Competency Based Job Training – Part 3

In this final post in our series about competency based job training, we will look at a few of the characteristics that help build a successful program.

Keep It in the Workplace

Since true competency can only be demonstrated in the context of the job, learning in the training program should occur in the workplace as much as possible. Learning in the environment of the job also helps ensure that the program is correctly targeted. It will become obvious fairly quickly if certain activities in the training program actually help get work done more quickly and efficiently or if they are just “busy work” that should be cut from the curriculum.

Allow Customization within the Overall Parameters

Because the goal is to provide a consistent standard of performance, every worker should be expected to gain all the competencies required for their job. However, there must be flexibility for customization in terms of the pace of learning. A modular, self-service program gives learners the ability to progress at their own pace. A typical module might include an overview and details about a given task, exercises, a quiz, and a performance evaluation.

One module may build on the next, but each should also be self-contained enough to be taken on its own. In this way, workers can prioritize areas where evaluation has shown an urgent need for improvement or skip modules if their competence in a particular area has already been demonstrated. When employees can participate more fully in creating and implementing the program in ways that make sense, they have a greater sense of accountability.

Always Include a Mentoring Aspect

Although self-service learning, self-evaluation, and automated reporting can be useful, the interpersonal aspect of the program is of critical importance. Learners must have regular contact with their supervisor or evaluator for review and follow up discussion to ensure the best outcome. This emphasis on feedback and ongoing communication will deliver a training program that is continuously improved. As employees become used to this feedback occurring on a regular basis and see their own progress, they become more confident and capable as a result.

Competency based training can include many of the tasks and responsibilities of a job. But safety is one topic that often deserves urgent attention due to the risks associated with poor competence in this area. For more information about incorporating competency training into your safety program, contact DKF Solutions today.

Competency Based Job Training Part 2

Last month, we took a look at competency based job training and the important first step of defining success. Next, it’s time to understand how far the organization is from reaching its goals and how much work it’s going to take to get there.

Step 2: Explore the Gap

Developing a competency based program must include assessing current employee knowledge and skills. It’s not uncommon to discover that employees already have many of the skills they need. To avoid frustrating and boring employees with redundant training, it’s important not to create a program that covers too much of what they already know. On the other hand, you may also find some surprising gaps in knowledge that need to be addressed. For example, if processes or job requirements have changed significantly in the past few years, new employees may be coming in to an environment where they receive conflicting advice about how things are supposed to be done. This would indicate gaps in skills or knowledge across the workforce—including both long time and new workers.

Step 3: Identify Universal Competencies

What do employees really need to know to do their jobs well? Engaging the workforce in identifying key skills may be helpful at this stage. For example, experienced employees have likely seen common mistakes made by new workers. They may have good suggestions for competencies to add to the training program. Be sure to identify competencies that are:

(a) applicable to a large number of employees

(b) able to be learned

(c) trackable and measureable

For example, good communication is a skill that can be learned. Knowledge in this area can be transferred through training and developed with practice. Improvement can also be measured by tracking incidents and processes where poor communication is causing delays, errors, and conflict.

Generalities and Specifics Matter

Basics like understanding the employee handbook and knowing emergency protocols are broad areas of competence that apply across an organization. But it’s also beneficial to drill down and create competency profiles for smaller groups based on the specifics of the job.  For example, installation and maintenance crews that work off-site may require in-depth training on a different set of skills than those who work within the facility. Creating separate modules that target specific business objectives by focusing on high-value skills can help make a training program show results more quickly.

Next month, we will explore more of the characteristics of a successful job competency training program—and what type of outcomes to expect.

Competency Based Job Training Part 1

For many roles in the workplace, employers rely on a combination of classroom or online education, and on-the-job training/mentoring to ensure that workers are properly equipped to carry out their job duties. Yet inconsistent performance, lack of compliance, errors, accidents, and other issues still arise. Why does this occur?

What is learned in the classroom may not transfer well to the worksite. Not all workers have the ability to take a concept they learn in a theoretical setting and apply the principle when they are faced with a real-world scenario that may seem quite different. Even on-the-job training that has a new employee shadow a coworker for a few days or weeks can yield widely varying results based on the capability, attitude, and teaching style of the mentor. Often, there is no standardized way to track whether employees are learning and retaining the competencies they need to do their jobs safely and well.

