OSHA Final Rule CFR 29 – Ergonomics Program
IV. Summary and Explanation
Paragraph (t). Training
Training is a critically important element of the final ergonomics program standard, as it is of virtually every safety and health standard (Ex. 26-2). In training for ergonomics programs, the goal is to enable employees at all levels of the organization–managers, supervisors or team leaders, and employees--to: (1) Recognize the signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) so that they can report them early (employees) and respond to them appropriately (managers, supervisors, and team leaders); (2) identify those job tasks that pose an increased risk to the worker of developing an MSD; and (3) have the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in the establishment’s ergonomics program. The success of ergonomics programs depends to a great extent on the effectiveness of the training in ergonomics the employer provides.
Most comments on the proposed training provisions were supportive, although many commenters suggested modifications to the proposed requirements (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 32-111-4, 32-182-1, 30-3686, 32-198-4, 30-3765, 32-339-1, 32-198-4-15, 30-4538, 32-77-2, 32-185-3). Only a few commenters argued that training should not be addressed by the final rule (see, e.g., Exs. 30-240, 30-541, 30-3867). The following discussion responds to public comment received and explains OSHA’s reasons for including the requirements in paragraph (t) of the final rule.
In the proposal, OSHA included, for each core element of the program, a "Basic Obligation" provision. The purpose of these sections of the proposal was to summarize the more detailed subelements proposed for each core element. The final rule does not include these basic obligation provisions, because commenters found them confusing and not useful. Comments on specific aspects of the Basic Obligation section are discussed below, in connection with the individual training requirements of the final rule.
Cost of ergonomics training
The proposed Basic Obligation section for training provided that any training required by the rule was to be provided "at no cost to employees" (see the Basic Obligation section for proposed section 1910.923). This proposed language expressed OSHA’s intention for the employer to bear all of the costs associated with OSHA-required ergonomics training. For example, any training materials given to employees must be provided to them free of charge. Further, employees must be compensated at their regular rate of pay for time spent receiving training during regular work hours, and employees cannot be required to forfeit their regularly scheduled lunch or rest periods to attend training sessions. In addition, where training requires employees to travel, the employer must pay for the cost of travel, including any travel time occurring when the training activities are scheduled outside of the employee’s normal work hours.
The final rule does not contain this specific proposed language about the costs of training, because that language is not necessary for OSHA to impose these costs on the employer. The proposed provision merely restated OSHA’s longstanding policy, which requires employers to bear the costs of complying with safety and health requirements promulgated under the Act. OSHA finds it reasonable and appropriate for employers to bear the costs of training because, under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing a safe and healthful workplace, and training is an integral part of this responsibility. It is clear that having employees bear such costs would discourage participation in training activities, and would thus limit the effectiveness of the rule’s training requirements.
Several organizations commented on OSHA’s interpretation of the proposed "at no cost to employees" language (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3813, 30-3686, 32-339-1). With reference to the preamble to the proposal [64 FR 65833], which explained that employees could not be required to forfeit regularly scheduled lunch or rest periods to attend training sessions, one organization stated that OSHA had cited no evidence showing that employees receiving training on MSDs during "brown bag" lunch sessions or during "scheduled rest periods" would be harmed by this practice. This commenter contended further that OSHA’s interpretation of the "no-cost" provision was an intrusion into workplace management and scheduling, which should be the employer’s exclusive prerogative (Ex. 30-3813). In contrast, other organizations supported the "no cost to employees" requirements of the proposed rule (Ex. 30-3686) and additionally urged OSHA to limit training to working hours (Ex. 32-339-1).
OSHA has no objection to training during brown bag sessions or breaks, provided that employees are paid for this time (and, of course, that no laws governing break times are contravened to comply with this provision). Many employers do have paid lunch hours or half-hours and breaks where training can occur without risking non-compliance with this provision. However, if these time periods belong to employees, i.e., are not periods that are on the clock, they cannot be used for the training required by this standard.
Who Should be Trained?
OSHA proposed that employees in "problem" jobs (defined in the proposal as those jobs in which an employee had experienced a covered MSD and performed activities involving exposure to risk factors for a substantial amount (or as a "core element" of the work shift), their supervisors, and persons involved in the ergonomics program (except for outside consultants) be trained initially, periodically as needed, and at least every three years. The final rule, at paragraph (t)(1), includes similar requirements, although the final rule’s initial and follow-up training requirements apply only to jobs that meet the Action Trigger, rather than to "problem jobs," as proposed. In addition, while the final rule requires initial and 3-year follow-up training, it does not require "refresher" training at other intervals. The specified initial and follow-up training requirements are well-suited to the revised format of the standard and the Action Trigger concept.
OSHA’s reasoning in including these requirements in the final rule is that, once employees in jobs meeting the action trigger have been trained, they will be able to report MSD hazards and problems early enough to prevent problems from becoming worse and to protect other employees in the same job from incurring a similar MSD. Early reporting informs employers of the need to address MSD hazards and provide MSD management. Trained employees can also participate more effectively in the program and thus better protect themselves by working safely. OSHA also believes that the supervisors (or team leaders or lead employees) of employees in these jobs must be trained because they are the personnel to whom employees report their symptoms and the presence of MSD hazards. Supervisors are in a position to ensure that employees in such jobs understand the conditions that may lead to MSDs and use the work practices and procedures established by the employer to control MSD hazards. Also, in many cases, supervisors are in a position to observe MSD hazards first hand and to recognize when MSDs are developing in the workers they supervise.
