Updated: Aug 20, 2022
EHS Issues Are Often Production Issues
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. EHS issues often are production issues. The reason for this is due to how integral being safe is to successful production operations. If you think about it, you can probably find some examples of this being true. Let me help you with a few:
A forklift operator accidentally knocks over product crates due to going too fast in performing the job.
An employee trips and falls over boxes stored in a walkway unexpectedly.
An employee gets trapped inside a confined space without going through the permit and lockout tagout process.
Employees routinely hurt their backs and arms while performing a repetitive, laborious task integral to the operation.
All of those examples are bad for the people and bad for the business. Why? Well, the employees were being productive prior to the incident event. Then, that productivity screeches to a halt. This may be momentary or it may be a major thing. But productivity stops from that employee as well as those needed to respond to the emergency. You may ask why these things happen. That's a good question. While not always the case, training is sometimes the culprit. Or perhaps a lack of effective training.
If you find that an employee didn't receive the health and safety trainings needed to do the job correctly, wouldn't you just give them said training? Well yes and no. See, it's possible that the EHS issues caused by a lack of sufficient health and safety trainings are not really the true issue. It's actually possible for health and safety trainings to be both adequate and inadequate. It depends on how you look at it.
Health and Safety Trainings Often Don't Address Production Needs
Health and safety trainings tend to be designed to meet safety and related needs. They are the proper way to operate a machine, use a tool, or the PPE needed to minimize the likelihood of injury or property damage. And these are very good things. In this, your safety related trainings may be doing a good job. But someone who was cleared by OSHA compliant powered industrial truck certification training may only truly have the skill to move a few things here and there. And they may only be able to do that very slowly. But, that level of skill is enough for OSHA or safety because they can operate compliantly and safely.
I figure that production needs more than that to consider someone truly fit for the job. Do you know what's usually a staple in production? Speed. The faster you can produce the product, the more you have to sell. So, there usually is a drive to produce more product in less time at less cost. So, in the example I used for a mobile equipment operator, well the OSHA requirements don't address the skill needed to keep up with the demands of production. And some in production don't realize that. They think that if someone is trained and certified by the safety department, then that person is fit for whatever jobs production has for them.
That thinking is very dangerous and potentially very costly. It actually set up someone to try to work at a pace that they just may not be ready for. And since many businesses trying to make it are likely to try to get as much done in as short a time as possible, well your operator may not be up to the task. And that may mean broken equipment or injured employees. You've just lost significant gains in production with one serious enough incident.
Production Needs to Determine Its Training Needs
There are a great many jobs that need a great many types of skills to be successful. With that in mind, production needs to objectively quantify what needs to be done in a given job. This is outside of health and safety type requirements. What does an employee have to know and be able to do to get the job done? What is the minimum speed that the work should be done at to be efficient and effective? How fast can anyone do the work once it is constrained by health and safety? All of these questions need to be asked and answered to figure out what is possible and what is reasonable in job performance expectations.
In looking at production needs, it also makes sense to see where innovation and equipment can change that equation. The less skilled labor needed can mean the less time it takes to get competent, effective employees. Your company may come to the realization that with the people and resources it currently has in place, it can only produce and operate so fast before safety starts to suffer and costs begin to increase.
Once you figure out what it takes to do the job from a holistic standpoint, you can start making general procedures for the work. From these procedures, production needs and competencies training can be developed. This training should be merged with the applicable requirements of health and safety trainings to get complete job training content. You will need to perform observations to make sure the training is working, but now employees should have a real chance to be both safe and effective in their jobs. That means a healthy, steady state of production can be achieved and maintained. That sounds like a win to me!
Production Needs to Develop and Evaluate Competency
When developing your training, don't think that making or buying an e-learning or classroom course is enough. Sure, for certain things this might be fine. But many production related jobs have a strong knowledge component and a strong practical/physical component. The classroom (or similar) is good for imparting the needed knowledge on an employee. But one does not learn how to use a chainsaw or operate heavy mobile equipment solely by taking a classroom based course. There must be a practical applicable component.
So, when figuring out what you need for training, make sure to incorporate both a knowledge portion and a structured on-the-job style training portion. You will know that someone is ready to do the job when you are able to perform an evaluation on them... without helping them on it! If ever there is an appropriate place to give learners the answers, it's in the classroom or the field. It's fine to make mistakes in training so long as the environment has been made safe. But if you want to know if you can trust the learner to do the job correctly and without direct supervision, you need to see them do it on their own. I know it can be hard, but if you have to hold their hand during the evaluation, the employee isn't ready to be cut loose on their own. Combine production, health, and safety training together to develop valuable competency in your employees.