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OSHA Safety Regulations: Training Requirements and Best Practices

OSHA regulations guide

Thursday, Apr 23rd, 2020

On December 29, 1970, President Richard Nixon signed the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act of 1970 into law. The following April, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was formed.

Since then, OSHA has been charged with ensuring “safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance.”

As noted in their mission statement, OSHA not only creates safety standards, but they also supply guidelines for meeting these safe conditions. How do you know what standards apply to you? And how do you receive OSHA training? We will take you through some of the most common OSHA-related topics to help you get and stay OSHA compliant.

Which Industries Do OSHA Regulations Cover?

Road construction worksite

There are nearly 1,000 OSHA standards, falling under four main categories: Construction, Maritime, Agriculture and General Industry. Construction includes the highest number of individual standards, but most workplaces will likely find the majority of their needs fall under the General Industry umbrella.

When determining which standards you need to enforce, start by considering the potential hazards faced by your employees rather than simply looking at your industry regulations. For instance, if you run a construction company, some employees may need training in bloodborne pathogens (BBP) in order to administer first aid at job sites. You will not find a bloodborne pathogens regulation in the Construction section; BBP falls under General Industry.

OSHA regulations try to cover the majority of hazards that may be faced at a worksite. However, when there is not a regulation for a specific hazard, employers can fall back on the General Duty Clause of the OSH Act, which requires employers to provide a place of employment that is “free from recognizable hazards that are causing or likely to cause death or serious harm to employees.”

All employers must comply with the General Duty Clause, regardless of whether the workplace is covered by federal OSHA or by a State Plan.

What is an OSHA State Plan?

The federal OSH Act covers most private-sector employees, along with some state and local government employees, throughout the United States and certain U.S. jurisdictions. However, many states and territories enact their own OSHA-approved State Plans, which essentially replace federal OSHA enforcement.

State Plans must set workplace safety and health standards that are “at least as effective as” OSHA standards. Many states adopt standards that are identical to OSHA, but they have the option to address hazards not covered by federal standards. Regardless, all State Plans are reviewed, approved and continually monitored by OSHA.

The following table outlines the jurisdictions currently following a State Plan. The six listed in bold have State Plans that cover only state and local government workers (federal OSHA standards cover private-sector workers in these areas) while the rest have a State Plan that covers most private-sector workers and all public-sector workers.

AlaskaIowa New JerseyTennessee
ArizonaKentucky New Mexico Utah
CaliforniaMaine New YorkVermont
ConnecticutMaryland North CarolinaU.S. Virgin Islands
HawaiiMichigan Oregon Virginia
Illinois Minnesota Puerto RicoWashington
Indiana Nevada South CarolinaWyoming

OSHA Training Requirements

Unfortunately, OSHA does not have one consistent standard for addressing safety training. Instead, if there is a specific training requirement, it is outlined in the applicable OSHA standard itself.

Some training requirements include verbiage such as “training” or “instruction,” but OSHA has taken the position that, regardless of the precise language used, all OSHA training must be presented in a manner the employee is capable of understanding.

As a general rule, employers should understand that if they typically need to communicate with workers at a certain vocabulary level or in a language other than English, safety training must be provided in the same manner.

Forklift safety training

Keep in mind that OSHA training is not comprehensive by any means. Completing training simply shows the employee has been made aware of potential safety hazards and has a level of understanding about what to do in a dangerous situation.

Employees should still receive on-the-job training for a particular role and for the company to ensure they have the ability to perform necessary job functions.

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OSHA Training Best Practices

When it comes to workplace safety and health, standard training best practices can still be applied. Some of the most commonly used training tips include utilizing engaging content and interactivity, incorporating real-life scenarios, ensuring accessibility for all employees and assessing employee knowledge as you go.

