The good, the bad and the ugly of online training courses

By |  August 27, 2018
 Photo courtesy of NIOSH

There are beneficial Internet-based safety training programs out there, but aggregate producers should properly vet websites before making financial commitments to them. Photo courtesy of NIOSH

The threat of being a phishing scam victim is a part of our everyday lives.

From telemarketers looking to make a quick buck to fraudulent websites spoofing the helpless into relinquishing personal information, we’re surrounded by people who prey on others.

Such ploys aren’t limited to our personal lives. Scam artists promising Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA) certification have victimized a number of mining companies in recent months. Buzz Stanley, a former MSHA inspector who now serves as executive director of the Oklahoma Miner Training Institute, has heard several firsthand accounts from victims.

“One lady sent five or six of her employees off and found a deal online for ‘MSHA training,’” Stanley says. “She paid them $1,800 to do this online training.”

In this unfortunate instance, the “training” involved watching videos online. The woman’s employees completed this process, but their company never received MSHA training certificates after the fact.

The woman reached back out to the training provider, which told her to contact MSHA directly to obtain certificates. So she reached out to MSHA, which, of course, could not issue her employees certificates. The agency, after all, was not the one administering the training.

It was some hack in a basement or in another country for all she knows. According to Stanley, the woman immediately called the false service provider back to demand a refund. But by that time the scam artist had stopped answering her calls.

“This is going on and on and on,” Stanley says.

Trusted training

The Oklahoma Miner Training Institute, like a number of mine safety and health organizations across the United States, offers free training courses every quarter. These courses are held at the institute’s home within Eastern Oklahoma State College in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

The course schedule doesn’t always work out in a trainee’s favor, though, and some mining companies don’t want to pay to send their employees off-site to be trained. So representatives from the institute will appear where needed for a fee.

“We try to work with the operators to help them out so they can get quality training,” Stanley says.

Stanley, who also spent 38 years as a coal miner, travels the state of Oklahoma delivering MSHA Part 46 and Part 48 training when needed. So hearing of mining companies who leap at the “opportunity” to complete MSHA training online by watching a handful of videos is news that floors him.

In a second reported spoofing incident, one miner told Stanley how his company completed its annual training online by watching turkey hunting videos.

“He said they sat there for eight hours and watched videos about turkey hunting,” Stanley says. “My mouth fell open. Did you ever question what turkey hunting has to do with mining?”

Don’t dismiss all products

While aggregate producers should be wary of online safety training opportunities, there are legitimate programs on the web that can serve to the benefit of both miners and mining companies.

The Mine Safety Institute’s New Miner Training product, found online at www.minesafetyinstitute.org, is one such example. The institute, which evolved through a partnership between the Colorado Stone, Sand & Gravel Association and the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining & Safety, recently transitioned the New Miner Training product to the Internet after previously providing this content on DVDs and USBs.

“We did this to keep up with changes in technology,” says Tom Woerdeman, safety director at Transit Mix Concrete Co., who assisted in the development of the product.

The New Miner Training product is intended to be utilized for at least the first four hours of the 24 hours of training MSHA requires. Still, MSHA requires training that is specific to each mine site that this particular program cannot address. In addition to the New Miner Training product, operators must train employees on all required topics required by 30 C.F.R. §46.5(b) and 30 C.F.R. §46.5(c).

“On ours, we have a disclaimer that this does not complete your obligation for MSHA requirements,” Woerdeman says. “It’s not intended to be a catch-all certified [program, meaning] you’re good to go out on a mine site. It is, however, designed to be a very thorough one that a mine safety director can use.”

Unlike some of the fraudulent websites out there, the Mine Safety Institute projects names and faces on its homepage that give it the validity some other sites lack.

“Like anything on the Internet, you need to know what this program is and if it’s going to fit your needs,” Woerdeman says. “A big thing to me is to pick up the phone.”

It’s really up to operators and contractors to do their due diligence to make sure online safety training programs can adequately meet their needs, Woerdeman adds.

“There’s a lot of false stuff on the Internet,” he says. “We need to vet and make sure it’s real.”

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