Train the Trainer 101: Training and Verification Requirements for the Safety of Electric Utility Workers

A number of years ago I investigated a pole-top flash that took place during a transfer. The flash occurred when an improperly installed blanket left a dead-end flange exposed on the backside of the metal pole-top. During untying, the tie-wire contacted the exposed flange. No one was hurt. The issue was the lineman’s selection and installation of the blanket. The foreman assumed the lineman was experienced and competent to perform the three-phase transfer with minimal instruction. The problem was the lineman had spent the last several years on a service truck, had little transfer experience and had never worked a steel distribution pole. The foreman’s assumption was based on the fact that the lineman came from the IBEW hall. Even though they had never met, he assumed the lineman was sufficiently experienced – and so the root cause for the incident was established.

Training and verification of training for new, already-trained employees is another subject that has caused headaches for those professionals charged with OSHA training compliance and the employer liability that goes with it. OSHA, just like CanOSH, the agency’s Canadian counterpart, knows that training plays a huge role in incident prevention. It should be obvious that training prevents incidents, but the investigation of incidents across the continent proves that is not so. I have long said that the quality of your safety program and all of the component procedures, rules and policies that go with it, no matter how innovative and well-written, are only as good as the training you provide to the workforce. A safety program is supposed to protect the workforce first and the employer second. How can that happen if the workforce doesn’t know what’s in the program? And if the workforce doesn’t know what’s in the program, how does the employer expect the safety program to protect the employer?

Rules and Requirements
There are certain statutory requirements for training of employees that include training criteria, and sometimes duration, qualification of instructors, testing and demonstrated competencies. There are other standards that require informing the employee about certain subjects. The rules here don’t have training criteria like those described above, but the employer will be expected to defend the information transfer’s effectiveness if an incident results in an OSHA inquiry.

Here’s an example of a rule that requires training but is often misinterpreted if not completely disregarded: The crane and derrick standard requires third-party training and certification of operators effective November of this year. There is no requirement for third-party certification of operators before then. So, if cranes are so dangerous that we need these new rules, how has OSHA justified allowing those operators to run cranes for the last seven years without training? They haven’t. In fact, the training the employer is supposed to ensure has been clearly outlined by the rules in 1926.1427(k)(2); all of the requirements in paragraphs (k)(2)(i) and (ii) of this section apply until November 10, 2017. Those paragraphs read as follows:
• 1926.1427(k)(2)(i): “The employer must ensure that operators of equipment covered by this standard are competent to operate the equipment safely.”
• 1926.1427(k)(2)(ii): “When an employee assigned to operate machinery does not have the required knowledge or ability to operate the equipment safely, the employer must train that employee prior to operating the equipment. The employer must ensure that each operator is evaluated to confirm that he/she understands the information provided in the training.”

Here is why we at Incident Prevention urge readers to pay close attention to wording. OSHA is very careful and purposeful in how they write, but in spite of that the agency often is accused of being a little vague. What the rule requires is that the operators in those crane cabs, before November 10, have the same level of training, experience and skills verification as those operators who are third-party trained and licensed after November 10.

There is another training rule many employers are not aware of that can result in huge fines in the event a related incident brings OSHA to the workplace. Read closely the provisions of 1910.9(b): “Training. Standards in this part requiring training on hazards and related matters, such as standards requiring that employees receive training or that the employer train employees, provide training to employees, or institute or implement a training program, impose a separate compliance duty with respect to each employee covered by the requirement. The employer must train each affected employee in the manner required by the standard, and each failure to train an employee may be considered a separate violation.”

Here’s what that paragraph means: Where the employer is required to train and does not, a separate violation for failure to provide the training may be levied for every employee affected by the failure to train. As of January of this year, the penalty per violation for a serious infraction was $12,675. If you have 700 employees affected by a lack of training, that assessment would be ... well, it would be a lot. An assessment potential at that level, created by rule 1910.9(b), should tell you how serious OSHA is about training.

