Meeting OSHA regulations is a foundational cornerstone of workplace safety. So, it's no surprise that many employers who want to ensure the safety of their employees adopt OSHA-authorized training for their workplaces. But what many of these employers don't realize is that there are limitations to the OSHA model that may result in safety violations and falling short of your safety targets (find out which of the Top 10 OSHA Safety Violations You May Have Committed Last Year).

In this article, we'll go over the OSHA-authorized model and its benefits. Then, we'll end by considering what an OSHA training program won't give you and what advantages you could gain from using a more comprehensive training program.

The OSHA Outreach Training Program

The OSHA Outreach Training program is the organization’s main educational program for employees in construction or general industry. It serves to “promote workplace safety and health and to make workers more knowledgeable about workplace hazards and their rights.”

OSHA’s Outreach Training program are offered in four main industries:

  • Construction
  • General industry
  • Maritime
  • Disaster site work

Outreach trainers complete required courses through the OSHA Training Institute and are then able to provide 10-hour and 30-hour training, as well as issue cards to employees who have successfully completed the courses.

For employees in construction and general industry, the 10-hour course addresses the common health and safety issues they could encounter on the job. The 30-hour course, on the other hand, is geared toward supervisors or leaders who have a role in their company’s safety program.

It's important to note that these are only basic training program and they do not fulfill all the training requirements set forth in OSHA’s standards. Employers are responsible for providing additional training that complies with OSHA standards (see Transient Workers vs. Temporary Workers: Know Your Training Obligations to learn more).

The Program's Wide Reach

The Outreach Training program remains strictly voluntary and does not provide any type of certification or serve as an alternative to occupational safety training. Despite that, it continues to be widespread. From 2012 to 2016, almost four million employees have been trained by OSHA-approved trainers, with about 60% of them receiving the 10-hour Construction training and roughly 20% receiving the 10-hour General Industry course.

Part of the reason for its prevalence is that authorized instructors are a fixture in a number of institutions, providing courses at vocational schools, union buildings, and factories across the country. There are also seven states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, and Rhode Island) that currently require completion of the OSHA Outreach Training program before employees are permitted to work on state-funded construction projects, which increases its appeal in those parts of the country.

The OSHA-Authorized Program Curriculum

Both the 10-hour and 30-hour courses have specific modules to be covered during the training period, with some of the training time meant to be dedicated to electives. The 10-hour course should include a minimum of two electives while the 30-hour course allows for six. Curriculum requirements vary slightly with more in-depth exploration in the 30-hour courses.

Here’s a glance at the basics for the most popular courses:

10-Hour Construction Course

Core curriculum:

Electives include:

  • Tools and equipment
  • Material handling
  • Excavations
  • Working at heights (scaffolds)
  • Industry-specific hazards

10-Hour General Industry Training

Core curriculum:

Electives include:

30-Hour Construction Course

The core curriculum includes everything covered in the 10-hour course but with greater depth and detail.

Trainees will need to take 12 hours of electives in far more specific topics, including:

  • Welding and cutting
  • Motor vehicle safety
  • Safety leadership
  • Safety policy

30-Hour General Industry Course

Again, this course includes everything covered in its 10-hour counterpart but delves deeper into the material.

Some of the options for fulfilling the required 12 hours of electives include:

As these lists show, each course offers a structured curriculum while allowing for customization through elective topics. Employees who complete the course can expect unique training experiences that provide a solid base for working on a variety of worksites.

But despite all that, OSHA's 10-hour and 30-hour programs are not comprehensive enough to be any company's only training option.

Limitations to the OSHA Outreach Program

Here are three reasons your company should provide its employees and supervisors more training that the Outreach Program offers.

1. It Provides No Extra Indemnity Over Other Options

The OSHA-authorized training program gives a good foundation in health and safety standards, but it will not provide additional indemnity or any level of compliance over alternative course options.

Companies can still be held responsible for incidents on their worksites even if they provided the outreach program courses to all employees. That's to be expected, given that the goal of the program is simply to provide awareness and it functions only at a very basic level. It remains the employer and employee's responsibility to comply with health and safety standards.

Of course, these shortcomings are not unique to the OSHA Outreach program. Most standardized safety training programs attempt to customize the experience but fail to reach the level of specificity required for particular positions or worksites. Because these programs strive to be as comprehensive as possible, they cannot be tailored to address the needs of every worker and every company.

2. May Not Ensure Safety and Compliance as Well as Other Options

In a perfect world, safety training would be fully customized by including a complete analysis of each individual position, defining the hazards they could potentially encounter, and then drawing connections to the material. By breaking down specific roles to analyze the potential for encountering specific hazards, the training would be more proactive and do a better job of protecting employees.

Performing job safety analyses on this level would require a larger scale collaboration and likely involve more extensive programming. To be effective, these analyses should consider:

  • Injuries or illnesses common to the position
  • Tasks that could consistently lead to injury or illness, including those that are severe or disabling
  • New jobs or those that have been altered recently
  • Complex tasks that require written guidelines

Any hazards identified during the analysis should be added to the safety curriculum and addressed with affected employees to ensure they are able to identify, report, and properly react if necessary.

3. Not Sufficient to Fulfill Continuing Safety Training Standards

The OSHA Outreach Program remain voluntary and it is fundamentally insufficient to fulfill the level of training required for work in the construction, maritime, agricultural, federal, and general industry sectors. It is important to understand that these 10-hour and 30-hour programs offer only base level training and an overview of the information necessary to safely perform jobs in these industries.

Employers should ensure that their training programs comply with OSHA standards and provide their employees with as much information as they can about their positions, worksites, and how to handle potential hazards and incidents.

Going Beyond OSHA-Authorized Training

OSHA-authorized training provides employees and supervisors with the core knowledge that everyone who sets foot on a worksite should have. It does, however, have its share of limitations and any employer who is serious about safety should consider more robust alternatives.