At the end of the day, key questions remain:

  • Do employees know what is expected of them in both general and specific terms?
  • Do they have the skills required for their roles and assigned tasks?
  • Do those skills translate into the ability to perform in the real-world context of the workplace?
  • How are these factors being measured so they can be improved?

Competency based job training helps provide a framework to answer all of these questions. This form of training focuses on learning and applying necessary skills in the context of the workplace, allowing agencies to develop knowledgeable and capable employees throughout their organization.

Where to Begin in Creating a Competency Based Training Program

There are several initial assessments that should be undertaken before developing a training program. This month, we will explore the first step.

Step 1: Define Success

Identify what outcome the organization wants to achieve. Ideally, a highly targeted, competency based approach to employee development puts the emphasis on performance with a focus on what matters most to the organization. Areas of interest could be risk reduction, productivity, profitability, and other business metrics that can be readily measured. Being able to put a value on the outcome makes it more likely that stakeholders will be willing to allocate resources to the program.

Next month, we will cover additional decisions that must be made before designing a competency based job training initiative as well as key characteristics of a good program.

Repeat Offenders Face New Risks with Rules Change

Late last year, Cal-OSHA was contemplating changes to the rules regarding repeat violations. With encouragement from Federal-OSHA to create regulations and practices consistent with those of the national agency, the rules are in line for some significant revision. Here’s a quick look at updates for 2016.

Look Back Period Is Extended

How far back can OSHA look to determine if there is a pattern of violations? The current California standard puts a time limit of three years on the look back period. But the new rules will give OSHA inspectors leeway to review a full five years of safety history to determine if employers are repeat offenders. If an employer has previously corrected a workplace safety problem after being cited and then allows the same violation to recur within a five year period, they will face steep penalties.

Location Becomes Less Important

In recognition of the fact that safety is as much an issue of company culture as it is work-site specific, employers will be held accountable for repeat violations at any work location or facility in the state. A violation that is identified and cited at one work site should be immediately abated at all work sites. Otherwise, OSHA inspectors could potentially go looking for similar problems at other locations to hold employers accountable for repeated violations within a short time frame.

Fines Are Going Up

When these changes take place, Cal-OSHA expects to substantially increase the number of repeat violation citations issued annually. In addition to making it easier to cite employers, the proposed increases in fines from a maximum of $70,000 to a maximum of $124,709 per repeat violation went into effect in early August.

Be Careful Not to Repeat Past Mistakes

This is a good time for wastewater agencies to review their history of any citations and ensure that none of the conditions have recurred. In the wastewater industry where construction and maintenance may occur at many different sites, there is a special need to be vigilant about developing and consistently implementing an appropriate safety program. For assistance in evaluating your safety practices, contact DKF Solutions today.

When the Next Big Earthquake Hits, Will You Be Ready?

Earthquakes are impossible to prevent and difficult to predict. But along the West Coast, everyone knows that these natural disasters are inevitable. According to the United States Geological Survey, there is a 75% chance that a 7.0 magnitude earthquake will hit Southern California sometime in the next 30 years. That’s not an earth shattering quake, just large enough to cause extensive destruction. MSN recently took a look at the potential disaster scenario, and the results aren’t pretty. Newer buildings are constructed to be earthquake resistant, and many older buildings are being retrofitted with seismic protection measures. But no workplace is completely safe when an earthquake strikes.

Potential Earthquake Hazards at Work

During and after an earthquake, a workplace can pose many hazards. Employees may be:

  • Crushed by structural components that give way
  • Struck by furnishings or décor that moves with the quake
  • Poisoned or suffocated by harmful chemicals released from ruptured containers or lines
  • Burned by fires resulting from gas leaks or electrical shorts

How to Prepare Employees for an Earthquake

An earthquake happens very suddenly and workers must react quickly to find shelter wherever they are. They should be trained to move immediately to a “safer place”. Outdoors, this would be a location away from trees, buildings, street lamps, and overhead lines. Indoors, this might be under a sturdy table or near an interior wall away from windows and heavy furniture such as shelving. Moving the shortest distance possible to get to a safe place reduces the chance of injury. Have employees practice the “drop, cover, hold on” move in a variety of safe places on a regular basis. During this exercise, they should:

  • Take cover under a sturdy desk or table
  • Hold on to one leg of the furniture
  • Cover their eyes by keeping their head down

When the initial quake is over, workers must be aware that danger is still present. They should move with caution, watching for hazards such as broken glass, fires, falling debris, damaged electrical lines, and chemical leaks. Aftershocks may further weaken structures and create new hazards. When instructed to evacuate, workers should follow the emergency evacuation plan being sure to use the stairs rather than the elevator.

