Even though employers have a responsibility to provide a safe workplace and training is a key component of any effective health and safety management system, evidence suggests many companies are not doing everything they can to safeguard employees and mitigate risks in the workplace.
For example, the Hazard Communication (HazCom) Standard has ranked second on OSHA's list of top violations for the last three years, with employee information and training consistently one of the top cited sections.
Effective hazardous chemical training allows employees to not only understand the information provided on safety data sheets (SDS) and container labels, but also empowers them to apply that information in the workplace to protect against those hazards. Sadly, each year, countless employees are exposed to hazardous chemicals without adequate training, and as a result face unnecessary risks and suffer preventable consequences that can cost employers millions per year.
The National Safety Council 2014 Injury Facts found that an employee injury can cost an employer an average of $39,000 in productivity loss and medical expenses. Fatalities can cost employers an average of $1.42 million.
So why, given the importance of training in mitigating workplace hazards and reducing employer exposure to liability, is training such a neglected aspect of workplace safety protocols?
To answer this question – and ultimately find a solution – we first must examine the issues companies face when it comes to workplace training, and why it's developed such a negative stigma among both employers and employees.
The three main training complaints we consistently hear from employees have to do with time, stress and monotony.
In many facilities, just the words "safety training" are enough to trigger a negative workplace mood. These words often spark two follow-up questions – how long is this training going to take, and what am I required to learn to pass it?
Employees don't want to spend time on training when they feel they already know the subject matter, and they don't want to be evaluated on something in which they see little value. They often perceive training as nothing more than added stress to the existing pressures of a job. Feedback from disgruntled employees then places stress on safety managers, who are forced to implement unwanted training.
Employees have little appetite for training that is not engaging; another common complaint centers on having to sit through lengthy and uninteresting lectures. A quick scan of Twitter for the words "OSHA" and "boring" will bring up a colorful collection of employees' thoughts on OSHA training, much of which is unsuitable for republishing. This anecdotal evidence suggests that training could be more effective if employees were fully engaged in the process.
Demanding a Better Solution
Identifying the best method for delivering training to employees is the first step in eliminating concerns about time, stress and boredom. Employee motivation needs to play a big role in determining what type of training to administer. According to OSHA's Voluntary Training Guidelines, employees must be convinced of the importance and relevance of the training material in order to be motivated to pay attention and learn it. The type of training safety managers select should be rooted in the demographics and psychographics of the intended audience and in the specific skill sets and knowledge the trainer seeks to develop.
To overcome employee resistance to traditional training methods, many safety managers are finding success in on-demand training (ODT) solutions as one answer to safety education concerns. This blended learning approach extends training beyond just a single event, allowing employees to take courses module by module, giving them the flexibility to take lessons spread out over a few hours or days instead of all at once. This freedom creates less stress and pressure as employees no longer have to commit to a specific time to complete the course.
Employers also praise ODT for its cost-efficient scalability. It is useful for larger companies with employees spread not only across a range of different roles and expertise, but also in different locations where regulations can vary. With ODT, safety managers can better track training needs and results, while also being able to assign different courses to specific employees instead of implementing the process through a more blanketed approach.
Changing Training Dynamics
Here are three ways to invigorate your training programs to engage employees and deliver effective outcomes:
Create Connections – Employees respond better to training material when they understand the reasoning behind it. Putting into context the need and benefit of the lesson helps employees better comprehend the course information and encourages them to pay closer attention to what is being discussed.
Effective training goes beyond just saying the lesson is important and instead illustrates how trainees can apply what they learned to their day-to-day work. Personalizing the lesson to directly apply to the employees' specific roles or work tasks creates less dissonance than lessons that are overly broad.
Make it Active – A great way to keep employees focused is to engage trainees with interactive learning. As an example, look for courses that quiz employees throughout the training, not just at the very end. Not only does this method make it easier for employees to retain the information being taught, it also helps them understand why an answer is correct or incorrect because the material is still fresh in their minds.
Keep It Brief – Many experts believe training sessions should last an hour or less; any longer than that and you risk losing the attention of the trainee. Employees also can better fit these smaller, bite-sized lessons into their busy workdays, making them less likely to put off course completion. As workplaces become more mobile, expect to see a greater move towards shorter courses that employees can complete on-the-go.
Even with the implementation of an effective and engaging training solution, many employers still fall short of compliance due to issues around tracking, including: knowing who needs to be trained, on what and when; identifying learning gaps; registering course completions; and ensuring that recurring training requirements are met on time, according to regulations and company policies.
Employers frequently place too much emphasis on training content and not enough on the tracking of employee training needs and completions. In doing so, the employer overlooks the critical role training tracking plays in creating efficient workflows and mitigating liability to the company due to non-compliance.
For busy safety managers, trying to ensure that training meets regulatory and policy compliance, along with identifying non-conformance issues and hazards that need immediate corrective action, takes up valuable time that can in turn cause lapses in important training requirements. In many cases, training is enforced reactively after an incident has occurred, instead of using real-time tracking to anticipate training requirements and proactively mitigate risk.
Luckily, software solutions make it easy for safety managers to track employee training. A good system not only records training activity and completions, but also sends email reminders about upcoming training needs and alerts when deadlines are missed. These tracking tools are useful for safety managers who are coordinating training over multiple locations with varying requirements and jurisdictions.
The Evolving Workplace
As workplaces become increasingly complex, technologically advanced, spread out and mobile, it's more important than ever that your training programs evolve as well. And with increasing regulatory activity, such as OSHA's transitioning of the Hazard Communication Standard to GHS, safety managers should expect that OSHA will pay extra attention to employee training. Now is a good time to reevaluate the effectiveness of your current program.
Employers also should consider the financial benefits of investing in an effective safety training program. Studies have shown that investing just $1 in safety programs results in return of six times that amount. Additionally, a study by Gallup and University of Iowa researchers found that by actively engaging workers with employee safety initiatives, businesses can see an 18 percent increase in profits and a 49 percent decrease in safety incidents.
Effective training does more than just empower workers to be safe and reduce the risk of workplace safety failures or governmental fines and citations; the right tools and approach can transform a business, leading to greater productivity and contributions to the bottom line. At the very least, it can go a long way toward eliminating the negative feelings employees and managers associate with the training process.
Glenn Trout is president and CEO of MSDSonline/KMI, a leading provider of sustainable cloud-based compliance solutions that help businesses of all sizes cost-effectively manage a variety of global environmental, health, and safety (EH&S) regulatory requirements. For more information, visit www.msdsonline.com or call 1-888-362-2007.