OSHA also believes that training is critical for those individuals who establish, administer, and implement the employer’s ergonomics program. Because these managers represent the employer, it is in the employer’s best interest that program administrators and others responsible for implementing the program be as knowledgeable as possible. Also, as these managers become more knowledgeable, they will provide better training to their employees in the ergonomics program. Of course, as the proposal noted, outside consultants do not have to have employer-provided training because consultants are responsible for preparing themselves to perform their professional duties.
The question of who should be trained was a significant issue in the rulemaking. Commenters offered opinions on a variety of issues and represented conflicting viewpoints. The major issues with respect to who should be trained under the ergonomics rule were:
The scope of the training provision,
The number of employees to be trained,
Whether supervisory employees should be trained, and
The training and qualifications of trainers.
Some commenters urged OSHA to be more inclusive in the employees required to be trained. They stated that all workers, or all general industry employees (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 30-297, 30-4538), or all workers in the industry (see, e.g., Ex. 30-3686) should be trained. Some stated that, although all employees should receive training, employers should conduct more extensive training specifically for those in problem jobs (see, e.g., Ex. 30-4538). The thrust of these comments, in general, was that the training required by the standard should be expanded beyond employees in problem jobs (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 30-3686, 32-182-1, 30-3765, 32-198-4, 30-297, 30-4538). For example, Dow Chemical stated,
Employees having an active role in the prevention of MSD injuries and information on how best to recognize and control MSD hazards is a necessary component of a successful program. In fact, Dow encourages such training for employees, beyond whether they are in a "problem job" or not. All work activities involve some bodily movement and therefore MSD risks are always present. Dow supports internally a more pro-active sharing of this type of information rather than waiting for an MSD to present itself (Exhibit 30-3765).
Expanding the scope of the required training to include more employees, and to include employees who have not experienced an MSD, would clearly make this program element more proactive, as many commenters urged (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 32-111-4, 30-3686, 32-182.
1). Some participants argued that the full program, including training, should be implemented without waiting for workers to report injuries (see, e.g., Ex. 32-198-4). Others suggested that training be part of new employee orientation (see, e.g., Ex. 500-180-51) be provided when workers are transferred (Ex. 32-182-1), or be given when the ergonomics program is first implemented or new employees are hired (see, e.g., Ex. 32-198-4). One commenter stated that the training requirements of the proposed rule, unlike the case in other OSHA rules, do not apply to workers who are only potentially exposed but instead apply only to workers who are actually exposed (Ex. 32-339-1).
Given the central role of the workers in an effective ergonomics program (e.g., reporting symptoms and hazards and making recommendations about controls), we believe that more regular training is warranted Ex. 32-339-1).
Another comment addressed the effect that training only some employees might have on employee morale. This commenter noted that, in some ergonomics pilot training programs, employees who perceived that they were not going to be included in the program (whether rightly or wrongly) because they were not trained when others were, felt excluded and were later less cooperative (Ex. 32-194-4).
Trigger for training
OSHA also received comments recommending that: (1) training be limited to employees with MSDs and the employees’ supervisors (Ex. 30-3813) rather than, as proposed, to all employees with the same job as the injured employee; (2) different groups of employees be given different levels of training (Ex. 30-240); and (3) the formal program apply only to specific employees in jobs where ergonomic issues are prevalent (Ex. 30-240). One commenter stated that training should be triggered only when a statistically significant percentage of employees in a job have incurred, within the year, work-related, HCP-diagnosed MSDs that resulted in days away from work (Ex. 30-3344).
The final rule’s training provisions (paragraph (t), together with the informational requirements in paragraph (d), address many of the issues raised by commenters. First, OSHA has adopted a "tiered" approach to training. The Agency agrees that all employees should receive orientation or awareness training (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3686, 32-182-1, 32-198-4) but those at greater risk must receive more extensive training (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3686, 32-339-1, 30-240). Paragraph (d) of the final rule requires that general awareness information be provided to all current employees and new hires. This new provision also addresses the concerns of those commenters (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 30-297, 30-4538, 30-3686, 32-182-1, 30-3715, 32-198-4) who argued that as many employees as possible should be aware of MSD hazards and how to prevent them. The awareness information required by final paragraph (d) also should help to avoid the dampening effect on employee morale noted by one commenter (Ex. 32-194-4). (The summary and explanation for paragraph (d), above, provides more detail on the general information requirements.)
Second, training is required by the final rule for employees in jobs that meet the standard’s Action Trigger. OSHA views the occurrence of a work-related MSD and the presence of risk factor(s) at the level(s) indicated by the Basic Screening Tool as an indication that the job is one that warrants a closer look. Such a job has the potential to expose workers in the job to MSD hazards. Because the two-part action trigger in paragraph (e) triggers training for the injured employee and for all other employees in the establishment with the same job, the final rule’s structure is more like that of other OSHA standards (e.g., the hearing conservation amendment to the occupational noise standard, 29 CFR 1910.95), as some commenters suggested (see, e.g., Ex. 32-339-1). However, because OSHA has designed the final rule to target those situations where the problem is most serious, the standard’s training requirements are triggered for a job only when the action trigger has been met for that job, and not, as some commenters suggested, when the program is first implemented (see, e.g., Exs. 32-198-4).