Engaging and interactive

Keeping learners interested in training, especially safety training courses, is often one of the biggest hurdles trainers encounter. Typical lecture-style training sessions tend to lose employees. Incorporating activities, from in-training questions to “choose your own adventure” choices, means the learners must remain active and engaged during training.

Incorporating real-life scenarios

No matter the type of training used, it is always easier to grasp the topic at hand when the scenarios are relatable to an employee’s situation. For instance, you may think that a generic training lesson over slips, trips and falls may be sufficient. But if your employees work in a supermarket and the training course only features scenarios occurring on construction sites, it is unlikely that your training will be effective. Relatability always helps with retention.

Accessibility for all employees

When it comes to safety training, it is imperative that all employees receive the training they need, whether they work in an office or out in a field. Ensuring your training material can be accessed from anywhere at any time means it will be more effective and, ideally, create a safer working environment.

Knowledge assessments

It is easy for employees to sit through a training class simply to check off a required box. However, health and safety training would be largely useless if employees did not retain any of the information. Offering quiz questions or other forms of assessment both during and after training forces the employees to think about what they learned and prove they understood the material.

OSHA Training Record Requirements

Two safety managers in manufacturing facility

Just like there is not an overarching standard for OSHA training requirements, there is not one simple guideline for documenting employee training records. To determine what training records to maintain, you will need to look up the specific OSHA standard. If a standard has record documentation requirements, they will be listed in the regulations.

Many regulations, like Mechanical Power Presses (1910.217), include verbiage indicating “the employer shall certify that employees have been trained by preparing a certification record.” However, some regulations do outline specific details to be included in the certification.

Another question employers often have is how long training records need to be maintained. Again, this varies by regulation. Some specify a certain number of years, some note records should be kept for the duration of employment and others only specify that the most recent certification needs to be maintained.

However, if you are in doubt over what records to maintain, remember that OSHA has offered their own suggestion: “It is a good idea to keep a record of all safety and health training.”

The Consequences of Non-Compliance

All employers under the purview of OSHA, whether federally or through a State Plan, are subject to periodic inspections. OSHA inspections can also come about following employee safety complaints. Depending on the type of violation and severity of the danger, or the potential danger, OSHA may issue a citation or fine.

There are six main categories of OSHA violations, five of which result in civil penalties. Penalties for OSHA violations typically increase each year, based on inflation. The specific fines noted below come the penalty amounts published by OSHA on January 23, 2019.

De Minimis Violations

The least serious of OSHA violations, this category denotes technical violations that have no direct impact on health or safety. OSHA does not issue fines for de minimis infractions but employers will receive a verbal notification from the OSHA inspector.

Other-than-Serious Violations

A violation related to health or safety but that would not result in serious injury or death, such as not posting required safety documentation in a work area, is considered “other-than-serious.” The maximum penalty is $13,260 per violation, but inspectors can choose to reduce the fine by as much as 95% or drop the fine altogether, based on things such as the cooperativeness of the owner.

Serious Violations

Just as it sounds, a serious OSHA violation could cause an accident or illness that would most likely result in death or serious physical harm, unless the employer did not or could not have known of the situation. Fines anywhere from $947 up to $13,260 are possible per violation.

Willful Violations

This most serious category is reserved for situations when an employer shows complete disregard for employee safety. Fines can range from $9,472 to $132,598 per violation, but if the violation results in an employee death, it becomes a criminal offense and could result in jail time.

Repeated Violation

If OSHA issues a citation or fine and a subsequent inspection reveals an identical or very similar violation, a fine from $9,472 up to $132,598 per violation may be issued. However, if the employer contested the original violation and is awaiting a decision from OSHA, inspectors cannot assess a repeated violation.

Failure to Abate Prior Violation

Each violation citation includes a date by which the issue must be resolved. For employers who do not do so on or before the specified date, a fine of up to $13,260 per day beyond the abatement date may be assessed.

