OSHA requirements are set by statute, standards and regulations. Our interpretation letters explain these requirements and how they apply to particular circumstances, but they cannot create additional employer obligations. This letter constitutes OSHA's interpretation of the requirements discussed. Note that our enforcement guidance may be affected by changes to OSHA rules. Also, from time to time we update our guidance in response to new information. To keep apprised of such developments, you can consult OSHA's website at https://www.osha.gov.

October 20, 1999

Richard Chinn, MS, CET
Richard Chinn Environmental Training, Inc.
P.O. Box 10776
Pompano Beach, FL 33061-6776

Dear Mr. Chinn:

This is a response to your March 24, 1999 letter about web-based training to satisfy the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard, 29 CFR 1910.120. You requested that OSHA confirm whether the web-based HAZWOPER refresher training your company provides meets the intent of the HAZWOPER standard with regard to hands-on training and trainer accessibility. Your description of the training and our response are below. We would like to apologize for the delay in responding to your letter.

"Our company offers web-based training to satisfy the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Annual Refresher Training (29 CFR 1910.120(e)(8)). We offer a program from our web page whereby participants work through a series of pages and have to answer questions at the end of each section. If the participant receives less than a 70% score, he/she must repeat that section. We also require the following hands-on skills be demonstrated by the participant video-taping proper demonstration of:

  1. Cleaning a respirator
  2. Donning a respirator (including initial fit-testing)
  3. Doffing a respirator
  4. Donning the highest level suit the person would reasonably expect to wear
  5. Air sampling with the equipment the participant would reasonably be expected to operate.

In addition, participants call our toll-free hotline or email us for answers. A Certified Environmental Trainer is available at designated times.

It is our interpretation that our program satisfies OSHA's requirements for hands-on training and for having a trainer availability [sic]."

Response: We appreciate your interest in attempting to meet the intent of OSHA requirements. The issues of hands-on training and trainer availability are particularly important when employers choose to use a computer-based training (CBT) approach for health and safety training. Your emphasis on these two topics suggests that you are familiar with prior OSHA interpretations on this subject. For your reference, the two letters on our website that discuss CBT for HAZWOPER in some detail are the 11/22/94 letter to Jackie Ward and the 10/11/94 letter to Gerald Joy.

Your specific request was that OSHA indicate whether your training program would satisfy HAZWOPER refresher training requirements. As a matter of policy, OSHA does not approve or endorse training programs. The employer, rather than the training provider, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that employees acquire the training and skills needed to perform their duties in a safe and healthful manner. We will, however, attempt to clarify our position on hands-on training and trainer availability for HAZWOPER training in relation to the program you describe.

For HAZWOPER refresher training, OSHA indicated in the 11/22/94 letter to Ward that the employer may determine that hands-on training is unnecessary for a given refresher course. To make this determination, however, we indicated that the employer must assess the employees' skill level and ensure that the employees remain competent in their assigned duties. In general, OSHA encourages the use of hands-on training even in refresher courses because it is an effective means for auditing worker performance of safety-related skills.

Hands-on training typically involves trainees interacting with equipment and tools in the presence of qualified trainers. This situation ensures that workers have an opportunity to learn or refresh their skills by experience and allows the trainer to assess whether workers have mastered the proper techniques.

OSHA has no basis for evaluating your proposed approach to hands-on training, which involves trainees videotaping their demonstration of skills for trainer review. Unfortunately, studies that examine the effectiveness of technology-based training approaches among various worker populations do not seem to keep pace with the use of these approaches. Our impression, however, is that this approach does not support the purpose of hands-on training. We question whether the limited and delayed interaction between the trainer and trainee allows the trainee to learn by experience. In addition, we can foresee limitations in a trainer's ability to evaluate a trainee's skills via videotape unless the video camera(s) can capture the performance from multiple angles and with good clarity.

As a practical matter, this approach sounds as though it could be more time-consuming than traditional hands-on training if the trainee did not perform the skills correctly or if the videotape was not sufficiently clear. Your letter did not address how re-evaluation would be handled.

Finally, with regard to the specific hands-on training topics you list, the choices appear to be limited. Donning and doffing personal protective equipment (PPE) other than a respirator, for example, is an important safety skill that many employers may want their employees to review. As we stated above, however, the employer is ultimately responsible for ensuring that employees acquire the training and skills they need to perform their work safely and would need to evaluate your program with the employees' needs in mind.

The employer is also ultimately responsible for providing access to a qualified trainer. Trainees must have an opportunity to ask and receive answers to questions where material is unfamiliar to them. Frequently, a trainee may be unable to go further with the training or to understand related training content until a response is received. OSHA has previously stated that, when web-based or computer-based training is used, a telephone hotline or e-mail satisfies OSHA's requirement for trainer access if the employee can ask and receive a responses from a qualified trainer in a timely manner.

If an employer uses an outside computer-based or web-based training program that provides trainer access during limited periods, the employer could address the limitations on trainer access in several ways. One possibility would be to limit employee training to the hours when a qualified trainer is available. A second possibility would be to provide an in-house qualified trainer to answer questions during hours not covered by the outside training provider. A third possibility would be to ensure that the training program is designed so that trainees cannot progress further in the program if they cannot indicate mastery of topics upon which additional training is based. This last option cannot replace but can supplement access to a qualified trainer.

I hope that you find this information helpful. Our enforcement guidance is subject to periodic review and clarification, amplification, or correction. In the future, you can verify that the guidance provided above is still current by consulting OSHA's website at
http://www.osha.gov. Finally, if you need further assistance on this matter, please contact the Office of Health Compliance Assistance at (202) 693-2190.


Charles N. Jeffress
Assistant Secretary