The Agency does not agree with those commenters who stated that training should be required only for injured employees and their supervisors (Ex. 30-3813), or only for employees in jobs where ergonomic issues are "prevalent" (Ex. 30-240), or only for employees in jobs that have caused MSDs in a statistically significant percentage of employees within the prior year (Ex. 30-3344). Restricting the number of employees receiving training in ways suggested by these commenters would be, in OSHA’s view, both inappropriate and insufficiently protective. First, limiting training to injured employees and their supervisors would eliminate one of the standard’s proactive features, i.e., that other employees holding the same job as the injured employee be trained in the risk factors in that job, the signs and symptoms associated with the MSDs caused by those risk factors, and ways to protect themselves from experiencing an MSD. OSHA believes that this provision of the standard will contribute substantially to the standard’s effectiveness by ensuring that all employees in these higher risk jobs receive training. A recent study showed that employers were likely to limit their efforts to control MSD hazards to the injured worker’s job and not to extend preventive practices to other workers in the establishment who had the same job (Ex. 30-651-2). OSHA believes that this provision of the standard will ensure that all at-risk workers in the same job will be protected. Absent such a provision, this preventive effect would be lost.
Third, limiting training only to employees in jobs where ergonomic injuries are "prevalent" (Ex. 30-240) or where a statistically significant percentage of employees have had an MSD in the last year (Ex. 30-3344) would deny the standard’s training benefits to all injured and potentially exposed workers except those working in very large establishments, since only such establishments would have enough employees in a given job to meet the prevalence or statistically significant tests suggested by these commenters. Such an approach is clearly unprotective for the many thousands of workers in small- or mid-sized establishments who would not receive training even in cases where they have experienced an MSD incident.
OSHA concludes, after a comprehensive review of the record on the issue of who should receive the training required by the final rule, that paragraph (t)(1) strikes the right balance on inclusiveness. It does this by requiring training for each employee who has experienced an MSD and works in a job that meets the Action Trigger, and all other employees working in that job.
The final rule requires the supervisors or team leaders of these employees to be trained, so that they will encourage early reporting, know how to respond to employee reports, reinforce good work practices, and be familiar with ergonomic principles and practices. Several commenters (Exs. 30-3765, 32-198-4, 30-3859) commented on the proposed requirement to train the supervisors of those in higher risk jobs. One commenter noted that the term "supervisor" is no longer used in some workplaces, which are organized in less traditional management structures (Ex. 30-3765). This commenter pointed out that some managers may direct more than a hundred employees, and that these employees may be widely dispersed geographically.
In the view of this commenter, the rule should state that employers must train "knowledgeable resources," rather than stipulating that supervisors must be trained. In the final rule (at paragraph (t)(1)(ii)), OSHA states that employers are required to train the supervisors or "team leaders" of employees in jobs that meet the Action Trigger. The addition of the term "team leaders" conveys OSHA’s intent, which is to require first-level management personnel to be trained, whatever their official title may be (supervisor, team leader, team manager, knowledgeable resource, and so forth). OSHA is also aware that many workplaces rely on members of an ergonomics committee, joint labor-management, or a trained group of employees (see, e.g., Ex. 30-115); however, the standard does not specifically address the training of these employees.
Paragraph (t)(1)(iii) specifies that employers also must train "other employees involved in setting up and managing" the employer’s ergonomics program. This provision is similar to the proposed provision, except that it substitutes "employees" for "persons" (the proposed term). OSHA has directed this provision to employees rather than persons because doing so makes it clear that the Agency is not regulating individuals operating outside of the employment relationship.
Initial and Refresher Training
The proposed rule required that training be given in accordance with the following timetable:
For employees in problem jobs and their supervisors.
(1) When a problem job is defined;
(2) When initially assigned to a problem job;
(3) Periodically as needed (e.g., when new hazards are identified in a problem job or changes are made to a problem job that may increase exposure to MSD hazards); and
(4) At least every 3 years.
For persons involved in setting up and managing the ergonomics program.
(1) When they are initially assigned to setting up and managing the ergonomics program;
(2) Periodically as needed (e.g., when evaluation reveals significant deficiencies in the program, when significant changes are made in the ergonomics program); and
(3) At least every 3 years.
Timetable and Action Trigger
In the final rule, OSHA has revised the timetable for initial training to reflect the addition of the Action Trigger to the standard, and to allow time for the employer to conduct the job screening process and implement the ergonomic program. Accordingly, paragraph (t)(4) provides the following time frames for initial training: When the employer determines that an employee’s job meets the Action Trigger, the employer has 45 days from that time to train employees involved in setting up and managing the program, and 90 days from that time to train each current employee in that job and their supervisor and team leader. Also, if the employer assigns a new or current employee to a job that the employer has already determined meets the Action Trigger, that employee must be trained prior to starting the job.
Paragraph (t)(1) of the final rule also requires follow-up training, every three years, for employees whose jobs meet the Action Trigger. This requirement differs from the corresponding proposed provision, which did not rely upon the Action Trigger concept.
Several commenters (see, e.g., Exs. 32-198-4, 32-198-1/42, 30-3686, 32-339-1, 30-2116, 30-2825, 30-2847, 30-3001, 30-3033, 30-3034, 30-3035, 30-3258, 30-3332, 30-4159-30-4536, 30-4546, 30-4547) urged OSHA to require refresher training more frequently than once every three years.
Some of the reasons cited by these commenters for more frequent training included:
Many workers experience problems in less than a year (Ex. 32-198-4-1/42).
Training should be required annually and whenever jobs or conditions change (Ex. 30-3686).
Employers should train every two years at a minimum because many employers are already providing training on an annual basis (Ex. 32-198-4).