Utility-Specific Requirements
All of the above becomes even more of an issue when you read the utility-specific requirements for training in the most recent rule-making. I should mention that I am aware that many utilities have formidable, well-supported training programs. That isn’t the case with all utilities and that certainly isn’t the case for many contractors. The consultants associated with iP tell us that contractors are struggling to get a handle on these rules and that’s understandable. The rules OSHA promulgates are generally created around a stationary workplace with longtime career employees. Contractors largely have an itinerant workforce, and their workplaces are constantly moving around the country. This makes training a logistical issue and assessments of new employees almost impossible. This issue was part of the impetus for the creation of the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors Partnership: to create training co-ops that ensure workers are trained consistently and effectively so that employers can share the burden of training the ever-moving workforce. In this way, partnership employers can expect incoming employees to largely be trained in accordance with the OSHA standards.

So, what does the standard require for electric utility training? Let’s start with the 1910.269 standard. First, recognize that the requirements for 1910.269 are the same as the requirements for the 1926 Subpart V standards found in 1926.950(a) for line clearance and tree trimming and 1926.950(b) for constructors. The only difference in the 1926 requirements is the requirement for training of contractor employees regarding safety-related information included in the transfer of information between host utility and contractor. Per 1926.950(c)(2)(i), “The contract employer shall ensure that each of its employees is instructed in the hazardous conditions relevant to the employee's work that the contract employer is aware of as a result of information communicated to the contract employer by the host employer …”

The only other noticeable difference between the two standards is 1926.950(b)(6), entitled “Training goals.” It requires that the “training shall establish employee proficiency in the work practices required by this subpart and shall introduce the procedures necessary for compliance with this subpart.” This is good to know if you are the one charged with developing, managing or facilitating training.

The training required in 1910.269 is likely the most burdensome of any employer workplace because it engages some part of almost every utility workplace. The challenge for the employer is how to determine what training is required and how it should be delivered and documented. The training is specifically in regard to the safety-related aspects of the task. OSHA does not care if your worker does not know the difference between a 5/16 carriage bolt and a 3/4 DA bolt, only that the employee doesn’t knock himself out trying to tighten it from a pulling position.

Few people reading this article are not familiar with what has been colloquially called the (a)(2) standard, also known as paragraph 1910.269(a)(2)(i)(A), which states that each employee “shall be trained in, and familiar with, the safety-related work practices, safety procedures, and other safety requirements in this section that pertain to his or her job assignments.” In brief, the continuation of the rule also requires that the employee be trained in and familiar with any other safety practices, including emergency procedures like pole-top and manhole rescue, that are not specifically addressed but that are related to his or her work and are necessary for his or her safety.

The last part of this rule also needs some clarification. In the full text of the rule, OSHA puts “such as pole-top and manhole rescue” in parentheses. Read between the lines here. OSHA cannot anticipate every location where rescue and training may be required, but this rule includes towers, the tops of substation equipment and structures, deep ditches and vaults on the seventh floor of the Sears building. In other words, anywhere your employees work, there must be a rescue plan and training conducted.

Remember our lineman who flashed the pole-top? Note 2 to paragraph (a)(2)(viii) covers those employees who come to the workplace with previous training. The rule requires the employer to determine that an employee has demonstrated proficiency by confirming that the employee has the training required using the criteria outlined in 1910.269(a)(2)(viii)(2). The employer must conduct an examination or interview to make an initial determination that the employee understands the relevant safety-related work practices before he or she performs any work covered by this section and, per 1910.269(a)(2)(viii)(3), “[s]upervise the employee closely until that employee has demonstrated proficiency as required by this paragraph.” It sounds simple, but the reality is that there should be written documentation for the process. The written documentation should include a list of tasks skills to be verified as well as the criteria for proficiency. The written program also should include competencies or training for those who perform the observations, interviews, training or testing.

Rule 1910.269(a)(2)(i)(C) includes more qualifying criteria for training that gives us some breathing room but could be the source of inadequate compliance. Observe it carefully. The rule requires that the “degree of training shall be determined by the risk to the employee for the hazard involved.” This not only means that employees who do not go in ditches and manholes are not required to have manhole safety training; it also means all training criteria is not required to be the same for everyone. Obviously, it may be logistically beneficial to train everyone the same, but it is not required. The journeyman who goes to the top of the stack to change aviation lamps has many more risks associated with that work than the groundman below running a handline. The level of training is commensurate with the level of hazard and risk associated with job assignment.

