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Worker Education & Training

Providing Workers a Knowledge Base for Action

Too often, workers get incomplete information and insufficient health and safety training from their employers. Workers need to be informed about the hazards they may encounter, how to perform their job tasks safely, and what they can do to address hazardous conditions. They also need information on how to access workers’ compensation after suffering a job-related injury or illness.

Various laws and regulations require employers to make specific kinds of information available and to provide certain types of training, but these requirements are piecemeal in nature and often leave workers with only a partial understanding of the hazards they face, their employers’ duties to eliminate or manage the hazards, and how to exercise their rights.

What’s the Solution?

Improving education and training requirements could ensure that workers have the information they need to demand better occupational health and safety protections. To get a full picture of the health and safety aspects of their jobs, workers need to know about all potential hazards, past and present exposures to any hazards that may be variable (e.g., chemical exposures), the type and severity of the harm the hazard may cause, the legal requirements employers have to eliminate hazards, and the mechanisms for redress when injuries or illnesses occur.

State legislatures in all states can take the simple step of requiring employers to inform workers about the education and training requirements that apply to their jobs and about workers’ compensation. In states approved by federal OSHA to oversee their own occupational health and safety plans (state-plan states), state law could also expand on federal education and training requirements by, for example, requiring a more comprehensive hazard analysis and communication program. However, in states where federal OSHA has jurisdiction, the federal OSH Act bars the state from imposing any requirements that exceed the minimum federal standards. Even without legislation, union contracts could impose information-sharing and enhanced training requirements.

Read the full text on worker education and training from our Winning Safer Workplaces manual.

Additional Resources for Workers and Advocates

Insufficient Education and Training for Temp Workers. Insufficient training and education is especially problematic for temporary workers. In fact, federal OSHA launched an initiative in 2013 to protect temp workers and clarify the joint responsibilities of staffing agencies and host employers. Read how OSHA Region 4 responded to the death of Day Davis, a temporary worker killed on his first day at a Bacardi plant because he wasn’t trained on equipment hazards or safe use procedures. For more on this tragedy and the challenges temp workers face, read ProPublica’s article, Temporary Work, Lasting Harm.

Training Requirements in Fed-OSHA Standards. To learn more about training requirements for more than 100 Fed-OSHA standards across a range of industries, check out OSHA’s booklet, Training Requirements in OSHA Standards. Advocates may also be interested in OSHA’s booklet, Resource for Development and Delivery of Training to Workers.

Training Requirements in State Standards. Several states have adopted stronger standards than Fed-OSHA, as well as some standards that address hazards for which there is no existing federal standard. For a database of all hazard-specific OSH standards not adopted from federal OSHA in the 25 states with their own OHS agencies, check out LawAtlas: The Policy Surveillance Portal, a collaborative project of Public Citizen & the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program. For an example of a state law designed to protect temporary workers, see the Massachusetts Temporary Worker’s Right to Know Act.

Advocates in state-plan states campaigning for legislative improvements may wish to look at this comprehensive WorkSafe! report from 1999, calling California Governor Gray Davis and the California Legislature to take action to protect workers in their state. Note that the OSH Act’s preemption provisions bar legislators in federal OHSA states from expanding education and training requirements. Read the 1992 Supreme Court decision on the matter.

Accessing Workers Compensation. Most states require employers to post basic information about workers’ compensation, but workers deserve to know more. California’s workers’ compensation regulations provide a useful example of state disclosure requirements. California also requires employers to provide workers with a “Time of Hire” pamphlet that explains workers’ compensation in detail, but still in plain, easy-to-understand language.

Effective Training Programs and Materials. For more information about what makes a good training program, advocates may wish to refer to OSHA’s Susan Harwood Best PracticesNIEHS’s Worker Education Training Program, or voluntary standards like the ANSI/ASSE Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training (ANSI/ASSE Z490.1-2009).

Useful training resources are available on the National Council for Occupational Safety and Health Tools for Trainers and Organizers webpage. Learn more about hazards and hazard identification with interactive tools by Hazards Magazine. Check out an example of ergonomic risk mapping developed by Jay Herzmark of Safe Work Washington. Here’s a proposal for mandatory training on hazard recognition and control by Mount Sinai Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

For information on potentially hazardous chemicals, visit Chemical Hazard and Alternatives Toolbox and RISCTOX. Workers or advocates could also send a letter to an employer requesting information about hazardous substances. Check out this Worksafe! sample letter from an employee and this Worksafe! sample letter from a union representative.

Multilingual Training Resources. Advocates interested in finding multilingual training materials should read the Labor Occupational Health Program at University of California Berkeley’s Multilingual Health and Safety Resource Guide, released in 2005. To identify outreach resources for Spanish speakers, see Fed-OSHA’s Hispanic Outreach Module of Compliance Assistance Quick Start.  UCLA’s Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (UCLA-LOSH) also provides a compilation of Spanish-language training materials in its Spanish Resource Library.

Connecting to Other Policy Reforms. Advocates should explore other policy reforms to bolster strong education and training requirements, such as the creation of workplace health and safety committees, expanded whistleblower protections, the establishment of a right to refuse dangerous work, and citizen-suit provisions.

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