Other commenters requested that OSHA require training less often or require training less often in some situations (see, e.g., Exs. 32-300-1, 30-3813, 30-3765, 30-327, 30-710, 30-2725, 30-3284, 30-4046). Some specific reasons given for less frequent retraining were:
There should not be a minimum three year retraining provision for employees where the reported MSD has resolved within the three years and no other MSDs (affecting the same part of the body) have been reported in that job (Ex. 30-3813).
Employees will retain knowledge about their job’s core functions, like how to use controls and work practices properly, even without training (Exs. 32-300-1, 30-3284).
OSHA should allow employees and supervisors to demonstrate knowledge retention so that they can be exempt from the three year retraining requirement (see, e.g., Exs. 32-300-1, 30-327, 30-1671, 30-328).
Program administrators should be allowed to bypass portions of initial and refresher training if they already possess background training. This group could include health and safety personnel, medically trained personnel, and ergonomists (see, e.g., 32-300-1, 30-327, 30-1671, 30-3284).
Frequency of training
OSHA responds to these comments on the appropriate frequency of training as follows. First, OSHA believes that refresher training every three years for those in higher-risk jobs is appropriate, given the very broad range and diverse nature of businesses covered by this standard. For example, the number of employees in the average business covered by this standard is 16; such a business is likely to experience not more than one or two MSDs in a given year, at most, which means that one or two employees will receive initial training every year and one or two will need refresher training (once the standard has been in effect for a few years).
In a business such as this, ergonomics awareness is likely to be quite high, both because of the amount of training going on and because of the job hazard analysis and control activities being conducted. In other words, the initial training and 3-year follow-up training requirements will virtually ensure that ergonomics training will be a regular part of the program for many employers. In response to those commenters who argued that refresher training every three years was unnecessary or burdensome, OSHA notes that the standard allows employers considerable flexibility in the form that training must take. For example, although all of the required topics must be addressed in the refresher training, trainers who observe that trainees "know the basics" are free to spend more of the training time on such workplace-specific topics as changes to workstations that have taken place since the last training.
Some commenters argued that many workplaces are static rather than dynamic in nature and therefore that workers in them do not need refresher training (see, e.g., Exs. 30-2835, 30-3356). OSHA disagrees. MSDs occur in workplaces with fixed workstations, in service industry jobs, and in office settings; indeed, one of the striking characteristics of MSDs is that they occur in all general industry sectors (see the risk assessment section of this preamble, Section V). Whenever MSDs occur in jobs that meet the action trigger, OSHA believes that workers in these jobs should be trained initially, and that they should also receive follow-up training at least every three years. This approach ensures that those workers who are clearly at risk have the knowledge and skills they need to work as safely in those jobs as possible.
The approach taken in the final rule – to require refresher training only for employees, and the supervisors of employees, in jobs that meet the Action Trigger – is also responsive to those commenters who argued that no such training should be required if the problem has gone away (see, e.g., Ex. 30-3813). OSHA is unsympathetic to those who believe that employees do not need refresher training because they will remember what they need to know about the "core functions" of their job (see, e.g., Exs. 32-300-1, 30-3284). This is not OSHA’s experience, and the thousands of fatal and disabling injuries that occur in U.S. workplaces every year confirm the fact that workers and their supervisors often do not remember the safe operating procedures in which they were trained.
OSHA has not adopted the suggestion of some commenters (see, e.g., Exs. 32-300-1, 30-327, 30-1671, 30-328) that employees and supervisors who can demonstrate that they have retained the information they learned be exempted from refresher training. OSHA has not done so because refresher training is only required every three years and the Agency believes that periodic retraining is appropriate for all employees in the program. For the same reasons, the standard does not permit managers and supervisors to demonstrate knowledge and be exempted from refresher training, as some commenters suggested (see, e.g., Exs. 32-300-1, 30-327, 30-1671, 30-3284). However, the final rule does not use the word "persons," as the proposal did, because OSHA agrees with commenters that persons who are not employees (e.g., independent or self-employed ergonomists, safety specialists, industrial hygienists, and so forth) are responsible for their own training.
To those commenters who argued that more frequent refresher training should be required because many employers are already doing it (see, e.g., Ex. 32-198-4), OSHA responds that employers are always free to provide more frequent training than OSHA requires. OSHA does not agree, as some commenters maintained, that employees will continue to remember the essential elements of their training, such as how to implement controls, without refresher training. Instead, OSHA believes that all employees in jobs posing MSD hazards will benefit from the reminders and updating that refresher training provides.
OSHA also is not persuaded by arguments (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3765, 30-3813) that program managers should not have to be retrained. These personnel, like employees, will benefit from renewing their knowledge base and updating their skills every three years, particularly since they only receive this training if the employees under their supervision are in jobs that warrant it.
OSHA does agree that training is more difficult in workplaces with high turnover. The Agency believes that the standard may help employers to reduce turnover, as good ergonomics programs have done in many workplaces (see the case study table in Section VI of the preamble).
The difficulties of training short-term employees, some of whom may only stay with the host employer for a week or less, were discussed by one commenter (Ex. 30-240). According to this comment, training short-term employees in a high-turnover environment is both time consuming and resource-intensive. OSHA agrees that this is the case; however, ergonomics training is essential for each employee who experiences an MSD incident in a job that meets the Action Trigger, even if that employee is only in the job for a few weeks or months. Employers may also find that training helps to reduce turnover to the extent that ergonomic stress plays a part in employees’ decisions to leave employment. As discussed below, paragraph (t)(5) also allows that if an employee has been trained in a topic required by paragraph (t)(2) within the previous 3 years, the employer need not provide initial training in that topic. OSHA believes that this provision will reduce the burden on employers in high-turnover industries, at least to some extent.
