BITCO Insurance Companies
Release Date: May 11, 2010
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued an enforcement memorandum that directs compliance officers to check and verify that workers are receiving OSHA-required training in a language they understand and at a level they can comprehend. The purpose of this memorandum is to reiterate OSHA's policy that employee training required by OSHA standards must be presented in a manner that employees can understand and to provide enforcement guidance to the area and regional offices relative to the agency's training standards. This position applies to all of the agency's agriculture, construction, general industry, and maritime training requirements.
Many OSHA standards require "training" or "instruction," others require "adequate" or "effective" training or instruction, and still others require training "in a manner" or "in language" that is understandable to employees. Regardless of the precise regulatory language, the terms "train" and "instruct," as well as other synonyms, mean to present information in a manner that employees receiving it are capable of understanding.
In practical terms, this means 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. By the same token, if employees are not literate, telling them to read training materials will not satisfy the employer's training obligation. As a general matter, 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.
OSHA compliance officers are responsible for checking and verifying that employers have provided training to employees. In addition, CSHOs must check and verify that the training was provided in a format that the workers being trained could understand.
CSHOs determine whether the training provided by the employer meets the requirements and intent of the specific standard, considering the language of the standard and all of the facts and circumstances of the particular workplace. For example, CSHOs should look to whether workplace instructions regarding job duties are given in a language other than English and determine whether the employer already is transmitting information with comprehensibility in mind. CSHOs should also look beyond any basic paper documentation to determine if the employer may have training records but employees may not have been able to understand the elements included in the training.
The memorandum, "OSHA Training Standards Policy Statement," may be found at http://www.osha.gov/dep/standards-policy-statement-memo-04-28-10.html.
OSHA Assistance - In order to assist employers in meeting their training obligations, OSHA has created a web-based assistance tool. The tool is intended to help employers with a Spanish-speaking workforce identify the Spanish-language outreach resources on OSHA's website. While the site includes links to Spanish-language resources, it is intended primarily for English-speaking and bilingual users. The site is located on OSHA's public website at the following address: http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/compliance_assistance/quickstarts/hispanic/index_hispanic.html.
The information contained in this publication was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. ISO Services Properties, Inc., its companies and employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with either the information herein contained or the safety suggestions herein made. Moreover, it cannot be assumed that every acceptable safety procedure is contained herein or that abnormal or unusual circumstances may not warrant or require further or additional procedure.