Wednesday, February 11, 2004

OSHA Training Grant Program: The Unkindest Cut

I have written numerous times about OSHA's attempt to gut one of the agency's most successful programs, the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program. Under the program, millions of dollars are granted to unions, colleges, business associations, COSH groups and other non-profits each year to provide direct training to hundreds of thousand of workers. In recent years, the focus has been on Hispanic workers. The grant programs have spawned valuable training programs tailored to adult learners at the level and in the language that the workers could understand. The grant programs produced excellent publications and innovative train-the-trainer programs that have prepared a cadre of health and safety trainers who multiply the benefits of the program.

Every Bush budget has attempted to cut the program from $11 million to $4 million, changing the program from proven direct worker training to an internet-based creation. And every year, Congress has restored the full $11 million.

Once again, Bush is attempting to cut the program down to $4 million. But, in an interview in Inside OSHA, OSHA Chief John Henshaw, channeling the ghost of George Orwell
rebuked assertions that the administration is cutting the training grants program.

“I would not use the word ‘cutting',” Henshaw said referring to the proposed $6 million decrease in the training grant program. “We do not feel the training program should be based on one-on-one training. We are developing materials and technology to get information out to more people.”
We Interrupt This Program For a Short Musical Interlude

It rained so hard the day I left,
The weather it was dry,
The sun so hot, I froze to death,
Suzanna don't you cry.

I'm sorry. Now where was I?

Henshaw went on to extoll the virtues of internet based training, especially for Hispanic workers, "the fastest group entering the internet."

They'd better be fast. After working a 12-hour day in the poultry processing plant, they'll need to rush home on the bus to the trailer part, where, after making dinner, helping the kids with their homework, getting them to bed, then having the whole rest of the evening to relax in front of their Pentium XXVII computers with their high-speed internet connections, training themselves on how to prevent their necks and limbs and backs from disintegrating from hanging 20,000 live chickens above their heads every day.

Back in the days when we expected the federal government to follow the letter and the spirit of the law, health and safety training was done on worktime, with live trainers who could actually answer questions and engage the workers in learning instead of sticking them in front of a computer or expecting them to take a CD home with them.

And good workplace safety and health training is about more than just facts about hazards and how to prevent them. It's also about how to change the conditions in the workplace so that injuries and illnesses don't happen. And even if that information is accurate and understood, it isn't too useful for workers who have little knowledge of OSHA and little understanding of their rights. No matter how good the web page is, you can't do that kind of training over the internet.

John Henshaw and Elaine Chao will soon go before Congress and attempt once again to defend these cuts that are not cuts. They will try to argue that internet training is somehow better than face-to-face interactive training, and that all of this is particularly beneficial for Hispanic workers.

Let's just hope that Congress once again has the wisdom and courage to tell the agency they're full of crap.