While all employees are entitled to know as much as possible about the safety and health hazards to which they are exposed, and employers should attempt to provide all relevant information and instruction to all employees, the resources for such an effort frequently are not, or are not believed to be, available. Thus, employers are often faced with the problem of deciding who is in the greatest need of information and instruction.
One way to differentiate between employees who have priority needs for training and those who do not is to identify employee populations which are at higher levels of risk. The nature of the work will provide an indication that such groups should receive priority for information on occupational safety and health risks.
One method of identifying employee populations at high levels of occupational risk (and thus in greater need of safety and health training) is to pinpoint hazardous occupations. Even within industries which are hazardous in general, there are some employees who operate at greater risk than others. In other cases the hazardousness of an occupation is influenced by the conditions under which it is performed, such as noise, heat or cold, or safety or health hazards in the surrounding area. In these situations, employees should be trained not only on how to perform their job safely but also on how to operate within a hazardous environment.
A second method of identifying employee populations at high levels of risk is to examine the incidence of accidents and injuries, both within the company and within the industry. If employees in certain occupational categories are experiencing higher accident and injury rates than other employees, training may be one way to reduce that rate. In addition, thorough accident investigation can identify not only specific employees who could benefit from training but also identify company-wide training needs.
Research has identified the following variables as being related to a disproportionate share of injuries and illnesses at the worksite on the part of employees:
The age of the employee (younger employees have higher incidence rates).
The length of time on the job (new employees have higher incidence rates).
The size of the firm (in general terms, medium-size firms have higher incidence rates than smaller or larger firms).
The type of work performed (incidence and severity rates vary significantly by SIC Code).
The use of hazardous substances (by SIC Code).
These variables should be considered when identifying employee groups for training in occupational safety and health.
In summary, information is readily available to help employers identify which employees should receive safety and health information, education and training, and who should receive it before others. Employers can request assistance in obtaining information by contacting such organizations as OSHA Area Offices, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, OSHA-approved State programs, State onsite consultation programs, the OSHA Office of Training and Education, or local safety councils.
Determining the content of training for employee populations at higher levels of risk is similar to determining what any employee needs to know, but more emphasis is placed on the requirements of the job and the possibility of injury. One useful tool for determining training content from job requirements is the Job Hazard Analysis. This procedure examines each step of a job, identifies existing or potential hazards, and determines the best way to perform the job in order to reduce or eliminate the hazards. Its key elements are:
key steps (preferably in the order in which they are performed),
tools, machines and materials used,
actual and potential safety and health hazards associated with these key job steps, and
safe and healthful practices, apparel, and equipment required for each job step.
Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) can also provide information for training employees in the safe use of materials. These data sheets, developed by chemical manufacturers and importers, are supplied with manufacturing or construction materials and describe the ingredients of a product, its hazards, protective equipment to be used, safe handling procedures, and emergency first-aid responses.
The information contained in these sheets can help employers identify employees in need of training (i.e., workers handling substances described in the sheets) and train employees in safe use of the substances. Material Safety Data Sheets are generally available from suppliers, manufacturers of the substance, large employers who use the substance on a regular basis, or they can be developed by employers or trade associations. MSDS are particularly useful for those employers who are developing training on chemical use as required by OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.
In an attempt to assist employers with their occupational health and safety training activities, OSHA has developed a set of training guidelines in the form of a model. This model is designed to help employers develop instructional programs as part of their total education and training effort. The model addresses the questions of who should be trained, on what topics, and for what purposes. It also helps employers determine how effective the program has been and enables them to identify employees who are in greatest need of education and training.
The model is general enough to be used in any area of occupational safety and health training, and allows employers to determine for themselves the content and format of training. Use of this model in training activities is just one of many ways that employers can comply with the OSHA standards that relate to training and enhance the safety and health of their employees.