How to Prepare Facilities for an Earthquake

In a wastewater treatment facility, there are many toxic, flammable, explosive, and asphyxiating materials present. If these substances are released, the resulting hazards could make an earthquake even more deadly. Ensuring chemicals and hazardous substances are properly stored is essential for earthquake preparedness. Safety measures might include using special containers, securing tanks and cylinders, and isolating ventilation systems in areas where chemicals are used, generated, or stored.

There are many additional ways to reduce the risk of injury during and after an earthquake. This includes:

  • Restraining and anchoring objects that might move
  • Stocking shelter-in-place locations with disaster supply kits
  • Keeping the emergency evacuation plan and associated training up to date.

For a fresh look at your emergency response plans and employee safety training programs, contact DKF Solutions for a consultation.

Top Cal-OSHA Violations and Appeals for 2015

What kinds of trouble have California employers gotten into recently? According to OSHA reports for 2015, the total number of citations increased since 2014. But the types of most commonly issued citations are basically the same, indicating that employers are still making many of the same mistakes they have in the past.

Last year, Cal-OSHA issued almost 2,000 general citations that fall under the IIPP heading (fortunately, less than 7% were serious violations). More than 1,700 Heat Illness Prevention violations were issued as well. This is not surprising since California has placed a great deal of focus on preventing heat related fatalities and illnesses in the past few years and inspectors are on the lookout for safety issues. Construction Illness and Injury Prevention was #3 on the list with over 1,200 violations.

Most Serious Violations Are Linked to Deadly Hazards

The distant fourth place runner up involved requirements to clean, repair, service, set up and adjust prime movers, machinery & equipment. What makes this category stand out is that more than one out of three violations was considered serious.

Which categories have an even higher percentage of serious violations? Not surprisingly, personal fall arrest systems, table saws, and belt/pulley drive guarding all topped 75%. Between gravity, sharp edges, and moving parts, these safety issues have the potential to lead to very serious injuries and fatalities.

Employers Are Appealing Many Citations

The list of most frequently appealed violations is a little different. Apparently, employers find it particularly grating when they are cited for certain types of safety order violations. Most of the categories of appealed citations have to do with appropriate guarding of moving parts on hazardous equipment. For example, safety violations regarding belt and pulley drives, abrasive wheels, and table saws all made the list. In general, failure to guard points of operation was high on the list of appealed safety violations.

From OSHA’s perspective, it is probably easy to find such safety problems on a typical work site. The agency’s inspectors see crush, laceration, and amputation injuries related to moving parts on a regular basis. In contrast, employers who have gotten lucky and had few or no injuries related to machinery may think their equipment and procedures are reasonably safe in their current condition.

Conflicting Opinions over Hazard Assessment and Administrative Responsibilities

Permit required confined spaces accounted for another frequently contested violation category. This is not surprising since confined space safety is one of the more complex OSHA regulations to follow properly. Without an examination of a space by a qualified professional, it’s easy to miss safety issues.

One surprising item on the contested citation list was the percentage of appeals about failure to report serious injuries and fatalities. Employers may not realize that there are strict requirements to disclose such incidents to OSHA in a timely fashion. However, only 1 serious violation was issued in this category for 2015, making it evident that this is usually an administrative oversight rather than a willful flouting of the rules.

To reduce the chances that your organization will make the list of cited companies in 2016, contact DKF Solutions to review your safety procedures and protocols today.

Ransomware: Paying the Price for Poor Cybersecurity?

Ransomware: Paying the Price for Poor Cyber-Security?

