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5 Tips for Effective Health & Safety Training In The Workplace

Health and Safety Training: Why You Need it

Health and Safety Training is essential for all employees who may come into contact with hazardous materials or machinery. This includes those working in factories, mines, construction sites, farms, hospitals, schools, restaurants, hotels, and many other places where people interact with potentially harmful substances or machines.

It's preferred and recommended that a company uses elimination, substitution, and engineering controls to reduce the hazards in the workplace. The full hierarchy of controls, with additional details, can be found via the NIOSH. But sometimes that isn't feasible. So, administrative controls are needed. This will include things like procedures, job rotations, and health and safety training. Administrative controls rely heavily on getting employees to "stick to the script" so to speak. You need effective training for that. Without effective training, injuries and property damage can occur.

I don't like the pain and reduced utility that comes with injury. The company doesn't like the reduction in productive time and products being produced, as well as not liking the related cost for dealing with the injury. This is why it's crucial that your health and safety training is effective. So, let's get into the tips.

Tip #1: Divide your Health and Safety Training by the Audience

Have you ever taken training where a lot of it had little to do with your actual job? I have. That can happen with what I call "off the shelf" training courses. And I can understand why. Courses like that aren't custom and have to attempt to train to everything something like an OSHA standard covers. But if you take the time to think about it, there are only about three main audience types that need the training in most cases. They are awareness, performance, and management audiences.

The Awareness Audience

People that fit into the awareness audience will only need to be aware of the potentially dangerous hazard in the workplace, know what it's dangerous, and know to stay the heck away from it. You would do this for all hazards and environmental aspects that employees in this audience are likely to face. You'd also include general information on reporting. But don't give training for things you aren't going to expect of them, such as writing an actual report or leading an investigation.

The Performance Audience

Then there's the performance audience. This level of health and safety training is for those with responsibility to actually perform the actual related job tasks. The overall principle of this audience is for them to stick to the script (program, policy, procedure, etc.). If they find that there is an issue with the script, they seek out management to get it corrected before continuing on with the work.

The Management Audience

Last, but certainly not least, is the management audience. I don't simply mean people who have manager or supervisor in their title. I am talking about those who have responsibility managing something to a significant degree. This level of training gets into the nitty gritty of how to actually set up the workplace to do the things you'll train on at the performance level.

Tip #2: Figure Out the Overall Purpose of the Training

We've just talked about the various audiences for training. The purpose of the training may seem obvious. But actually, this tip is talking more about how you are going to divide up your training. At this stage, what ever the source material is for the training, whether an OSHA or EPA standard, an internal policy, program, or procedure, or some other source, you need to split it up for it's appropriate audience.

For instance, if you are talking about controlling hazardous energy (yes, I like lockout/tagout), there will be things anyone who might work near applicable areas needs to know. People who use the equipment, or use other equipment that feeds other equipment, need to know when one or both are being worked on. You don't want large mobile equipment operators to keep feeding a hopper that has maintenance workers working on it, for example.

The maintenance workers that I just mentioned had better be using the correct procedures (the script) and following it before going into the hopper. I recommend not encouraging memorization of procedures. Critical steps can get missed and have devastating consequences. Lastly, what procedures? This is where management comes in. There won't be any procedures unless people with sufficient management level training are able to make them among other things.

If for no other reason, you should split your training up by relevance to make it more effective. How often have you checked out of training because you thought so much of it didn't apply to you? Well, you need your training to be effective and retained. Irrelevant training can kill that. Additionally, if you only give training to who needs it, it frees up time to do other productive job tasks.

Tip #3: Use Relevant Concepts, Examples, and/or Scenarios

Relevance is a key factor in helping to ensure health and safety training is retained by the learners. Additionally, people tend to retain information better when there is a multimedia approach, which involves visual, audio, and hands on content and tools. So, make sure to use videos, speech, text, and hands on materials to help maximize the learning experience so that your employees can do the job correctly each and every time.

It's a very good thing that today we have technology that readily lets us capture how tasks can be accomplished. I'd say that YouTube is a great example of this. If you want your training to work, especially any e-learning courses, show the task being correctly performed. This won't take the place of going in the field and having learners attempt the task, starting with the easier points. But showing an example gives them needed context of how the task is done and what constraints it may have. You can take video with your phone, and that video can be of high quality. So, include audio/visual examples in training. Or, have a heavy emphasis on structured on-the-job training to develop and solidify needed skills for the tasks at hand.

In the concept portion of training, you get into why you want to do a task in a specific way. Sure, you can show someone how to use a chainsaw. But why do you want them to wear specific personal protective equipment or handle the saw in a specific way? Well, we are talking about health and safety training. Handling a chainsaw incorrectly and without protection can get you maimed or worse. Or, you could inflict that harm on someone else by complete accident.

In lockout/tagout, for example, you want to do more than just turn off the power. You don't want a curious person, or some other circumstance, to be able to re-energize the power while you're in their working. When learners have an idea of why they are doing a task a certain way, it can increase the likelihood that they will do the work per the training.

Tip #4: Take Your Training to the Field

I have touched on this, but really this is critical in ensuring effective training. In the workplace, you usually have specific tasks that you need to accomplish. You won't know that you are doing things correctly until you go out and try it. The classroom, whether via an online course or in person, is generally limited to a lecture like structure. Sure, there can be more interactive learning exercises and assessments. But it's not the same as going out in the field and trying to operate a large mobile equipment vehicle.

I see it as being a lot like trying to get good a pool/billiards being a mathematician or physicist. Sure, you may know a lot about the math and science behind where and how you need to hit a ball to maximize your chances of getting it into a pocket. But it's a whole other thing getting the body to perform the way your mind and senses tell you it needs to. It takes practice to get the muscle memory of hitting a cue correctly and having it strike in the manner you want it to. Bowling is another similar example to this. There just doesn't seem to be a substitute for actually doing the thing when there is a physical thing to do.

So, plan your training program to include structured on-the-job training to improve the overall effectiveness of training. For this, you need someone who is already trained and knowledgeable about performing the task. They also need to be in a position that they can actually monitor the learner's performance. If they are too busy doing their own job, they probably will miss red flag behaviors when doing the task. To make that worse, is if the red flag behaviors are not corrected and seem effective, it can be hard to adjust course later. Set this phase of training up for success.

Tip #5: Evaluate Learner Performance

In many cases, you need employees to be able to perform their job tasks without direct supervision. in some cases, there may not be any supervision. Well, how do you know if your training was effective enough to allow for employees to work to this level? You have to evaluate them. This tip is unlike the other tips because this is more like a test. In classroom and field training, the person is still learning the knowledge and skills they need to do the task.

In these stages, there still may be significant assistance given to the learner to develop them. This is not so in an evaluation. If you want to know if they can do the trained task on their own, you need to see them do it start to finish without assistance. Sure, you can clarify questions asking what is being asked of them. But you cannot give answers. If you have to do that, then they aren't ready. I recognize that some people don't test well. But if they can't demonstrate correct performance of the work while supervised, why would you assume they will do it correctly unsupervised? There is a temptation to take shortcuts when unsupervised.

If you look at the training requirements in the OSHA 1910.178 Powered Industrial Truck standard, you see a similar set up for how training is conducted. It has classroom training, practical/field training, and an evaluation of skills. Successful completion of all three results in a certification for operating the vehicle. While you don't have to go so far as certification for all health and safety training, the point is still the same. If you don't evaluate your employees honestly and critically for minimally acceptable levels of performance, you can have lots of issues develop. Incorporate objective evaluations of your training to help ensure it's effectiveness.

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