (identifying hazards, using equipment, etc.) and the organizational authority (being able to stop a dangerous job, allocate/mobilize resources, etc.) that OSHA requires.

Select vendors may be equipped to provide site-specific, performance-based training to support the knowledge and ability aspects of OSHA definitions. But you should be wary of vendors claiming to offer turnkey training solutions that make someone competent, since only employers can make this determination and grant the organizational authority that OSHA requires.

“Certification,” “Certified”

Whether in the context of regulations from OSHA and other agencies, or for internal accountability, “certification” never should be taken lightly. When a company, trainer or outside consultant “certifies” training, it should mean that everything has been carefully assessed and satisfactorily. completed.

Most areas where certification is required or desirable include site-specific information and also may involve in-person evaluation of skills, not just passing a course or written exam. Even when using a qualified outside vendor who works closely with your employees and does thorough assessments before issuing certification, it’s important to remember that OSHA still places the final responsibility on the employer.

Since documentation is a key element in training and certification, clearly there is value in vendor solutions that automate and help ensure the accuracy of necessary tracking and testing. Such documentation not only supports your company in proving compliance, it can be extremely valuable in the case of an accident, and can help mitigate liability claims.

“All You Need Is...”

Here’s an EHS term I’d like to see used more: “blended learning.” While “blended” and “blending” are used a little loosely in some cases, a good basic definition comes from Jennifer Hofmann and Nanette Miner in an ASTD article titled, “Real Blended Learning Stands Up:”

Blended learning means “using the best delivery methodologies available for a specific objective, including online, classroom-based instruction, electronic performance support, paper-based and formalized or informal on-the-job solutions among numerous others.”

Conversely, some training providers imply that all you need to comply with regulations, fulfill your responsibility to protect your employees and reap the benefits of a strong EHS culture is the type of learning they happen to sell or support. In reality, a single, static approach to training rarely is enough to meet regulatory obligations (which often require a combination of hands-on, site-specific and classroom or course-based learning) – and it never is ideal. Since today’s work force includes people with different learning styles, focusing too much on one training approach can leave some employees essentially untrained.

Best practices dictate using a blended solution – and EHS professionals have a unique ability and responsibility to decide what the blend should be. When not mandated by regulations, those decisions should focus on what will make the training most efficient and most effective, including making sure your EHS professionals have sufficient time and energy for hands-on and site-specific training, as well as their non-training responsibilities.

Beyond Words: Choosing a Good Training Partner

What is true for any business transaction is good advice for EHS professionals: work with people you trust. If you decide to hire a vendor to help with training, take time to evaluate the solution provider as well as the solution. In addition to grading their proper use of EHS terms, here are some questions to ask:

  • What is the EHS expertise of your content creators and trainers?
  • How will your solution work within a blended approach? For online or computer-based providers, does your system (or scheduling, tracking, reporting tools) integrate online and offline training?
  • How do you ensure that courseware conforms with OSHA/DOT/EPA regulations? What’s your process for updating courses when regulations change?
  • Are you an authorized provider of IACET CEUs? (IACET authorization requires an extensive review process and is a reliable indicator of quality.)
  • Do you understand my industry? Are you engaged in my industry’s activities?
  • What leading companies do you work with? Can I contact some of your other customers to ask about their experience?
  • Will your system evolve to keep pace with industry changes and leverage technological advances?

Jonathan A. Jacobi, CSP, is senior EHS manager at PureSafety. He has more than 15 years of EHS experience, is a certified safety professional (CSP), construction health and safety technician (CHST) and an OSHA-authorized outreach trainer for construction and general industry. He holds a B.S. and M.S. in Occupational Safety and Health with an emphasis in industrial hygiene from Murray State University.

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