The training and qualifications of the individuals providing the training required by the final rule was the topic of several comments (see, e.g., Exs. 32-111-4, 30-3686, 32-194-4, 32-182-1). These participants stressed the importance of the qualifications of the trainers to effective ergonomics programs, and one commenter (Ex. 32-194-4) expressed concern that, if program evaluations were conducted by untrained managers, inadequate evaluations could result.
Who performs ergonomics training
OSHA agrees that the knowledge and skills of those administering ergonomics training play a major role in the effectiveness of the training. However, the final rule does not specify the credentials or experience such trainers or program managers must have. Ergonomists, safety professionals, industrial hygienists, and individuals who have taken ergonomics courses, attended train-the-trainer sessions, and learned the basics of ergonomics on-the-job are currently providing the training being presented in existing, effective ergonomics programs and have demonstrated their ability to be effective trainers. A recent study (Ex. 500-71-64) from the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics reports that trained workers do an exceptional job in identifying risk factors and solutions: in 65 to 85 percent of cases, professional ergonomists and trained workers identified the same risk factors when they performed job hazard analyses. The authors of this study concluded that "users [trained employees] can identify rather reliably the risk factors in the jobs."
Train-the-trainer sessions involving employees also have achieved excellent results; for example, a hospital that introduced patient handling equipment and conducted extensive train-the-trainer and employee training credits the program with reducing lost-time injuries by 64% within the first year (Ex. 500-71-61). The record thus demonstrates that persons with a wide range of credentials, skills, and experience can effectively train employees, supervisors, and managers, provided that they themselves have been well-trained.
Ergonomics Training Topics
Paragraph (t)(2) of the final rule requires that the employees identified in paragraph (t)(1) be trained in the following topics (as appropriate to their responsibilities in the ergonomics program):
The employer’s ergonomics program and their role in it;
The signs and symptoms of MSDs and ways of reporting them;
The risk factors and MSD hazards present in the employee’s job, as identified by the Basic Screening Tool and the job hazard analysis;
The employer’s plan and timetable for addressing the risk factors and hazards identified;
How to use engineering, work practice, and administrative controls, or any PPE, that will be used in the job; and
How to evaluate the effectiveness of the control approach adopted to reduce the risk factors and MSD hazards.
With two exceptions, these are the same training topics (with minor editorial changes) that OSHA proposed. The two exceptions are specific training in the requirements of the standard and in the importance of early reporting of MSD signs and symptoms. OSHA has not included these topics in the list of training topics in the final rule because the hazard information provided to employees under paragraph (d) of this standard already includes this information. Thus all employers covered by the standard will have access to a summary of the standard and will be aware of the importance of early reporting.
OSHA believes that training in the topics listed in paragraph (t)(2) is an important way to ensure that employees at all levels of the organization have the information and skills they need to participate effectively in the ergonomics program. Only workers trained to recognize MSD hazards and MSD signs and symptoms, to use the controls implemented to reduce these hazards, and to evaluate the effectiveness of these controls, can make the program work in terms of reducing work-related MSDs.
There was substantial disagreement among those commenters who addressed the content of the proposed training requirements. Several felt that the list of training topics should be expanded, while others argued that some requirements should be deleted. In addition, many commenters submitted data and information showing that training programs can achieve significant results in reducing workplace MSD hazards and associated MSDs.
Examples of some of the suggestions commenters had for revising the proposed training topics included:
OSHA should specifically require that employers provide training on the requirements for medical management, Work Restriction Protection, and the standard’s prohibition against discouraging workers reports (Exs. 32-111-4, 32-339-1).
Work Restriction Protection should be explained during the initial training (Exs. 30-4538, 32-339-1).
First-line supervisors as well as the program manager should have hazard analysis training (Ex. 30-3826).
Training should include discussions of medical records confidentiality, job hazard analysis (including ergonomic assessment of work stations) and disease and disability related to ergonomic injuries (Ex. 30-3686).
OSHA should include both detailed and more general topics in initial training, and job-specific training for employees in problem jobs and their supervisors (Ex. 32-198-4).
Training should cover the importance of height differences among employees, the training of lift team members, and the importance of labeling packages with their weights (Exs. 32-461-1, 30-115, 30-4538).
Other commenters recommended that certain subjects be deleted from the required training topics. For example, several commenters suggested that training on the specific requirements of the standard be deleted from the list (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3765, 32-300-1, 30-240, 30-3284). These commenters were of the opinion that there is no need to provide in-depth training on the standard itself, but that the training should instead focus on elements of the standard only as they specifically apply to the company’s program. Further, these commenters believed that employees have ample access and opportunity to familiarize themselves with OSHA standards, including access to OSHA’s internet homepage (see, e.g., Ex. 330-3765).
OSHA agrees that the specific suggestions for additional training content made by commenters would be useful to employees. However, the Agency has decided to require only that employees be trained in those basic topics that are essential to worker protection. The required topics are general, in order to allow the flexibility needed in different workplace situations. This approach is consistent with the training content requirements of other OSHA standards (see, e.g., 29 CFR 1910.1018 and 29 CFR 1910.147). The final rule requires training in the employer’s ergonomics program and each employee’s role in it; the signs and symptoms of MSDs and ways of reporting them; the risk factors and MSD hazards present in the employee’s job, as identified by the Basic Screening Tool and the job hazard analysis; the employer’s plan for addressing identified hazards, including the employer’s timetable to abate the hazards identified; training in how to use the controls in the job, including any personal protective equipment; and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the control approach used.
