What Languages Must My Company Provide to Meet OSHA Training Requirements?

OSHA Training RequirementsIf your work force includes people who use English as a second language (ESL), you’ve probably asked this question, and the answers you received may not have been particularly helpful. Although OSHA does try to make its regulations understandable, there are definitely situations where the explanations are complicated enough to leave significant doubt. If you’ve been “winging it” on how to handle language presentation of OSHA-required training for your workers, you may be out of compliance and, in some cases, those violations can be cited as serious, which carry stiffer penalties. OSHA training requirements state that “employee training required by OSHA standards must be presented in a manner that employees can understand.”

Thanks. That’s As Clear As Mud.

OSHA agrees. In fact, in 2010, they issued a Training Standards Policy Statement memo to clarify how, exactly, that general rule applies to the specific situation of providing training for ESL workers, as well as native speakers of English. It’s likely that budgetary concerns prevented OSHA from publicizing this clarification as widely as would have been helpful, but whatever the cause, many employers don’t know this guidance exists, and that they’re liable for knowing and implementing it.

Now, We’re Getting Somewhere!

The 2010 OSHA memo pulls a lot of information together from various sources to present a more sensible explanation. Since the purpose of required OSHA training is to create a safer work environment that is built, in part, on the correct actions of workers, employers are responsible to make sure their workers are getting information that they truly understand; it’s not enough to just make them sit through a class and check their names off. The memo specifies that:

an employer must instruct its employees using both a language and vocabulary that the employees can understand. For example, if an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand. Similarly, if the employee’s vocabulary is limited, the training must account for that limitation … employers are expected to realize that if they customarily need to communicate work instructions or other workplace information to employees at a certain vocabulary level or in language other than English, they will also need to provide safety and health training to employees in the same manner.

When it comes to training, there are two basic paths laid out for employers: train your workers in English, so you can provide OSHA training in English; or provide OSHA training in your workers’ primary languages. Many OSHA training requirements dictate that the trainees must have an opportunity for interactive questions and answers with the training instructor, so there are no shortcuts available, and you cannot simply have another worker pass the information along second-hand.

Big, Red Flags

There are a few critical training issues the memo calls out, and reiterates that employers have an additional responsibility on these particular issues to not only train, but verify their workers’ full comprehension of the trained material, and ongoing comprehension; some standards require re-training if a worker is no longer able to demonstrate the required level of understanding and proficiency. These include lock-out/tag-out procedures and correct use of a respirator and understanding when one is required. Because of the high risk of injury, illness, or fatal accident involved, employers who are deemed deficient in maintaining the required training standards in these and other areas may be cited for serious violations.

Be On Top of All OSHA Training Requirements

As an employer, you are liable and accountable for many things, none more important than protecting the health and safety of your workers. If you are unsure whether your current OSHA training program is compliant, or you need help achieving compliance, Optimum Safety Management can help. We’ll work with you to evaluate your current training program, identify any deficiencies, then help you develop and implement a program that is fully compliant and adequately protects your workers and your business. Contact us for more information, or to schedule a consultation.

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