In addition to the fines that come with OSHA violations, employers must keep in mind the non-monetary effects of noncompliance. When a company fails to uphold health and safety standards, their customers, partners and even the public are given reason to see them in a negative light. Reputational damage can result in a loss of sales, layoffs, bankruptcy or worse.

Common OSHA Violations

Each year, OSHA releases a list of the top 10 most-cited violations from the previous fiscal year. The list does not change much from year to year, and many of the listed violations are some of the most easily preventable issues.

At the 2019 National Safety Council Congress & Expo, OSHA Deputy Director of the Directorate of Enforcement Programs Patrick Kapust announced the preliminary violations list for FY 2019. The majority of the list went unchanged from 2018 and, for the ninth year in a row, Fall Protection tops the list.

Here are 2019’s most-cited OSHA violations, along with the corresponding OSHA regulation:

  1. Fall Protection – General Requirements (1926.501)
  2. Hazard Communication (1910.1200)
  3. Scaffolding (1926.451)
  4. Lockout/Tagout (1910.147)
  5. Respiratory Protection (1910.134)
  6. Ladders (1926.1053)
  7. Powered Industrial Trucks (1910.178)
  8. Fall Protection – Training Requirements (1926.503)
  9. Machine Guarding (1910.212)
  10. Eye and Face Protection (1926.102)

Can You Take OSHA Training Online?

Online safety training on computer

As the world around us becomes more digital seemingly every day, it makes sense that training would make the switch to digital as well, but how effective is online training? Does computer-based training (CBT) meet OSHA training standards?

When you consider the training best practices mentioned earlier, online safety training can help your training program accomplish each of those and more.

Online training makes it easy to insert interactive and engaging material within the content, and these elements can even be tied into knowledge assessments. If your course includes questions or surveys during and after the training, employees are able to demonstrate their newfound knowledge.

A major benefit of online training is that it is easily accessible by employees at any location. Whether you have an office employee taking the course on a desktop computer or an oil worker going through training on a tablet while on the rig, online courses make required, and optional, training courses fully accessible.

Taking OSHA training online could also save your company time and money, as online training does not require a physical classroom setting or bringing an in-person trainer to your jobsite. Employees can complete virtual training from anywhere with internet access.

So what does OSHA think of online training? While they do believe computer-based training can be highly effective as part of a health and safety training program, they also caution employers to not rely solely on CBT for safety training.

There are certain roles or specific OSHA guidelines that may require some in-person training. For instance, anyone can take an online chainsaw safety training course, but until an employee has physically picked up a chainsaw and demonstrated how to safely operate the machinery, they could be considered a liability.

OSHA Refresher Training

As is the case with any training, repeating OSHA safety training at regular intervals could help employees stay up-to-date with regulations and further reinforce knowledge of how to follow the OSHA guidelines.

Within OSHA’s own training requirements you will find numerous mentions of “refresher training.” These are meant to advise employers on how often employees are required to be retrained on a topic. Some regulations call for yearly refresher training while others only require retraining every three years. However, employees are always welcome to complete refresher training more often than is required.

A benefit to taking OSHA training online is how easy it is to assign and complete refresher training as often as is needed or as often as you’d like. While some OSHA regulations require training to be conducted at least annually, it is never a bad idea to brush up on safety training even when not required.

Conclusion

With nearly 1,000 different OSHA standards and hundreds of related training requirements, it can be hard for employers to keep track of everything needed to be OSHA compliant.

While a lot of understanding all that is required — or suggested — by OSHA typically means employers must look through various published standards, OSHA does provide an overview of employer responsibilities.

This short document lists the General Duty Clause and briefly outlines things such as appropriate signage, how to report fatalities or serious injuries, recordkeeping responsibilities and more. It also makes it easy to find many important OSHA documents, all linked in one place.

Once you have determined which OSHA standards apply to your workplace and the training that goes along with those regulations, it is time to implement a quality training program. See how SafetySkills makes occupational health and safety training easy, no matter your industry, job title or location.

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