71527448 © Monkey Business Images | Dreamstime

SLC 2024 Preview: Learning Better Ways to Train Employees

May 8, 2024
Learning doesn’t come naturally. Neither does teaching. But if you want to train your employees to be safe, you must first learn how to train.

As the saying goes, something is better than nothing. That's true—except when that something is amiss. Then, it can feel like one step forward and two steps backward.

Natalie Fox knows this all too well. Fox is a principal scientist at Roux and a health and safety professional with more than 20 years of experience developing and implementing compliance programs, conducting risk assessments, performing compliance audits, and developing and implementing management systems.

She says that businesses must provide health and safety training as part of their obligation to create a safe workplace. However, businesses need to determine what type of training to provide, who should provide it, how often they should provide it, and many other considerations beyond checking a box. And sometimes, poor training can create a liability for companies with respect to OSHA or third-party litigation.

Fox will speak with John Ho, partner at the law firm Cozen O’Connor, about safety training best practices and mistakes to avoid at the 2024 Safety Leadership Conference that’s taking place Aug. 26-28 in the greater Denver area. More information, including registration, can be found here. Below is a conversation with Fox and a preview of what to expect from her presentation with Ho.

EHS Today: Your presentation is titled “The Double-Edged Sword of Employee Safety and Health Training.” Can you explain what those simultaneous (and potentially conflicting) sides are?

Fox: Everyone thinks training is a good thing, but there is a lot of bad safety training out there. Bad training can encourage employee complacency, or worse, enforce improper work practices. Employers can also provide training to check a box, rather than to ensure comprehension. This can result in potential health and safety hazards not being controlled because employees do not comprehend the hazards in their workplace.

However, training, when done right, can help ensure employees know the hazards in their workplace—and how to protect themselves from these hazards. Good training also helps employees engage in the safety process and can help foster an open, and collaborative, workplace.

I've always assumed that some training is good and more training is better. Why (or when) isn't that the case?

Ineffective training, or worse, training that is providing employees with incorrect information, could end up with negative effects. Ineffective training can cause employees to tune out because they don’t understand the purpose of the training and find it a waste of their time. The worst training is training that teaches the wrong work practices or may make employees think they are protected when they are actually putting themselves at risk.

People are smart. If the training is worthwhile and engaging, they will learn from it and be involved in the process. And, when the employees are engaged, they provide information. They can even educate the employer about hazards in the workplace that the employer may not have known about; that’s because the employees will talk about how they are actually doing tasks during the training.

What other mistakes, assumptions or potential pitfalls do you see companies make when it comes to training?

Companies use basic, off-the-shelf training that isn’t specific to their workforce or facility(ies), but allows them to fulfill their compliance obligations on paper. This training doesn’t apply to the employee’s day-to-day work and doesn’t give the employees the knowledge they need to recognize and minimize, or eliminate, their site-specific hazards.

What's one thing you always recommend clients do with respect to training?

I recommend doing a combination of off-the-shelf training and site-specific training. For companies that have a learning management system or some other computer-based training system, I tell them to also include in-person training so employees can provide feedback and ask questions.

After the training, companies need to go out in the field and see if the training is effective. I like the systems approach: see if the training is effective and get feedback from employees as they are performing tasks, then update the training if necessary.

What's one thing you don't recommend clients do with respect to training?

They should not rely only on basic, computer-based training. As a caveat, I totally understand why employers do it. It is cost effective. Typically, it is a learning management system that tracks training completion, which makes documenting the training very convenient from a compliance perspective. That is why I usually suggest doing a mix of computer-based, classroom and on-the-job training.

What are some ways training can be a liability? Do you have any examples you can share?

Yes, if the training is incorrect or not site-specific, that is a huge liability; it puts the employees at risk of doing something wrong that could result in an incident. I recently had a site where employees were provided with basic fall protection training and then provided on-the-job training by their supervisor.

Everyone was using different fall protection equipment and different methods to access equipment. Each supervisor had a different method that they trained on because they had not been provided with documented, classroom training on how the process should be done. The result was that no one used their personal fall protection equipment correctly.

Also, if the training is not provided in a language the trainees can understand, the employees have not received the training. I have encountered many facilities that use a translator who is not technically competent, so they don’t use the right terms and can’t answer questions—or worse, provide the wrong answer.

What are some training best practices? Do you have any examples you can share?

Companies should use a trainer who is familiar with the site and the processes. Even if you are using a third party, they should understand the facility and the hazards associated with the employee tasks and develop the training around that. Also, during classroom and on-the-job training, the trainer needs to engage the audience/their trainee using open-ended questions to encourage participation. At almost every classroom training I provide, I learn about work practices that have a high potential for an incident that the facility was unaware of.

Additionally, the effectiveness of the training needs to be assessed. You can’t train a new employee for one week and expect them to remember everything. Supervisors, and fellow employees, should continue to check-in with employees to ensure they understood the training and are applying the proper work practices every day.

What's one free or low-cost thing a safety professional can do to improve their safety training?

Talk to the employees, get their feedback on the training: what they liked about it and what they didn’t. People aren’t typically shy, so if you ask their opinion, they will give it. This allows you to make future training sessions more effective and get the employees engaged in the process.

What's one thing you hope attendees take away from your session at the Safety Leadership Conference?

That, although it may cost more money and take more time on the front end, effective training will pay you back threefold on your time and effort. Employees who receive effective training not only understand different hazards at their facility and how to control them, but hopefully will feel empowered to share that knowledge with their co-workers.

Sponsored Recommendations

ISO 45001: Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS)

March 28, 2024
ISO 45001 certification – reduce your organizational risk and promote occupational health and safety (OHS) by working with SGS to achieve certification or migrate to the new standard...

Want to Verify your GHG Emissions Inventory?

March 28, 2024
With the increased focus on climate change, measuring your organization’s carbon footprint is an important first action step. Our Green House Gas (GHG) verification services provide...

Download Free ESG White Paper

March 28, 2024
The Rise and Challenges of ESG – Your Journey to Enhanced Sustainability, Brand and Investor Potential

Work Safety Tips: 5 Tactics to Build Employee Engagement for Workplace Safety

March 13, 2024
Employee safety engagement strategies have become increasingly key to fostering a safer workplace environment. But, how exactly do you encourage employee buy-in when it comes ...

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of EHS Today, create an account today!