In our extensive series on cybersecurity in the water utility sector, we explored many of the ways that organizations can help harden their infrastructure and computing resources against intrusion. But there are still many threats that have the potential to disrupt critical services. One “prevalent and increasing threat”, according to the FBI, is the use of ransomware to target victims from small businesses up to large organizations.

A Clear and Present Motive

Cyberterrorists might seek to damage utilities for the sake of chaos and to create a human health crisis. A disgruntled ex-employee might want to do harm for simple revenge. But cybercriminals who specialize in using ransomware are much more pragmatic. Their goal is to extract as much money from a target as they can without running a high risk of getting caught or having their demands denied.

Why Are These Criminals Thriving?

There are a number of reasons it is simple for IT “kidnappers” to continue their practice of holding data and systems hostage. First, the technology that makes this possible is easy to come by. There are any number of readily available subscription software packages such as CryptoWall or TorrentLocker that can be deployed to lock authorized users out of their own PCs. Some ransomware is also designed to lock down servers as well, allowing criminals to target entire networks.

The risk of getting caught is fairly low for a savvy cybercriminal. Unfortunately, many of these criminal organizations are located in Eastern Europe and other places that can’t be touched by United States law enforcement. They often demand the ransom to be made in BitCoin so that even tracing where the money goes is difficult.

The Problem Is Growing

The FBI points out that one of the main reasons criminals keep using ransomware is because victims keep paying ransoms. In 2015, targets of such attacks reported $24 million in losses. That’s likely just the tip of the iceberg since many organizations don’t want to report or otherwise publicize security breaches. The attacks are likely to continue or escalate as cybercriminals re-invest their ill-gotten gains in developing better ransomware.

Big Industries Make Tempting Targets

Financial services and healthcare are two sectors that have been targeted recently for specialized ransomware attacks. These victims tend to have deep pockets and can’t afford to have any interruption in their business processes. But criminals are always looking for more victims who have a strong motivation to pay up to prevent disaster. What can organizations do to make themselves an unappetizing target?

First, it’s important to use up-to-date anti-malware software to detect and block suspicious activity. Keeping current data backups on isolated media is another important step in protecting an organization from being held hostage. Finally, the FBI cautions against ever paying a ransom so that criminals will learn that it isn’t worth the time and effort to continue holding computer resources for ransom. For a water utility, the steps taken to isolate critical infrastructure should definitely include a plan to keep things running even if there is an attempted ransomware attack.

Shared Employment Equals Shared Responsibility Under OSHA

Temporary employment agencies have been supplying labor to organizations across California for many decades. In recent years, PEOs (Professional Employer Organizations) have also become popular. While temp agencies focus on meeting short term labor needs, PEOs offer traditional businesses a way to outsource the management of their human capital. However, OSHA compliance requirements are similar for both—and these responsibilities reach farther than most people assume.

Primary Employers and Host Employers Must Ensure Worker Safety

The agency or organization supplying workers to a host employer is considered the primary employer and has a number of significant responsibilities. They must notify employees of their rights regarding workplace safety. This includes letting workers know that they can, without penalty, request to be reassigned if they are asked to perform work that they reasonably believe to be dangerous.

In addition, primary employers are responsible for periodic inspections of the host employer’s work site to evaluate conditions. They should also review the Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP) along with training and PPE to ensure these are adequate. Unfortunately, this mandate from Cal/OSHA assumes that PEOs and temp agencies are equipped to correctly evaluate a variety of worksites that may present an array of complex and changing hazards.

What Can Primary Employers Do?

It is clear that handling workforce administration from a remote office does not release a primary employer from responsibility for what happens on the work site. OSHA has demonstrated that the administration is more than willing to hold co-employers liable for penalties in the event of workplace injury. Cal/OSHA recommends that primary employers work closely with host employers to identify risks, put controls in place, and monitor safety on an ongoing basis. If an accident does occur, both co-employers are responsible for reporting to OSHA, investigating the accident, and ensuring measures are put in place to prevent a similar incident in the future. See the attached educational materials for additional recommendations.

Having More Eyes on Safety Can Be a Good Thing

Don’t let the old saying, “When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible” be true when it comes to co-employment. Instead, let shared responsibility exponentially increase safety for every employee. For PEOs and temp agencies that are concerned with worker well-being, it’s wise to partner with the host employer to bring in a third party to review the IIPP, training program, and PPE. Being proactive in creating a safer workplace demonstrates a good faith effort to comply with OSHA’s requirements and can significantly improve safety of workers on site.


