Online Training for UST Operators–Does It Work?

January 3, 2013

By Ben Thomas,

Reprinted from Tank Talk, December 2012
In May of 2009, I delivered what I believe was
the nation’s first live, online state-approved
Class A/B UST operator webinar. From the
comfort of my Washington-based office, I was
able to guide thirty-five or so slightly
bewildered Colorado operators through
everything from tank registration to spill bucket

I say “bewildered” because most operators had
never sat though a webinar, much less one that
contained over six hours of screen time. These
students, a tad skeptical at first, quickly found
that online learning wasn’t so bad after a few
minutes in class. They could watch, listen, ask
questions and ultimately (hopefully) learn
something. The most common comment we
received back then was, “Boy, I thought this was
going to be terrible!”

Roll the clock ahead three and a half years to
the present day. It’s past the training deadline
for most states and now, through our webinars,
thousands of Class A/B operators have been
trained without entering the traditional brick-and-
mortar classroom.

STI implemented its own online learning system
just a year before I did. Recertifications for
SP001 and cathodic protection inspectors,
modules for steel pipe and field erected tanks,
and several archived webinars are all available

Does it work?
But the big question remains: does using the
Internet to deliver training improve UST
compliance? Are spill buckets cleaner? Are steel
tanks tested properly every three years? Are
there fewer violations? Leaks? Alarms? If you
can’t see the instructor, does learning really
occur? Once they leave the virtual classroom,
are the students more virtuous tank operators?
Most of the academic research I’ve done about
live versus web training focuses on whether one
is better than the other based on testing scores
of students, not on performance or changed
behavior of skilled workers.

So, the bottom line is that it’s too early to tell if
web-based training– or any type for that
matter– has advanced the cause of improving
UST operational compliance. We do believe,
though, that training that engages the student
tends to have a longer lasting impact.

And I have anecdotal evidence that learning
does alter behavior. As I was preparing this
article, I received the following email from an
operator who’d participated in our training:

Thanks for the training. We did a
onceover of our UST system with the
knowledge given and decided
immediately that we have several areas
that need improvement. Thanks again.

This kind of feedback is music to the ears for
any good trainer: we didn’t just certify an
operator, we altered behavior. And altering
behavior, especially without the threat of fines
and penalties, isn’t easy. In fact, it’s much
harder to creatively engage the student, but
doing so effectively can and will advance the
goal of operational compliance.

Engagement and behavior change
So whether you are a trainer, owner, operator,
inspector, manufacturer or sales rep, know that
training isn’t just about complying with a new
rule or passing a competency test. Training is
helping people modify their behavior, which in
turn helps them run their business better by
reducing risks of which they were probably

Add engagement, behavior change, risk
awareness and a smart operator, and you start
generating ideas to modify equipment and
operations. Those ideas can ultimately reduce
the likelihood of a leaking tank, a rusting pipe or
a weak fitting.

I once heard that, “Bad training costs and good
training pays.” As delivery methods for operator
training expand, we’ll see if that’s the case in
our UST industry.


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