OSHA believes that the required topics constitute a minimal training program and recognizes that many employers may choose to administer more extensive training. OSHA anticipates that many employers will cover such topics in their training programs as OSHA’s discrimination regulations (Section 11(c) of the Act), Work Restriction Protection, MSD management, and multiple HCP review. Several of these topics are briefly addressed in the information on the standard employees receive in response to the requirements of paragraph (d). OSHA believes that training under paragraph (t) should concentrate primarily on MSDs and MSD hazards that are specific to the employee’s job. OSHA has also not included the more detailed topic – package weight labeling, the importance of height differences among employees, lift team training, and so forth – suggested by commenters (see, e.g., Exs. 32-461-1, 30-115, 30-4538). Such topics are workplace-specific and thus not appropriate to include in general training requirements that will apply to all workplaces covered by the standard.
Some commenters recommended that OSHA expand its training activities by developing outreach training programs and other compliance assistance materials (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3686, 30-4538, 32-198-4, 30-3826, 30-614, 30-1037, 30-2806). Some specific suggestions were that OSHA develop a sample curriculum, including audiovisuals (Ex. 30-4538), or that OSHA provide a curriculum, instructor materials (and translations), and training videos at minimal cost (Ex. 32-198-4). Otherv comments urged OSHA to establish an "advice line" for program managers (those setting up and implementing the program) and urged employers to work closely with health care professionals. These commenters were concerned that, without such assistance, managers would be tempted to buy expensive but ineffective ergonomic fixes and purchase products that do not address the root cause of the problem (Exs. 30-614-, 30-898, 30-4139).
Other stakeholders suggested that OSHA train its compliance officers to have, at a minimum, the same level of knowledge as consultants advising employers in ergonomics programs (see, e.g., Exs. 30-1037, 30-3922). These commenters urged the OSHA training centers to make ergonomic certification programs and other courses available to the public or at least to make employers aware of sample programs that already exist (see, e.g., Exs. 30-1037, 30-3123, 30-3128).
OSHA does have programs in place to help employers with their ergonomics programs. The Agency offers free consultation services through the states. The OSHA consultation program is specifically designed for small- and medium-size organizations (i.e., employers with 250 employees or fewer per site or 500 per organization). These services are confidential, and consultants will not issue citations or propose penalties. OSHA also offers off-site services to larger organizations and on-site services on a priority basis if resources permit. OSHA staff are available to answer questions from the public any time during OSHA working hours. In addition, OSHA makes a wide range of ergonomics-related materials available on the Agency’s website, www.osha.gov.
With respect to the training of compliance officers and other OSHA staff, OSHA’s Training Institute in Des Plaines, Illinois, provides basic and advanced ergonomics courses for Federal and State compliance officers, State consultants, other Federal agency personnel, and private sector employers, employees and their representatives. Also, the Training Institute has established Training Institute Education Centers, which are nonprofit colleges, universities, and other organizations selected after competition for participation in the program. In addition, OSHA provides funds to nonprofit organizations through grants to conduct workplace training. Grants are awarded annually to grant recipients, who contribute at least 20% of the total grant cost. OSHA has already trained many of its CSHOs extensively in ergonomics, and has made regional ergonomics coordinators available in the regional offices. In addition, OSHA is making extensive outreach materials on ergonomics available with the final standard.
Effectiveness of Training.
Some stakeholders submitted data to the record on the effectiveness of ergonomics training. Several commenters note that they had developed training programs, had coordinated programs through outside organizations such as universities, or were in the process of developing or testing training programs (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 32-198-4, 32-77-2, 32-185-3, 30-1294, 30-3336, Tr. 2776, Tr. 2761, 30-449, 30-2713, 30-3368, 30-3758, 30-3867, Tr. 3129-3219, Tr. 14969-15072). Stakeholders described some of the achievements of these programs (see, e.g., Exs. 32-198-4, 32-185-3, 30-449, 30-3336, 30-3758, 30-3867, Tr. 7982), including their contribution to the decrease in the rate of MSDs observed among their members (Tr. 7982) and continued reductions in workers’ compensation costs even in the face of increases in wages and health care costs (Exs. 30-3336, 30-3867, 30-4496). The thrust of these comments is that ergonomically aware workers can help their co-workers and their employers to prevent MSDs (Ex. 30-3758).
Several studies in the record demonstrate the benefits of ergonomics training. For example, a study by Parenmark, Engvall, and Malmkvist showed that workers receiving training had a reduced number of lost workdays due to MSDs compared with untrained controls (Ex. 26-6). The number of days lost as a result of arm-neck-shoulder complaints was reduced by half in the trained new hires compared with the control group (Ex. 26-6, Table 2).
An AFGE health and safety representative referenced an Ergonomic Workplace Survey conducted by Rani Lueder, CPE, for the Social Security Administration in 1997 (Ex. 30-449). The large majority of respondents who received the training considered the training helpful, and the trained respondents reported consistently lower rates of discomfort for all body parts, were more willing to report MSD discomfort to their supervisors, and were more satisfied than untrained workers with their supervisors’ responses (Ex. 30-499). Also, respondents who were trained were more likely to adjust their chairs, worktables, and other equipment to reduce the risk factors present.
Many commenters at the hearings described the training component of their ergonomics programs (see, e.g., Tr. 12367-12373, Tr. 7977-7982). The extent of the training being administered varied widely, from very simple training to comprehensive efforts. OSHA believes that the training program required by the final rule will do much to increase the level of ergonomics knowledge and understanding among employees, their supervisors, and managers. This knowledge, in turn, will translate in practice to fewer MSDs, improved morale, and greater productivity. There is evidence in the record that good training programs operate in just this way. For example, a 1997 article in the American Journal of Health Promotion [Ex. 500-71-63] reports that ergonomics training programs lasting about an hour and administered to computer operators described in the article as "high risk" led every trainee subsequently to make changes either in their workstations or their work practices. About two-thirds of the trainees made ergonomically advantageous changes to both.