The Daily Grind Turns Tragic without LOTO

Just a few months ago, a California worker suffered a serious injury at a meat processing plant in San Luis Obispo. The employee (a temp worker provided to Vitco Meats by Volt Workforce Solutions) was pulled into a meat grinder while trying to clear a jam in the equipment. When he reached inside to remove beef stuck in the hopper, the machine’s paddles began to rotate, pulling his hand and arm into the grinder. The worker suffered a crushed hand and broken arm. If the machinery had continued to rotate, the outcome would likely have been fatal within seconds.

How Did This Accident Happen?

The equipment was not powered down prior to the attempted cleaning. According to the Cal/OSHA investigation, Vitco Meats did not have protocols in place to ensure that workers disengaged and locked out the machinery before servicing. Employees were apparently untrained in this important safety procedure, and the equipment itself was not equipped with an appropriate interlock device for LOTO.

Consequences Hit Both Co-Employers

The meat processing plant and the employment agency were both found to be at fault by Cal/OSHA for this incident. Vitco Meats was issued with nine citations and penalties totaling almost $64,000. Volt Workforce Solutions has also been cited for serious, regulatory, and general citations for a total of $10,600 in fines. In the eyes of OSHA, the temp staffing agency failed to ensure that their client (Vitco) had an appropriate illness and injury program and safety training in place.

Injury Prevention Requires Attention to All the Details

Lockout procedures are designed to ensure that equipment is completely powered down, moving parts are blocked, stored energy is released, and the equipment can’t be turned back on until it is safe to do so. According to a statement issued by California’s Department of Industrial Relations regarding the meat grinder accident, “Failure to develop and follow lockout / tagout procedures before working on machinery is one of the major causes of serious injury and death in California.”

When cleaning or servicing a piece of equipment has the potential to expose a worker to moving parts or any form of hazardous energy, LOTO should be part of the standard routine. Contact DKF Solutions at to review your LOTO procedures and ensure that all your workers (including temporary staff) are following appropriate safety procedures.

DKF Solutions Group has also developed a mobile app to make creating equipment-specific LOTO procedures easy and affordable. Take a look for at the video below for an overview of the SMART Procedures app. Go to to sign up for a free trial.

Cybersecurity: Water Utility Security Part 9

In this final post on cybersecurity in the water utilities industry, we’ll look at remaining areas of interest that center around information and communication. It’s evident by this point that lack of knowledge is one of the greatest threats to infrastructure security. The more awareness an organization has, the simpler it is to take the necessary steps to create an environment that is resistant to cyber threats.


Who needs to be educated about security practices, policies, and procedures? Internal employees are at the core of any training program. But clients and service providers shouldn’t be overlooked. Any third party that is involved with PCS systems or other vital technology should be aware of potential risks. SLAs should include relevant certifications. As a whole, the water utility should participate in water sector programs that are designed to identify and implement best practices.

Here are a few of the other actions that the AWWA recommends in terms of education:

  • Regular testing of security procedures to evaluate security awareness and incident response
  • Cross-training for IT and PCS staff so knowledge is shared and potential gaps in security can be more readily found
  • Training for all staff to identify common risks and threats such as social engineering
  • Communications training (network & radio) for PCS technicians to ensure proper, secure communication and crisis response capability

Personnel Security

From hiring through termination—and even after—employees and contractors can hold the keys to cybersecurity for an organization. Ensuring that each worker has only the access level required to accomplish their assigned duties is an important aspect of personnel security. Network and facility access should be set up for immediate, automatic revocation upon termination so that no unauthorized individuals are able to infiltrate the system after leaving the organization.

Vetting prospective workers prior to hiring may help spot red flags and at-risk candidates. A formal (standardized) background check process should be implemented for each level of responsibility within the agency. All new hires should also be required to sign appropriately worded confidentiality and cybersecurity policies. Such policies should be reviewed and signed again annually by all workers.

That’s it for our Water Utility Cybersecurity series. We hope you have found this overview helpful. For more information on keeping your facilities and workers safe, contact DKF Solutions for a consultation.