When is EHS Online Training Not Enough? A Conversation with Bruce Groves, CIH and former OSHA Officer

Proponents of online training argue that it is cheaper and easier to implement in a world of busy schedules than classroom training. Why WOULDN’T you opt for online safety training?

Many people feel safety is nothing more than common sense. My experience has been that it is much more than common sense. You really have to learn how to identify hazards and how to protect yourself.

Safety training requires individual engagement, and it is most successful when there is good group interaction. For example, effective safety programs are a series of problem-solving scenarios. When you have a group of employees trained as a group, this gives everyone an opportunity to interact and solve problems not as a class full of individuals but as a team. Safety often requires a group of people to figure out how to respond to an emergency where you have to not only solve the emergency you are facing, but you have to make sure everyone is protected during the process. There is no cookie-cutter approach. You are essentially helping people practice good communication and teamwork in addition to using their experience and training in order to have the best outcomes.

For example, something as small as a fuel spill could create a hazard for fire in an environment, as well as a toxicity issue. To understand how to control the spill and reduce the hazards, someone has to exercise good judgment and decision-making quickly. Having rehearsed this in a group setting is preferable to individual learning.

What about online training over some of the newer platforms like Zoom where there can be interaction rather than just playing a video?

I think this type of online training can work in certain circumstances. Especially as we have seen technology like Zoom and Webinars being adopted by employers, instructor-led training over an interactive platform can be very effective. However, you do want to make sure your trainer places a limit on the amount of attendees so that the instructor can go through the curriculum, have sufficient Q&A, facilitate discussions and even breakout rooms, and especially lead problem-solving scenarios.

What I do not think is sufficient is the pre-recorded online training, or what is often referred to as “asynchronous” or on-demand training.

If online training isn’t sufficient, why hasn’t OSHA disallowed it?

There is a conflict between OSHA requirements that call for a set amount of time for training, whether it is online or classroom. OSHA requires many classes like the 40-hour training, the 30-hour training, and the 8-hour refresher. It was originally designed for a training course that had a maximum amount of hands-on demonstration, group exercise, problem solving… which was regularly scheduled into classroom training. These requirements weren’t necessarily developed with the technology options in mind that exist today.

Unfortunately, the push to substitute online training for classroom training still requires the person to sit in front of a computer for a specified amount of time. Even if you can complete a module in seven minutes, you still have to sit and wait until the next module starts. This is not only less engaging but also misses out on the opportunity for group discussion and scenario practice.

Are there any types of training where you would consider online training effective?

Certain administrative aspects of safety, such as hazard communications, can be taught effectively online. We have also seen where blended training works well. Here the classroom portion of many training courses like forklift training, electrical safety, and fire protection can be taught online as long as they are supplemented by hands-on, face-to-face training in order to determine competence.

Blended training works with online training. Unfortunately, many people just use online training without any sort of practical aspect, which is where safety training falls short.

What happens if an employer does not provide sufficient health and safety training?

OSHA clearly requires training at many levels. It is the employer’s responsibility to determine what training is required for each employee depending on their job responsibilities. They also must determine the competence expected from that training. Most importantly, the employer must determine the employee successfully passed the course and shows competence in doing their job.

The lack of training or inadequate training could receive a citation from OSHA. Depending upon the standard, the fines can range from up to $7,000 for serious citations to $70K for willful citations (doublecheck.) Serious citations are violations that could lead to serious injury or death (e.g., electrocution, falling, exposure to toxic chemicals or viruses). A willful violation is typically a serious citation where the employer knew there was a training requirement and wantonly disregarded the step to train their employee.

Have you ever responded to an emergency that was caused because people weren’t trained correctly?

Yes. I was called in to negotiate with OSHA on behalf of a client that was being investigated for a fatality at a job site. Workers at this facility had to clean large diesel fuel tanks. They had to enter these tanks, and they were used to having diesel fuel in these tanks. In this one case, someone had placed chemicals instead of the diesel fuel in the tank. Unfortunately, there were no standard procedures that were followed and employees had not received ample training to prepare them to enter a tank.

A person entered the tank with chemicals and immediately fell to the bottom of the tank and died. The company had not conducted an adequate hazard assessment, nor did the worker have the appropriate PPE. There were no instruments to measure air quality, and there was no way to rescue the guy when he went down.

Ultimately, we developed standards, protocols, and training to rectify this situation, but not before it cost a life. With the appropriate training, the individual might have been spared.

Bruce Groves is the CEO of Emilcott Associates, an environmental health and safety consulting firm with offices throughout the east coast.

Please reach out to if you need assistance developing and implementing proper safety training programs.

7 Considerations for Your Next Site-Specific Health & Safety Plan

(OSHA 29 CFR: 1926.21, 1925.65, 1910.120)

1. Do you have the right programs, processes and defensible data to prove you are actively guarding the health and safety of your workers?   

Under the exclusive remedy provision of workers compensation laws, most workers do not sue their employers.  This worker compensation protection, however, does not cover third parties who then become the targets of plaintiff attorneys’ looking to claim damages. 