Another study (Ex. 500-71-59) reports that factory processing line workers who were trained in MSD hazard recognition were subsequently better able to recognize hazards and more willing to report them to their supervisors. OSHA believes that the experiences of these companies will be repeated frequently once the final rule’s training requirements are implemented.
Retraining employees who already received ergonomics training
The proposed rule stated that employers do not have to provide initial training to current employees, new employees and persons involved in setting up and managing the ergonomics program if they have received equivalent training in the subjects this standard requires within the last 3 years. However, the proposal stated that employers must provide initial training to such individuals in any of the required topics that their prior training did not cover. The final rule, at paragraph (t)(5), provides that if an employee has received training in a required topic within the previous 3 years, the employer need not provide initial training to that employee in that topic.
Several commenters supported this proposed requirement (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3765, 32-300-1, 30-1671, 30-3284). Some organizations asked OSHA to clarify how the Agency expects an employer to verify such prior training (Exs. 30-3826, 32-300-1). OSHA does not require employers availing themselves of this "portability of training" provision to have written documentation of the employee’s prior training or to require the employee to pass an examination (Ex. 30-3826). The Agency does, however, expect employers who wish to benefit from this provision to assure themselves that employees have in fact had the prior training and have sufficient knowledge to work safely.
A number of commenters objected either to the prior training exemption altogether or to the fact that OSHA proposed to permit training given in the 3 years prior to the compliance date to qualify for the portability exemption (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3686, 30-2116, 30-2809, 30-2825, 30-2847, 30-3001, 30-3033, 30-3035, 30-3258, 30-3332, 30-4159, 30-4536, 30-4546, 30-4547). OSHA has decided in the final rule to retain the training exemption as proposed, because the Agency believes that employees who have received all of the required training elsewhere do not need to be retrained until their refresher training date comes up. Although employees who have had prior training are not required to take initial training, all employees in jobs that meet the Action Trigger must receive refresher training.
Understandability of the Ergonomics training
OSHA received several non-specific comments only tangentially related to the proposed training provisions. These primarily concerned what the commenters perceived as "vagueness" in the proposed language of the regulatory text. For example, some participants believe that employers will not be able to train their employees because, in their opinion, the standard isn’t clear about the steps that need to be taken (see, e.g., Exs. 32-368-1, 30-325, 30-494, 30-2846) and assert that this will make training more difficult and costly than usual (see, e.g., Exs. 32-368-1, 30-1668, 30-2846, 30-3781, 30-3593).
In the final rule, OSHA has revised the proposed standard’s training requirements extensively and has clarified areas of overlap and confusion. For example, the basic information requirements in paragraph (d) now apply to all covered employers and are intended to ensure that all employees are familiar with the elements of the OSHA standard, and this topic is no longer also included in the required training topics.
Some commenters argued that OSHA should phase in compliance requirements for the training provisions because it will take time to develop adequate in-house materials. OSHA is aware that it takes time to develop training materials, but OSHA is also aware that many trade associations and other organizations, as well as employers, already have such materials. Further, OSHA is making many outreach materials available at the time the standard is published and in the months thereafter. Consequently, OSHA believes that the time allowed for employers to come into compliance with the rule’s training requirements (see paragraph (x)) is appropriate. The Agency is phasing in all elements of the final rule; therefore, an employer’s earliest requirement to train employees under this standard will not arise for about a year after the publication date of the final rule.
What employers must do to ensure that employees understand training. OSHA proposed that employers provide "training and information in language that employees understand." The proposal also stated that employers must "give and receive answers." The final rule, at paragraph (t)(3), contains essentially the same requirements.
These requirements provide individual employers with considerable flexibility in ways of achieving compliance (e.g., the "language" may be one all trainees understand rather than the trainee’s native language, so long as the trainee understands the language well enough to fully understand the training). Employees have varying educational levels, literacy, and language skills, and training must be presented in a language and at a level of understanding that accounts for these differences in order to meet the intent of the final requirement that individuals being trained understand the specified training elements.
The final rule requires that employers provide opportunities for employees to ask questions and receive answers about the establishment’s ergonomics program and anything covered by the training. Again, employers have complete flexibility in the methods they use to comply with this requirement. For example, employers could choose to to do the training in-house or to use an outside trainer. Other alternatives would be for the employer to have a qualified trainer available by phone, or through a classroom video-conference.
Commenters addressed three issues related to the proposed requirement that training be understandable to the employee and that employees have the opportunity to ask questions and receive answers about their training. These issues were: The meaning of "understanding’; the meaning of "ask questions and receive answers’; and whether specific training methods should be included in the rule.
Several commenters asked OSHA to explain what it meant by requiring training to be provided "in language the employee understands" (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 32-198-4, 30-3686, 30-3686, 30-3765, 32-339-1, 30-1091). Commenters were concerned that, despite their best efforts, some employees might not understand the training well enough to "pass" the test if CSHOs asked them questions (see, e.g., Exs. 30-429, 30-494, 30-1090, 30-3122, 30-3557, 30-3593, 30-3781). These employers fear that they would be vulnerable to citation and penalty in such a circumstance.
