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Environmental Factor, August 2015

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Evaluating worker training from the mid-management perspective

By Eddy Ball

Headshot of Sharon Beard

Beard has administered NIEHS-funded minority and HAZWOPER training programs for more than 20 years. In 2013, the American Public Health Association honored her work with the Lorin Kerr Award for leadership in public policy advocacy. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

A new study gives high marks to worker health and safety training and takes a rare look at how mid-level managers value NIEHS-funded programs.

The research focused on the perceptions of managers involved in meeting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) activities. As the researchers noted in their paper, “Few studies to date have considered this training from a management point of view.” The study was led by University of California, Los Angeles researchers Kevin Riley, Ph.D., and Linda Delp, Ph.D.

“This is an important part of our quality control — to obtain feedback from managers, to understand their perceptions on the value of training, and to develop strategies to improve workers’ access to training,” said Sharon Beard, industrial hygienist in the NIEHS Worker Training Program. “Our goals are to empower workers with knowledge to make positive change in the workplace, and to engage with management about the importance of health and safety in potentially hazardous work environments and measuring program effectiveness as objectively as possible.”

Published in the July issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, the study is an analysis of responses from 109 operations and safety managers across the country regarding what motivates them to send their employees to the training, and what they value most about the programs.

Changes in attitudes

Survey responses indicated that changes in health and safety were well underway in their workplaces as a result of participation in training programs. As the most important factors in a manager’s decision to provide employees with HAZWOPER training, protecting employees from hazards rated highest at 33.3 percent, and regulatory compliance came in second at 31.5 percent. Although 81.6 percent ranked the OSHA requirement as highly important in their decision, 44 percent responded that they would provide the same level of training if there were no requirement in place.

On the down side, while more than three-quarters of respondents anticipated safer workplace practices as a result of training, only about one-third envisioned active involvement of workers in health and safety policymaking as an outcome. Without a standard in place, at least one-third of managers predicted their organizations would likely provide less frequent training or shift to online formats to save time and money.

According to the leads of worker health and safety training programs, even with mandates and training offered on-site at no cost to employers, managers are often reluctant to give workers release time to participate.

“We [at NIEHS] feel strongly that worker involvement is key to improving occupational health and safety,” Beard said. “Although training designed to meet or exceed NIEHS minimum guidelines clearly has an impact, changing management attitudes remains a challenge.”

Citation: Riley K, Slatin C, Rice C, Rosen M, Weidner BL, Fleishman J, Alerding L, Delp L. 2015. Managers' perceptions of the value and impact of HAZWOPER worker health and safety training. Am J Ind Med 58(7):780-787.

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