It’s Not All in 1910.269
An issue we often hear about is when utility and contractor safety professionals become experts on the training requirements of 1910.269 and entirely miss rules we are subject to in the horizontal sections of the standard. To review, vertical standards are those that apply only to specific industries, such as 1910.269, while horizontal standards apply to everyone, including those specific industries unless exempted from those standards in the rules. Here are a few of those horizontal standards.

Fall Protection
Per paragraph 1910.30(a), OSHA requires that before any employee is exposed to a fall hazard, the employer must provide training for each employee who uses personal fall protection systems. In addition, training must be conducted by a qualified person, who can be either an employee or a vendor. The training must include the nature of fall hazards; procedures to be followed to minimize those hazards; and procedures for installing, operating and disassembling personal fall protection equipment. Training also must ensure the correct use of hookup, anchoring and tie-off techniques as well as methods of equipment inspection and storage, as specified by the manufacturer.

EAPs and Fire Protection
Especially important for those workplaces in brick-and-mortar facilities, 1910.38(e) requires training on the emergency action plan that covers most likely emergency scenarios. This part of EAP training obligates the employer to designate and train employees to assist in a safe and orderly evacuation of other employees, including those who may have difficulty getting out in an emergency. A fire protection plan also is required for facilities. Paragraph 1910.39(d) requires the employer to inform employees upon initial assignment to a job of the fire hazards to which they are exposed. An employer also must review with each employee those parts of the fire prevention plan necessary for self-protection. This may not sound like training, but the requirement to inform is no different than training in content and documentation. By the way, the rule does not require documentation, but experience has taught us that if we can’t reasonably document that we did it, we can’t prove we are in compliance.

Aerial Lifts
Sure, everybody knows how to operate a bucket truck, but can you defend your training of bucket truck operators in order to be in compliance with 1910.67(c)(2)(ii)? It’s eight words that are simple and quite clear: “Only trained persons shall operate an aerial lift.”

Noise
Noise is more likely to be required in generation than construction, but don’t underestimate the hearing damage that can come from 10-hour days spent assembling metal structures with an impact gun. Per 1910.95(k)(1), “The employer shall train each employee who is exposed to noise at or above an 8-hour time weighted average of 85 decibels …”

Respiratory Protection
Respiratory protection is another exposure most likely faced by plant workers or workers in rebuild facilities, especially where apparatus tanks are cleaned and painted. Paragraph 1910.134(c)(1)(vii) requires training for employees on the respiratory hazards to which they are potentially exposed during routine and emergency situations. The rule in this section also requires training on the proper use of respirators, including putting them on and removing them, their maintenance and any limitations on their use.

PPE
PPE seems simple enough, but can you defend the PPE training you have now? Rule 1910.132(f)(1) requires the employer to provide training to each employee who is required to use PPE.

Safety Sign Training
How about your safety sign training? Paragraph 1910.145(c)(1)(ii) requires that employees be trained on the meaning of danger signs. The rules in this section also require training on the meaning of caution signs and the various tags used throughout the workplace

Conclusion
How do we accomplish training and what is OSHA’s expectation? In a July 2014 letter to ORCHSE Strategies LLC, OSHA clarified what they expect to be considered compliant training. Though not all training needs to be performed to the degree described, most training should be conducted by a qualified person interacting with trainees, written testing with pass/fail criteria and practical observation of the learned skills. In the letter OSHA wrote the following: “1910.332(c) states: The training required by this section shall be of the classroom or on-the-job type. The degree of training provided shall be determined by the risk to the employee. If employees demonstrate the knowledge and skills required for the work as a result of the training session, then the training method as described, including the local demonstration of skills, meets the requirements …”

Whatever method you choose – employer self-delivery or vendor-supplied delivery – and no matter how rigorous or informal the training is, you must be able to defend the training provided against the requirements of the standard. It’s a huge undertaking, and it’s an important undertaking for the safety of the workforce. We wish you well. Good luck.

About the Author: After 25 years as a transmission-distribution lineman and foreman, Jim Vaughn has devoted the last 18 years to safety and training. A noted author, trainer and lecturer, he can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Editor’s Note: “Train the Trainer 101” is a regular feature designed to assist trainers by making complex technical issues deliverable in a nontechnical format. If you have comments about this article or a topic idea for a future issue, please contact Kate Wade at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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