Can you use your 217 program for 243? Yes, BUT (and it is a big BUT)...
There has been a flurry of activity as short line railroads and railroad contractors prepare for the May 1st Part 243 implementation deadline. Amongst this activity, I have seen growing confusion within the industry regarding the difference between the on-the-job training (OJT) requirements in the regulation and the current industry practice of conducting efficiency (or operations) tests for Part 217. It is my hope that this post will help clarify the difference and assist in your 243 planning, especially because understanding OJT is critical to 243 compliance.
One of FRA’s primary objectives in 49 CFR Part 243 is to improve OJT.
Training, Qualification, and Oversight for Safety-Related Railroad Employees; Compliance Guide May 2019; page 63
How is OJT defined in Part 243?
On-the-job training (OJT) means job training that occurs in the workplace, i.e., the employee learns the job while doing the job.
OJT and other forms of hands-on training have been the central theme for Part 243 from the beginning. The regulation outlines requirements for OJT programs as well as records, and these will likely be a topic for a future post. However, right now, it is very important to understand that OJT is definitely NOT the same thing as an efficiency test. There should be no confusion. You cannot use your 217 program to meet the OJT or hands-on training requirements. Here's why:
OJT is a type of formal training that is completed BEFORE any person is qualified. It requires an instructor to teach/coach the trainee on how to perform specific tasks.
Efficiency testing under Part 217 is an observation, test, or inspection of a person AFTER they are qualified to confirm they are complying with federal safety requirements.
One of the biggest differences is that during training, not fully completing a task can be part of the learning process. And, to ensure safety, the FRA requires that OJT is conducted under the supervision of a qualified person for this reason. However, when conducting an efficiency test under 217.9, failures or non-compliance could result in punitive action because the employee has been qualified and expected to follow the proper safety procedures.
During the February 17, 2021 Part 243 webinar hosted by the ASLRRA, FRA was asked if a railroad's 217 program could be used for refresher training... the answer was simply no. If you cannot use your 217 program for refresher training, it is clear you also cannot do so for initial training.
Then why the confusion?
While I'm not 100% sure where all this new confusion came from, there is another requirement in Part 243 that is labeled as periodic oversight (§243.205). This requires employers (railroads and most contractors) to conduct tests and inspections to determine if safety-related railroad employees comply with Federal railroad safety laws, regulations, and orders particular to FRA-regulated personal and work group safety. And for this requirement... yes, a railroad can use its existing Part 217 program - but take note, this requirement has nothing to do with training.
Are you still feeling stuck on your 243 training programs or not sure how to get started? We can help! We have helped Class 1, short line, and regional railroads, and contractors prepare for 243. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org