Commenters also interpreted OSHA’s "in language the employee understands" terminology to mean that they would have to test employees to ensure adequate comprehension (see, e.g., Ex. 30-3557). Another commenter specifically suggested that the final rule require the employer to demonstrate that the employees had understood the training (Ex. 32-339-1).
Employers were also concerned about having difficulty finding good translations of training materials (see, e.g., Exs. 30-4538, 30-240, 30-429, 30-1090, 30-3868). One commenter noted, however, that training materials in Spanish could be obtained from the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program at the University of California in Los Angeles (Ex. 30-4538).
Some employers understood the proposed "in language the employee understands" terminology as meaning that they would have to train in each of the languages native to their workforce (see, e.g., Exs. 30-240, 30-429, 30-1090, 30-3336, 30-3557), and expressed concern about the potential costs of such a requirement (Ex. 30-3868).
One commenter (Ex. 30-3336) stated that some companies in their industry had employees on the payroll who spoke 12 different languages; this commenter understood the proposal as requiring native speakers in each of these languages to be available to receive and answer questions on the content of the training and the ergonomics program.
Moreover, this commenter argued that OSHA’s "multi-lingual" training requirement presented an even greater problem for their industry because it had a history of employing "mentally challenged" individuals (Ex. 30-3336).
In response to these comments, OSHA reiterates that the final rule does not require employers to present training in the native languages of the employees working in the establishments. In many workplaces, although employees many have different "first" languages, they understand English or another language well. The rule merely requires that the employer provide the training in a language the employee understands. OSHA does not believe that this will be difficult, because employers are already communicating with their employees about safe working procedures, tool and equipment care, project requirements, work schedules, and dozens of other items of daily importance to workplace operation and productivity. In other words, training is just another form of communicating important information to employees, a process that is going on in all U.S. workplaces at the present time. As to the comment about the difficulty of complying with the rule in workplaces that employ individuals with mental disabilities (Ex. 30-3336), OSHA can only emphasize that the same techniques employers use to transmit other essential workplace information to these individuals can be used to provide the training required by the standard.
The final rule also does not require employers to test employees’ understanding or comprehension of the training given. However, employers are free to do so if they wish, and OSHA is aware that many employers do evaluate the effectiveness of their training immediately or soon after it is given. Thus, although the training paragraph does not require employee testing, employers who wish to have some way of ensuring that their employees understand the training content may establish any system that works for them. Employers are required by the standard to evaluate the training component of their programs when they do their periodic evaluations to ensure effectiveness.
Some commenters (see, e.g., Exs. 30-4538, 30-3686, 32-339-1) recommended that the final rule’s training requirements be revised to be more consistent with those of other OSHA standards, such as the Bloodborne Pathogens rule (Exs. 32-4538, 32-339-1), the Process Safety Management standard (Ex. 32-339-1) or the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standard (Ex. 30-3686). OSHA believes that the final rule’s requirements, in paragraph (t)(3), that the training be in language the employee understands and that employees be permitted to ask questions and receive answers will together achieve the objective desired by these commenters, i.e., assurance that employees understand the training thoroughly.
Several commenters asked OSHA to clarify the phrase "ask questions and receive answers" (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 32-198-4, 30-3686, 30-376). These commenters wanted clarification about the methods OSHA requires them to use to accomplish this (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3765, 30-3826). Other commenters recommended that the rule specify that employees be permitted to ask questions and receive answers promptly even if questions occur to them after the training session is over (see, e.g., Exs. 30-2116, 30-2809, 30-2825, 30-2847, 30-3001, 30-3033, 30-3034, 30-3035, 30-3258, 30-3332, 30-4159, 30-4536, 30-4546, 30-4547).
Some commenters suggested that specific training techniques to be included in the rule. Suggestions included:
Allow the use of electronic media, telephone reviews, and videos (see, e.g., Exs. 30-3826, 30-3765, 30-434, 30-3392).
Require that training be provided in a supportive atmosphere that encourages discussion of concerns with respect to MSD-related working conditions and encourages opportunities for questions (Ex. 30-3686).
Require training to be administered "live"; prohibit written training (Ex. 32-198-4).
A commenter argued for the need for live training as follows:
Employers often do not know at what level their employees are reading and comprehending. Workers are generally reluctant to share information about their literacy limitation (Sarmiento and Kay, "Workers Centered Learning," 1990). It is estimated that between 45%-50% of adults in America struggle due to some limitations in their literacy and/or language proficiency (which result in limitation of "understanding" or "reasoning"), according to "Adult Literacy in America" in publications of the U.S. Department of Education (1993). In addition, many of those functioning at a limited literacy level don’t see themselves as having these limitations (Ex. 32-198-4).
The same commenter recommended methods such as visual aids, discussion and problem solving, and small group "hands-on" sessions, and noted that workers are more likely to trust the employers’ programs and develop confidence if these more oral training methodologies are implemented (Ex. 32-198-4).
In response to these comments, OSHA restates the position it has taken consistently in other standards: OSHA’s objectives are to require employers to provide basic training in ergonomics, to ensure that all trained employees understand the training, and to permit employees to ask questions if they need further information. The Agency does not dictate the methods that employers choose to achieve compliance with these requirements. Properly trained employees will be sufficiently informed to recognize the signs and symptoms of MSDs and the value of reporting them early, to identify MSD hazards in their jobs, to know how to use and evaluate the control measures that the employer implements to reduce those hazards, and to work in ways that will reduce the risks in their jobs. The standard also does not state how long the training must last and when the question and answer periods must occur; instead, OSHA is leaving such things to the employer’s discretion.