OSHA’s most basic provisions require employers to make workers aware of the hazards of their job and how to avoid them or how to protect themselves from the harmful effects. But OSHA doesn’t specify the amount of training workers should have or give more details about how they should be trained. Instead, they developed the OSHA 10 hour course, a general awareness program that covers the basics of the major hazards in construction and an employee’s right to a safe workplace.
Plenty of occupational safety and health professionals argue that the OSHA 10 hour course doesn’t do enough to protect workers. They say the course ends up being little more than reciting the OSHA standards, which are only minimum requirements and are not always protective. Unlike training in asbestos, lead or hazardous waste, which requires a periodic refresher, OSHA 10 hour cards have no expiration date. Yet this course has become the industry standard for construction, with many companies requiring employees to obtain an OSHA 10 card before they can begin work. Some states and other municipalities even require an OSHA 10 card for any employee working on state-funded construction projects.
With 796 fatalities in the construction industry in 2013 and many more injuries that caused lost work time of a month or more, construction remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. Even though the OSHA 10 hour course has become the industry standard, it does not provide an adequate level of training for all jobsites. To truly have a safe worksite, employers should use the OSHA 10 hour as the foundation for continuous training and education efforts.
Workers need enough quality training to ensure they understand the material and retain it. The level of training required will vary based on a worker’s experience and the course itself. Effective training in construction often takes the form of interactive, hands-on activities where students get to handle equipment or see a real construction setup to identify what is correct or wrong with it. For most construction workers, setting up a scaffold and having an instructor review their work is much more effective than a lecture on scaffold safety. Similarly, trying on personal protective equipment (PPE) and fitting it properly is not the same as watching a video about it on a computer screen. No matter the instructional method, there should be plenty of time to ask questions and discuss the material afterwards.
The LIUNA Training and Education Fund (LIUNA Training) provides just these kinds of interactive curricula for LIUNA members at its training centers located across the U.S. and Canada. LIUNA Training instructors integrate safety into courses in construction, environmental remediation and supervisory training. This training is in addition to the on-the-job learning Laborers receive through local and regional apprenticeship programs.
How much students learn and how much they retain is critical. That’s why it’s important to conduct evaluations, which should be more than a short multiple choice test. Hands-on training can be evaluated by having the student perform the work (e.g., put on PPE properly) and checking to see if it is correct.
Employers should make it standard operating procedure to supplement the OSHA 10 hour with site-specific training. This training should cover company policies and best practices, which may be stricter than OSHA’s. Because OSHA standards change from time to time (e.g., the new hazard communication standard), it would be useful to require refresher courses explaining these new requirements.
At the end of the day, all construction workers need training so they know their rights, can identify hazardous situations and know the proper procedures for correcting hazards before anyone gets hurt. There’s no single answer or set number for how much training a construction worker needs, but the OSHA 10 hour course should be just the beginning.
[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]