Washington Update: 'Ineffective' or 'crucial'? Susan Harwood Training Grants under debate
For nearly 40 years, Susan Harwood Training Grant Program funds have helped educate more than 2 million employees on workplace hazard recognition, avoidance and prevention. OSHA has called the program “essential” to its efforts to protect workers and, each year, dozens of nonprofit organizations (including the National Safety Council) receive funding to develop training materials that can later be dispersed to a wider audience through OSHA’s website.
But it might be coming to an end.
Despite the relatively modest $10.5 million funding for the program, some House Republicans have proposed eliminating Harwood as part of a fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill. The GOP-led Appropriations Committee called the program “inefficient and ineffective” when compared to other programs such as OSHA’s Training Institute and Education Centers.
Harwood Grant recipients disagree. “In my experience, I can’t say that’s the case,” said Kevin Cannon, senior director of safety and health services for the Associated General Contractors of America. Since 2003, Arlington, VA-based AGC has received 11 grants covering a wide range of topics, including excavation safety, fall protection and, most recently, highway work zone safety.
According to Cannon, AGC’s Harwood-funded training has reached nearly 10,000 people. These programs likely would not have occurred without funding from the Harwood program, he said, adding that the grants allow AGC to target individuals who may not have otherwise received training.
Many Harwood training grants are aimed at hard-to-reach industries and groups, including small employers or niche markets.
For example, the Watertown, SD-based National Association of Tower Erectors received its first-ever Harwood grant in 2015. NATE is using the funds to develop a training program specific to its industry, which has many employers with fewer than 20 workers.
“We believe this grant is going to provide access to very high-quality training to these small contractor companies and their employees,” said NATE Executive Director Todd Schlekeway, who called the Harwood grant “crucial” in developing the tailor-made training program.
Without the grant, other no-cost general training may be available for the tower erector industry. But little of that training would be comprehensive and specifically geared toward the industry, Schlekeway said.
Additionally, other training programs may not have the wide reach of the Harwood program. Similar to programs created by other Harwood grant recipients, NATE’s program will include a “train-the-trainer” aspect. “It’s safe to say this will allow us to have a pretty far-reaching impact on getting workers and employers access to this free training due to the grant,” Schlekeway said.
Further, training materials developed under the Harwood program are made available on OSHA’s website – for free. This is what helps make the program and its materials so valuable, Cannon said.
Although the House Appropriations Committee has accused OSHA of lacking effective oversight over grant recipient performance, Cannon said, the Harwood grant program requires grantees to submit quarterly reports, program reports and financial reports to their grant administrator. Grant recipients are required to explain any shortfalls – in either student numbers or the number of classes conducted – and make up the difference.
In response to the threat of Harwood defunding, Cannon said he is looking for more than the program simply staying in place. Annual money allocated for the program has hovered between $10 million and $11 million for the past 15 years. Taking inflation into account, it means funding for Harwood has steadily declined.
“We would argue the opposite – increase the funding for this program,” Cannon said.
At press time, no funding bill for FY 2016 had been signed into law.