OSHA Reiterates Requirement for Access to Qualified Trainers During Safety and Health Worker Training – Limitations on Computer-Based Training

For employers wishing to train employees using computer-based, online programs, OSHA recently reiterated that safety and health training must still include interactive and hands-on opportunities for employees. This may frustrate employers that rely on computer-based programs to deliver compliance initiatives, and employees accustomed to online options. While employers may use online programs to deliver training courses, employees must have timely access to a qualified trainer available for questions, such as in person or by telephone, during the online training.

On July 11, 2019, OSHA’s Acting Director of Enforcement Programs issued a letter of interpretation in response to the question of whether “online training programs [are] acceptable for compliance with OSHA’s working training requirements.” The interpretation restates previous OSHA interpretations that training must “result in mastery of the training material,” and that online training must be supplemented by interactive and physical components (such as putting on and removing personal protective equipment). OSHA explained:

The opportunity for workers to be able to ask questions of, and receive responses from, a qualified trainer(s), in a timely manner, is critical to effective training. Online training that does not provide workers with this opportunity would not comply with OSHA's worker training requirements. Training with no interaction, or delayed or limited interaction, between the trainer and trainee may halt or negatively affect a trainee's ability to understand and/or retain the training material. OSHA notes that one way for the employer to give workers this opportunity in the context of a computer-based program is to provide a telephone hotline so that workers will have direct access to a qualified trainer during the conduct of the online training.

Equally important is the provision of sufficient hands-on training because it allows an employee to interact with equipment and tools in the presence of a qualified trainer(s), allows the employee to learn or refresh their skills through experience, and allows the trainer to assess whether the trainees have mastered the proper techniques. Online training that does not provide workers with hands-on training would not comply with OSHA's worker training requirements …. OSHA emphasizes the importance of reviewing specific OSHA standards and related guidance to determine what OSHA requires in specific situations.

This interpretation is consistent with OSHA’s prior interpretations, including its November 22, 1994 letter of interpretation regarding Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response confirming that OSHA requires employees to have the opportunity to ask questions if training material is unclear or unfamiliar to them. Again in 2012, OSHA reiterated that online training would be insufficient to enable employees to learn first-aid and CPR skills, as required for numerous standards (including 29 C.F.R. §§ 1910.151 - medical services and first aid; 1910.146 - permit-required confined spaces; 1910.266 - logging operations; 1910.269 - electric power generation, transmission, and distribution; 1910.410 - qualifications of dive team; and 1926.950 - power transmission and distribution).

While the specific training requirements of OSHA standards vary, employers should carefully review their computer-based training programs in light of this renewed statement about the need for interactive and physical components and for trainees to be able to ask questions during the training.

Beveridge & Diamond’s Occupational Health & Safety practice group works alongside clients’ legal, EHS and technical teams, to help resolve critical enforcement, compliance, and regulatory issues relating to their facilities and operations. For more information, please contact the authors.