2. Are you comfortable with the level of liability you would assume in the event that a worker was injured on a construction site?

Have you reviewed your professional liability coverage?  Certain locations (e.g., New York City) have experienced significant increases in claims for worker injuries on construction sites.  As a result, many insurance companies have dropped or limited their professional liability coverage for those companies that directly or indirectly manage or provide oversite of health and safety activities on a construction project.  Even if you feel you have no responsibility, liability exposure may be significant if you are sued as a third party.

3. Are your employees apprised of their obligation under OSHA’s multi-employer workplace policy?

In the event a worker is injured or killed on the site because he or she failed to take proper precautions, the first liability is with the company who employed the worker.  However, OSHA has redefined the definition of employer to include other companies or agencies that are also working on the construction project.  For example, OSHA has identified engineering firms as a Controlling Employer because of their oversite role on a project.  This not only exposes an engineering firm to OSHA citations but lays the groundwork for being named as a contributing third party in the accident.  This OSHA policy is complicated and requires a prescriptive company procedure to manage the conduct of employees working on a construction site.  It is critical to proactively prepare your staff for situations like this and others is step one in managing your liability on the site.

4. Is the construction site in proximity to high density populations? 
Residences, roadways, shopping areas, pubic venues?

With certain contaminants and toxins, weather conditions can carry dusts, vapors and gases up to 2 miles away from the site of origination.  Even if a smell or toxin is not considered harmful at the concentration levels at which it is sensed, it can cause alarm and create public unrest that has the potential to disrupt operations unnecessarily.  Having a means to collect data to measure potential contaminants potentially emitted from a construction site, provides strong defensible position that people are not being harmed from construction activities.

5. Is the construction site in proximity to vulnerable populations like schools or hospitals?

Routine operations such as excavation and site preparation create dust.  While not all dust is harmful, air quality continues to be a major concern for vulnerable populations (sensitive receptors).  Proactively monitoring dust in the air continuously and maintaining transparency with the public can prevent complaints and claims of disease coming from toxic exposures.

6. Are you comfortable with the level of liability you would assume in the event that an outside group claimed they had been exposed to a toxin from your site?

Lawsuits pertaining to public exposure to toxins require the defendant (the company) to prove a negative.  In other words, you must show that the plaintiff was not exposed or that their injury did not result from toxic exposure originating from your construction site.  Proving a negative is extremely difficult unless you have sufficient environmental data covering the specific timeframe when the plaintiff claims exposure.  Real-time monitoring provides that level of data necessary to guard against this type of claim.  Furthermore, real time data allows you ensure that any toxic release is identified immediately, managed, and documented as such before it reaches toxic levels.

7. Does your firm have a core competency in health and safety that can continuously manage both worker health and public health with technology?

Leading environmental and engineering firms have begun to bundle health and safety with engineering and construction management for a comprehensive, turnkey approach to public and worker health and safety.  Ensuring your staff has the technology and the training necessary to deploy equipment, oversee multi-employer safety, and monitor toxins in real time can not only create efficiencies but also provide third party credibility and even outsource liability in certain cases.

If you have specific questions or concerns about these issues, please feel free to reach out to discuss your specific needs at

Portable Space Heater Safety in the Workplace

There are no federal workplace safety rules that prohibit portable electric space heaters in the workplace and statistics regarding commercial property damage caused by space heaters are not readily available. However, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates that more than 25,000 residential fires every year are associated with the use of space heaters—resulting in more than 300 deaths. In addition, an estimated 6,000 people every year receive emergency room care for burn injuries associated with contacting the hot surfaces of room heaters, mostly in non-fire situations.

So, as the cold weather sets in, employers may be considering if they should permit portable space heaters or actually discourage their use—even outright ban them. However, some work areas can just be cold. This is a frequent problem with older buildings or those areas near entries or doors.  Adding to the challenge, there are many employees with medical conditions that require extra warmth above what is normally considered comfortable and a space heater can fulfill that accommodation without heating up everyone else’s workspace.

The good news—like so many other hazards, portable space heaters can be used safely if proper care and precautions are implemented. Any employer permitting the use of portable space heaters should highly consider a written policy to spell out exactly what is proper care and sufficient precautions. It could possibly prevent fires, injuries and even death.

