While much of the corporate world focuses on the developmental side of training—human resources, sales and management training—there is a lot to be learned from the operational side of the business. Operational training is often highly regulated, especially in the energy and manufacturing industries (and with the new HIPAA regulations going into effect, the health care industry). These regulations, if not followed closely, can have a huge negative impact on the bottom line.
While there are many far-ranging regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and various non-discrimination regulations, that affect training across all business sectors, most people typically think of regulated training as affecting manufacturing and energy companies, according to Brad Cooper, co-founder and senior vice president for Plateau Systems. “Most of the time when people think about regulated training, they usually wind up dealing with manufacturing industries or energy production or chemical transport, fuel exploration or things like that where you’ve got agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which actually have bodies of law written that dictate either how training has to be accomplished or at least the end result of it—how companies have to be able to provide that data to show auditors that they have provided the proper training for their employees,” said Cooper.
Many of the regulations in these industries grew out of needs that became obvious only after catastrophic events took place. The regulations are meant to provide a safer workplace, both for the employees and the environment.
Cooper cited OSHA 119 as an example, a regulation that resulted from “a series of accidents that occurred at various chemical manufacturing companies” where life-threatening and loss-of-life accidents occurred. “One of the ones that usually makes the training people quiver in their boots is OSHA 119,” said Cooper. “OSHA 119 specifically states how training is to be accomplished, the periodicity of training and who needs to be trained on specific processes when dealing with hazardous chemicals.”
Another example is the Three-Mile Island incident, a nuclear disaster that caused the NRC to overhaul its training regulations. “The training within the American nuclear energy program is probably some of the most rigorous training outside of the military,” said Cooper. “They’re doing some very detail-oriented and potentially dangerous work there.” After the Three-Mile Island incident, Cooper explained, “the entire nuclear world was put on its head. All of the training regulations were rewritten, and the government dictates not just what they require of them, which is how the majority of the regulations are written, but they actually specify how they will do it, with specific goals that they have to meet and specific things they can be asked for.”
The consequences of noncompliance with government regulations surrounding training range from fines to an interruption of the business. Most of the time, companies face fines, said Cooper, but there is the potential for business interruption as well.
“There are some classic examples,” he said. “For example, dealing with the Food and Drug Administration’s enforcement activities, where they will enter into consent decrees with companies and the companies will agree that they will not ship products. So they can only make enough to fill up their warehouse, and then they’ve got to stop because they don’t have any more room. That effectively serves as a business interruption for them until they get the problem fixed.”
In the heavily regulated nuclear industries, the interruptions can be even more abrupt. “In the nuclear world, the auditors have the right to go in and open the breakers,” said Cooper. “They can actually shut the plant down if they deem the problems were endemic and sufficient enough to warrant a safety risk.”
Of course, even if the business only faces a fine, all of the enforcement activity is made public knowledge, which can lead to negative publicity for the business.
While not complying with regulations can be devastating for a business, there are many challenges associated with complying with regulated training requirements as well. According to Cooper, the biggest challenges are the sheer volume of operational procedures that companies must cover with training, managing change when the procedures are revised and handling the administrative functions or record-keeping aspects.
“Regulated training by its very nature involves a lot of very detailed training activities dealing with procedures that change, dealing with processes that change, and it can be a real struggle to keep up with the record-keeping aspects of that,” said Cooper. And, he added, within industries such as pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing, it is also important to keep a historical record of who was trained when.
Another challenge is in the delivery of training itself. Approval is required to deviate from the standard training delivery methods set forth by governmental standards. For example, Kevin Nailer, assistant vice president of HR, Planning and Development for Union Pacific, said, “We have safety rules and operating rules that are mandated by government laws and regulations. What they do is add an extra layer here that we have to go through. So we have our own change management issues and our own issues around is this the right way to do training, and then in some circumstances where we’re heavily regulated, we also have to get government agency approval to deliver training in a non-traditional way.”
Many companies turn to learning management systems to help them deal with the complexities of managing regulated training, and Cooper said that a good LMS is designed to provide exactly that function. “It’s designed to keep track of all the different changes that occur within a learning organization,” he said. “It’s designed to keep track of not just who took what course when, but what did the training picture look like at a given point in time. It also helps streamline the process of changing.”
Bechtel National Inc., for example, is in charge of designing and building a multibillion-dollar facility to clean up radioactive waste along the Columbia River in southeastern Washington. The company is implementing an LMS to help it schedule, deliver and manage mission-critical training for its workforce. This will help Bechtel ensure that its employees and contractors are meeting the training qualifications, alerting them by e-mail when new requirements are developed.
Emily Hollis is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer Magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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