OSHA Stresses Limits on Online Training

While computer-based training can be a great enhancement to various training, OSHA reminds employers that they must offer interactive and hands-on opportunities with qualified trainers.

The digital age allows us a number of ways to process and relay information, and online training simulations and courses are well intended and received. However, OSHA reminds employers of its policy that online and computer training alone for employees is simply not enough to meet federal training requirements.

“One of the keys that OSHA emphasizes in all of its efforts is the importance of training,” OSHA Acting Chief Loren Sweatt declared in a recent speech. “Training must be provided to workers who face hazards on the job. It’s the law, and it’s also good for every business. A highly trained workforce can minimize unnecessary costs and disruptions from an illness, injury, or fatality.”

The availability of computer-based training and online courses is understandably a appealing option for employers, but it should not be treated as a training alternative.

OSHA states that its training must “result in mastery of the training material,” leading to the conclusion that online training must be supplemented by interactive and physical components, such as putting on and removing personal protective equipment (PPE), according to one EHS Today article.

Plus, in-person and interactive training for workers is important because it creates a space for questions, feedback from a qualified trainer. Online training that does not give 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,” said OSHA.

OSHA says one way employers can give workers this opportunity in the context of a computer-based program is by providing a telephone hotline so that workers will have direct access to a qualified trainer during the conduct of the online training. But even still, this is not considered optimum by the agency in regard to certain kinds of training.

For training to be considered adequate, OSHA says a qualified trainer must supplement and facilitate any appropriate hands-on training or demonstration (for example, how to use a tool, perform a task or don appropriate PPE) as necessary for the employee to learn the proper safety and operational techniques, and for the trainer to assess the employee’s mastery of them.

Plus, timing is an important factor. A qualified trainer must be available in a “timely manner” to answer questions during the training. “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,” said OSHA.

OSHA offers a number of training videos and computer-based training programs for sale on its website, and many private companies market DVDs and computer-based OSHA training programs covering OSHA topics. While these are great supplemental resources to training, OSHA still stresses the importance of hands-on, in-person training.

“Perhaps over the next 25 years advances in virtual reality, interactive holographic imagery or robotic android technologies may afford a viable substitute for the way interactive employee training can be delivered,” said OSHA. “But for now, the letter of interpretation serves as a reminder to employers that some things still need to be done the old-fashioned way.”

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