Firstly, OSHA rules do require that electrical equipment must be used according to manufacturer specifications on the unit’s label and in the user manual. Therefore, only employer-purchased and issued space heaters with adequate safety features should be used.  Generally, regardless of the types of space heaters, the following applies:

  • Choose only thermostatically controlled heaters to avoid wasting energy or overheating
  • Most heaters come with a general sizing table, so select heaters of varying sizes to fit the size of the areas that needs heating
  • Position heaters on a level surface away from foot traffic
  • All space heaters must be kept away from any combustible material
  • Heaters should have a tip-over automatic shut down feature and a grounded three-pronged plug
  • Require that space heaters always be turned off when the area is not occupied—possibly unplugged at night
  • Plug heaters directly into a wall outlet and in plain sight
  • Remind employees that nothing should ever be placed on top of or touching the space heater
  • Heaters missing guards, control knobs, feet, frayed cords, or otherwise damaged must be taken out of service
  • Discontinue use of the heater if the heater causes the electrical circuit breaker to trip

It is not recommended that unvented combustion space heaters, such as those fueled by propane, natural gas, and kerosene, be used for heating inside areas. They introduce unwanted combustion products into the environment—including nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and water vapor—and deplete air in the space. Check for local regulations banning unvented kerosene and natural gas heaters.

Office Safety is covered under the OSHA General Duty Clause. Good office “housekeeping” and safety policies can prevent injuries. If you have questions about office safety policy, Emilcott can help.

Does Your Facility Need to File an Annual Community Right to Know Survey?

Community Right to Know (CRTK) Surveys must be completed and submitted by March 1 of each year by all industries with a listed NAICS code. A listing of applicable NAICS codes can be found at the following url:

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) is initiating an enforcement effort against all entities that have not filed their 2015 CRTK Survey and did not receive an exemption from filing. If your company has not filed a CRTK Survey for 2015 and has not received an exemption, the NJDEP is encouraging entities to file. Filing before being forced to do so by the NJDEP may reduce the risk of a monetary fine.

If you are unsure whether you should file a survey or file for an exemption, here are the basics:

Requirements for Filing a CRTK Survey

1. Your facility is in a regulated NAICS Code

2. Your facility stored reportable quantities of regulated substances as listed in: and

For an Exemption:

You must submit a CRTK Reporting Exemption Form which you can find at: , if your facility meets one of the following criteria:

1. Your facility is in a regulated NAICS Code however NO environmental hazardous substances (as

listed in:) were present in 2015

2. Listed substances were present but below the applicable reporting thresholds;

3. Your facility is in a regulated NAICS Code and you meet the definition of an unstaffed site

(“Unstaffed site” means a remotely operated site, not contiguous to any other staffed sites and at which no full-time or part-time employees are assigned at any time except for maintenance or emergency repair – N.J.A.C. 7:1G1.2 (h)); or

4. If you determine that your facilities are in a regulated NAICS Code and ALL FACILITIES YOU OWN IN NJ conduct administrative office functions only.

Emilcott professionals are here to help if you determine that your facility needs to file a 2015 CRTK Survey or file for an exemption. Emilcott can also act as a liaison between your organization and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.

Spring Cleaning: What About Your HVAC System?

Indoor air quality complaints from employees can be quite common in office environments.  Symptoms such as red or itching eyes, cough, colds, allergies, headaches and unusual odors are some of the issues that can be reported by building occupants.  In the course of investigating contributing causes, a review of the buildings use history, inspection of the immediate complaint area and measurement of various airborne contaminants may not reveal a likely source.  This is when a trip to the air handling unit (AHU) on the roof becomes necessary.

Protection Against Legionella

As of November 13, 2015, all owners and operators of cooling towers in New York must abide by New York State Department of Health (DOH) regulations concerning operation and maintenance of cooling towers, evaporative condensers or fluid coolers.  The regulation was implemented to aid in the control of Legionella and are intended to minimize potential exposures to the public who live and work near cooling towers and equipment.  This regulation requires registration and periodic reporting, testing, inspection, and certification.

OSHA Forms

There are three OSHA recordkeeping forms that you should we aware of as an employer.  These include the OSHA 300 Log, the OSHA Form 301 and the OSHA 300A.  The OSHA 300 Log is used to record and track work-related injuries and illnesses as well as any associated lost, restricted or transfer days.  The OSHA Form 301 is used to describe details associated with work-related injuries and illnesses and to report Workers’ Compensation claims to insurance carriers.  It is not unusual for many insurance companies to have an “equivalent” to the 301 Form that they use internally.  OSHA allows for the use of an equivalent form, provided that it contains as least the same required information as the OSHA Form 301.  The OSHA 300A or annual summary, only includes a summary of work-related injury and illness information including the number of cases, all associated lost and/or restricted days and selected operational information such as the employers address and NAICS or SIC codes.  Key requirements of the OSHA 300A are that it must be reviewed by a senior member of the management team, signed to indicate their approval and posted for a specific period of time.  Additional information on each of the three forms is contained below.  All forms are available at

Incident Investigations and Learnings

With the amount of time that our Emilcott associates spend on different sites, they have seen just about everything when it comes to incident investigations. We thought we would share some of our incident investigation lessons learned, so that you don’t experience similar situations. Here are a couple of example “learnings” from Emilcott’s staff:

Thankful for Safety Lessons Learned

“Safety lessons” are usually “learned” as part of the accident investigation after an injury. The health and safety professional community refers to these investigations as incident investigations – following the logic that almost all worksite fatalities and injuries, along with illnesses, are not accidents – but rather they are preventable incidents.

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