To Every Topic, There is a Season
When you review your overall program, make sure your topics are seasonally accurate for the employees so they will retain the information.
A quick scan of recent newspaper headlines
reveals many employees who may not
have received adequate on-the-job safety
training: three employees electrocuted in
a confined space situation, several dead from an
crane collapse, toxic chemical exposures, an excavation
cave-in on unprotected employees (with proper
shields on site), along with BBP exposures and improper
use of PPE.
If you want to know whether your training program
is working, have one employee die or be seriously
injured from work-related causes—the audit of
your training program will be completed by skilled
OSHA compliance officers and the legal team for the
injured employee or his family. You’ll be the star of
the “blame and finger pointing show,” answering
questions you never imagined concerning the lack of
effectiveness of your program. A perfect program is
rare indeed when picked apart by professionals. Safety
will take center stage, and not in a positive way.
Where is training on your long list of safety priorities?
Front and center or pushed way to the back? Few
companies design a training program. It evolves over
time by adding a required training class here, a video
there, and then another and another.Over time, there
are many bits and pieces of training, but not a comprehensive
program.Managing and promoting a positive,
effective program takes effort, time, and planning,
which are difficult for an already stretched safety
staff and budget.We tend to push training to the back
of the stack due to lack of resources and manpower,
or safety becomes invisible when not in attendance at
It Starts with Your Audit
Audit your program. You will not like what you see,
but by auditing, you begin the “fix” for your training
program. First, you have to make sure your program
is meeting the marks set by you and upper management.
(When was the last time you set training
marks?) Training has become an “add on” to safety
over the years, brought on by recordkeeping requirements
and the focus on safety-targeted programs for
employees. But does your program really work?
In order to audit a training program, you have to
establish your program and your priorities. To do so
is time consuming and a balance of budget,needs,and
resources available.You also have to consider the hazards
to which your workers are exposed.
Your basics of setting up a training program revolve
around the questions of:
• Why do we train? Regulation? Requests? Task
analysis of hazards?
• On what topics do we train? Who selects them,
and why are they chosen?
• Whom do we train? New employees or tiered
levels of training on selected topics? Are we training
100 percent of all employees, and can we prove it?
• How do we train? Videos? DVDs? Handouts? Live
instructors? Intranet courses? Audio? One on one?
• How do we gather feedback? With surveys? Suggestion
boxes? Is there a safety person present at the training
to ask for feedback and assess the mood of the employees?
(Angry employees do not receive training well
when they think their time is being wasted, as we know.)
• How do we gauge the success or failure of a training
program? Attendance? Convenience? Feedback?
• How often do we repeat the process? Once? Every
six months? Never?
• How is programs’ attendance documented? Check:
Is it being documented?
• How often is upper management advised about
the status of your program? Quarterly? Yearly? Only
If you can willingly and accurately respond to each
of these items, you have a smoothly functioning training plan.
Make Contingency Plans
Have a backup plan ready for when things go wrong.
Once I was caught off guard without a backup plan. Seventeen
employees who had traveled to class were there on
time, having driven as much as three hours to attend an
8 a.m. chainsaw training class. The industry instructor
did not show up or call after having confirmed the class
the previous week. Tempers flared as they waited for a
no-show instructor.My only answer was blunt and honest:
“I fully admit I am not qualified to teach this class,
which is why we brought in an industry trainer. I’m not
going to further waste your time; I’ll let you know when
the next class will be,”I said.“Go back to your work sites.”
The only redeeming factor was discussing with the
group what kinds of training worked and what they
needed in the field.With a mixed group, from rookies
and temp workers to 30+-year seasoned employees, this
was no time for a basic video.While it was not my mistake,
the employees wanted an apology—and that morning,
they got several.While the training success took a hit,
in the long term, it showed I was trying to provide qualified,
needed training and not wasting time.
Beyond the Numbers
Training is more than a numbers game.Many companies
have a training program in name only and point to success
by attendance. Topics and presentations are outdated,
inaccurate, not meaningful for the work being done,
and not appropriate for the audience.As you review your
training program in detail, some considerations include:
Effectiveness.Consider your employees when bringing
out new training. Some presentations are hard to follow,
use language that requires an advanced knowledge
of the topic, or do not lend themselves to those for
whom English is a second language. Have you thought
about special accommodations for hearing- or visionimpaired
Timeliness. Are you teaching snowplow safety in
June? When you review your overall program,make sure
your topics are seasonally accurate for the employees so
they will retain the information. Plan your topics carefully,
such as heat stress for late spring, cold stress for outdoor
work in the fall, etc. It means more and will help
your program’s image, too. Planning out three months
ahead of the hazard helps.
Appeal. Do you ask for feedback from employees, or
are they simply prisoners of the training time? You may
be surprised at their opinions of your programs.You may
not like many of their comments, either.
Appropriateness. Consider how advanced the training
presentation is. What is appropriate for new employees
may be a waste of time for well-seasoned, longterm
workers. Tier your training to meet the needs of
new hires and intermediate and advanced skill levels.
Documentation. The old adage is true: If it is not
documented, it did not happen! Few of us can remember
all of the training presentations we have attended or
when we took them. Make sure each employee completes
registration and keep this, whether in high-tech
databases, on computerized sign-in sheets, or by use of
pen and paper.
Our Lifeline to Safety
Policy and awareness must be consistent for your training
program to succeed. Otherwise, employees (and
management) will question your efforts.Make updating
and merging the initiatives of both written policy
and training/awareness efforts yet another priority of
For safety professionals, training helps us know each
employee is adequately armed with the knowledge and
ability to work safely.While we cannot ensure each employee
will actually use the knowledge and not take shortcuts,we have made a good-faith effort to make the workplace
safer.With employees comes free will to choose safe
work habits.Unfortunately, all too often,we learn of these
shortcuts after an employee is seriously injured or killed.
Well-documented, often-presented training helps reinforce
correct behaviors in the workplace. You cannot
make any employee work safely, but you can train and
document they have been taught over and over the correct
procedures and processes to work safely. Auditing
your training program keeps you from forgetting or
overlooking important issues and moves your program
forward. If your program is not improving through
training efforts, it is worsening, day by day, from neglect.
We safety professionals tend to get a program set up
and then move on to another needed topic for completion.
The reality is that training is never completed, no
matter how tired we as the safety pros get of it. Get help
from outside vendors that can provide a different technique
or approach to employee training.Your goal is simple:
to educate to the point of working safely without
even realizing it.Training professionals call it “training to
second nature,”and it works with repetition and constant
updating of your topics.
For all of the headaches, stress, and perceived failures
we as safety professionals have about training, it is one of
our lifelines to employee safety. A tough topic to audit, it
is an area that nevertheless has to be constantly reviewed,
audited, and updated with both resources and time.
(There is never enough time.) Auditing our program is a
measuring stick of what we are not getting done in a
timely manner, and usually there is a long list.However,
auditing provides that measurement tool for us to assess
and improve our efforts,working smarter with both new
technology and old-fashioned delivery methods.
Our employees deserve the best training available,
and safety is often the most qualified to determine what
is needed and how to get the message across consistently.
Keep the message positive. It builds confidence
that your program is working in a positive way.
This article originally appeared in the June 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.