Why Training Is One of the Essential Elements of EHS
"It's common sense." You may have heard this phrase used to explain why employee training isn't necessary. Unfortunately, you don't have to be around the industry for long to understand this viewpoint's flaws. People are diverse; they have eclectic backgrounds with distinct experiences, cultures, and abilities. When you assume something is common sense, you disregard this fact of life, often to the detriment of employees and your organization.
As technology, tools, and client demands change, so do the threats to workplace safety. While companies within the same industries experience many of the same hazards and use the same tools, the risks vary between locations, equipment brands and models, and their applications. If you strive for continuous improvement in safety and health, you can no longer assume that someone knows; you must teach your employees and confirm their understanding.
Knowledge is Power
Safety training gives workers the tools necessary to recognize, avoid, and fix hazards they may encounter in their daily work lives. Knowledge is power; the more your workers understand the risks and how to protect themselves, the better off they will be.
For example, if employees do not understand the dangers of working at heights, they may not give this deadly hazard the respect it deserves. As a result, they may unknowingly expose themselves to a potentially life-altering workplace accident.
However, awareness is only half the battle; employees must also understand best practices and the proper use of safety equipment. As with most safety concepts and equipment, incomplete knowledge of fall protection can leave users with a false sense of security. They put on fall protection and think they are protected, but because they are not using it as intended, they can still be seriously injured or killed in a fall.
For example, if workers don't understand how to calculate fall distance, they may choose fall protection components that are too long for the application. As a result, they may still strike the ground if involved in a fall.
OSHA has established training requirements for specific hazards, including:
- Fall protection
- Bloodborne pathogens
- Confined space
- Hazard communication
There are many routes to fulfilling these requirements, but simply asking an employee to read a policy or procedure and sign isn't one of them. That's because reading a document will not give users the knowledge they need to protect themselves. So take training seriously, and apply some of the following safety training best practices to get the most out of the process.
Training Best Practices
The goal of any safety training should be to give workers the knowledge they need to protect themselves. To do that, they must retain the knowledge and apply it when needed. Unfortunately, many organizations are not following best practices to increase training retention and are wasting a valuable opportunity as a result.
- Engagement: Getting students involved and interested is the most crucial step to ensuring they retain the knowledge. Training must be engaging, and the so-called death by PowerPoint is something we have all experienced in our professional lives. Adding content diversity, storytelling, and interactivity makes training more memorable and fun and is proven to enhance knowledge retention.
- Practicality: Theories and concepts don't matter if your students go out into the field and don't know how to apply them. Ensure that knowledge is transferred effectively by testing students' skills and understanding. This review process is also a good way to identify gaps in training methods or material and fix them.
- Relevance: Training must be relevant to the student. Students who feel class content is irrelevant to their job or goals are more likely to lose interest. Find ways to connect training to students' needs and wants. If there is no connection, maybe that student shouldn't be in the class.
- Current: Industries and their hazards are continuously evolving, and your training material must change with it. Many organizations have used the same training videos for decades. Unfortunately, people lose interest when they see grainy footage from a 30-year-old safety video come on the screen. That's because students want to learn relevant information but don't believe they can get it from such an old video.
While some videos pass down timeless wisdom, they are likely to miss current issues. For example, distractions have become a significant safety issue now that mobile devices are a part of our daily lives. A video from 30 years ago would not include this critical piece of training. Also, training that is not updated will likely fall out of line with the ever-evolving regulatory landscape.
Documentation and Tracking
Proper documentation is a vital aspect of any safety and health program. But, how can you effectively prove that something happened without a paper trail? What will you do if an OSHA inspector, inspector, insurance auditor, General Contractor, or Construction Manager on multi-employer worksites ask to see your records to confirm that your organization is training employees on the hazards present in the workplace? They're not going to take your word for it; they want proof. Using signed digital or paper-training rosters creates the documentation you need to prove you are fulfilling your training requirements.
Employee knowledge fades over time, especially for things they don't use often. In response, OSHA has retraining guidelines for certain high-risk areas, like forklift operations. However, always remember that OSHA is the minimum; you must abide by their regulations, but it is often a good idea to go above and beyond. For instance, if your organization works at heights often, doing fall protection training more frequently is a best practice.
To Learn More
Training is essential to safety, but it's only part of the many pieces that make a strong workplace health and safety program. Check out our "Five Essential Elements of Workplace Health and Safety" white paper to learn more.