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March 06, 2013
Check your training program against recommended best practices

Training is a vital part of your safety program. It's a required part of your Injury and Illness Prevention Program (IIPP), it may be required by specific standards that apply to your workplace, and it can provide a natural environment for communication between management and employees about safety and health issues.

But not all safety training will accomplish these ends. Badly planned, poorly executed training may do more harm than good if it fails to convey necessary information or leads to misunderstandings between management and workers.

How can you ensure that your training will be effective? Cal/OSHA's Consultation Service has created an eTool on effective workplace training that can help you evaluate your training program for weaknesses.

Practice tip

When you think of safety training, don't just think of your own employees. Contractors, temporary workers, and even visitors may need to go through a safety orientation.

What does effective training look like?

According to Cal/OSHA, effective training:

Relates directly to the work being done by employees. Why waste time teaching workers something they don't need to know, or that doesn't relate directly to their jobs? If you use a "canned" training program that provides general coverage of broad safety topics, you could be doing just that.

Workers may very well tune out such training, missing the bits that are relevant to them and making the entire program a wasted investment. If you choose a video- or computer-based training program, make sure that it can be customized and that you take the time to see that workers get the training they need—without a lot of training that they don't.

Provides practical and specific information about hazards and how to perform work safely. It might sound obvious, but many training programs don't do this.

Consider, for example, a general bloodborne pathogens training program that covers needlesticks and other sharps injuries. A program like this could miss specific situations your workers could encounter that they need to know how to handle.

It's one thing to tell workers that they should never recap a needle and that contaminated sharps should be placed immediately in a sharps disposal container, but what about workers who pass sharps from hand to hand, as in a surgical suite? Or who handle specialized equipment like bone saws? Those workers may need specific work practices that apply only to a subset of employees.

Make sure each worker gets the level of detail that he or she needs.

Communicates information in a language and by methods understandable to all employees. More than half of all workplaces have employees whose first language is not English. Because safety training frequently covers highly technical or specialized information, workers whose command of English is less than fluent can run into communication problems that did not affect them during the hiring process. You may need to tweak the content and the delivery of your training program for non-English-speaking workers.

Helps establish a relationship with employees to improve trust and communication. How one-sided is your training program? Do workers get the impression that you're just trying to dot all of your i's and cross all of your t's, or do you convey the message that safety is more to you than just regulatory compliance? Do they understand that their employer is investing in them, and that the safety program is a way of protecting something—its workforce—that is valuable to the company?

Is participatory and involves employees by drawing on their own real-life experiences. Workers need to understand how their training relates directly to them. Give them opportunities to participate in training, perhaps by operating equipment under the watchful eye of a trainer or acting out situations they might encounter.

Help them relate their own experiences to the topic: Have they ever suffered a chemical burn? Do they know someone who was injured at work? Getting them involved will help them buy into the program.

Allows group hazard identification and problem solving through demonstrations, questions, discussions, and observations and stories. Many workers have valuable experiences—invite their input. These workers can bring their stories of what did or did not work. If they feel welcome to speak, they will be more willing to ask questions and participate in discussions, which will help to cement information in their minds and encourage them to think of safety as a team effort rather than a set of externally imposed rules.

Provides opportunities to demonstrate newly learned safe work practices and the safe use of tools, equipment, and chemicals. It's important to let workers actually try out what they're learning—you may discover problems this way.

For example, the seat belt on the forklift might not fit a large worker, or the one-size-fits-all welding gloves won't fit the new woman on the welding team. The time to learn these lessons is in training, rather than when life and limb are at stake.

Provides concrete safety and health changes in how work is set up and performed. After the training, do more workers follow safe work procedures, treat safety as if it really matters, or wear their safety gear?

Do your communications between management and workers on safety actually improve? If your training program produces no observable results, it's time to rethink the program.

Is repeated as often as necessary. This might mean at predetermined intervals, if you're complying with a specific standard, but it might also mean whenever you observe a need for retraining—after an accident or near miss, when worker compliance with safe practices is slipping, or when a condition in your facility changes.

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