Understanding Task-Specific Training
If an employer must defend their company in the event of an incident or accident, training records are a critical tool. There is nothing better to present during an OSHA investigation or a civil tort liability case than documented training records and annual reviews of the proficiency demonstrations that are required by the OSHA standard.
Over the years, I’ve received numerous questions about the latest training procedures published in the 29 CFR 1910.269 standard. In the many meetings that were held across the country prior to the standard’s publication in 2014, one question that kept coming up was about a sentence to be added to 1910.269(a)(2) regarding training. Because I still receive questions about the sentence almost 10 years later, I contacted one of OSHA’s regional offices while writing this article and had a discussion with an assistant compliance officer to verify my interpretation of the rule.
The sentence in question is found at 1910.269(a)(2)(i)(C). It states, “The degree of training shall be determined by the risk to the employee for the hazard involved.”
When someone’s training is in question, it does not matter whether the employee is full-time, part-time or working on a contract basis. If an independent contractor’s training is in question, the host employer should never train that contractor; this is necessary to maintain the proper host-contractor relationship required by the Multi-Employer Citation Policy of 1999. The written contract between the host and the independent contractor must require the contractor to provide qualified and trained employees for the work they have been hired to perform. Additionally, host employers would have great liability if they were to train independent contractors. When needed, a third-party OSHA-authorized trainer who is a qualified electric utility safety professional should provide task-specific training to independent contractor employees. Again, this will help maintain a proper relationship between the host and the independent contractor.
So, why did OSHA add the sentence found at 1910.269(a)(2)(i)(C) and what is its true meaning?
I looked back at the chief complaints and suggestions from contractors and host companies gathered before the 2014 update to the 1910.269 standard. One big issue was owners and operators of facilities who only allowed qualified employees to enter certain spaces. If someone needed to enter a secure, locked facility, they had to be a qualified employee. If they weren’t qualified, they had to be escorted by someone who was. For example, if there was a need for environmental cleanup from an oil spill, or an HVAC employee was needed to work on the air-conditioning in the substation control house, those employees would need to be escorted. It was costing companies money to pull qualified employees from their regular work so they could escort non-qualified individuals to a secure facility, and often, the host employer did not have the resources to meet this requirement. So, there appeared to be a request for OSHA to clarify what qualifies an employee to enter a secure facility without a qualified escort. From 1994 until the 2014 update, the industry interpretation of “qualified” was an individual who had been trained in all the requirements of 1910.269(a)(2)(ii)(A) through (E), which describe all the training the employer must provide to the employees who are working on the electrical system.
It is my understanding that in the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking stakeholder meetings, many questions were asked as to how the industry could qualify employees who have long-term relationships and contracts with the host employer. How could they be qualified for a task they were to complete in a secure area, issued a key to the secure area and allowed entry for specific work without an escort?
The reference to “demonstrated proficiency” was not included in the 1994 OSHA regulations. Until the 2014 update, it was accepted that training would qualify the employee, but many times, that was not the case. We now must look at training as the foundation of learning and understanding.
Host employers then started reviewing their paperwork and, recognizing that some of their employees did not have all the OSHA-required documented training in their training records, had to send some of their employees back to a substation entry class and document that training to meet the regulatory requirement of the training needed to perform specific tasks.
Many employees of both host employers and independent contractors are required to enter substations for various reasons, including vegetation management, environmental or industrial hygiene, and taking readings on equipment. These employees may never wear a pair of rubber gloves or perform switching and tagging, but they are in the substation. What is the magic distance from the energized operating equipment at which the employee would be subjected to 2-cal/cm2 incident energy? Have these employees received step and touch potential training? Are they familiar with system operations? Do they understand all the hazards associated with working inside the fence of a substation? What PPE is required to be in the vicinity of energized equipment?
Earlier I noted that there was no reference made to demonstrated proficiency in the 1994 OSHA regulations. That changed with the publication of the 2014 regulations; the term “demonstrated proficiency” was added to 1910.269(a)(2)(viii). The paragraph now states, “The employer shall ensure that each employee has demonstrated proficiency in the work practices involved before that employee is considered as having completed the training required by paragraph (a)(2) of this section.”
There are many questions and much potential liability associated with task-qualified host employees, much less the potential liability of an unescorted contractor being allowed into a host company’s facility. The host employer’s liability for their employees is a worker’s compensation issue, but there is a much more significant amount of potential tort liability for a contractor worker if they are not qualified to enter a secure area, operate the host’s equipment or use the host’s tools.
The change in the OSHA standard regarding task-specific training is now almost 10 years old. Questions are still asked about it, and those who ask often do not fully understand the answers. Many companies will not allow the worker who needs access to a certain area to go there unescorted. Those who want more information about this topic should call their nearest OSHA regional office and request definitive guidance from the agency.
About the Author: Danny Raines, CUSP, is an author, an OSHA-authorized trainer, and a transmission and distribution safety consultant who retired from Georgia Power after 40 years of service and now operates Raines Utility Safety Solutions LLC.
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