Training can and will produce positive results if it is based on clearly defined needs specific to the workplace and if it is delivered with a view to those needs and the ways in which adults learn. This is, of course, true for safety and health training as well. The principles of safety and health training are no different from those which apply to any form of industrial training. Indeed, a good case can be made for the integration of skill training along with safety training wherever possible. Safety and health training which fails to produce positive results because it is not based on sound analysis is, at best, a waste of time and money. At worst, such training may result in false confidence, thus increasing the risk of accidents.
The first step in safety and health training design is to identify the problems which need to be addressed. This may be done for the entire organization, for a particular location or for a particular job. Alternatively, the analysis of training needs may have a specific focus, for example, compliance with safety and health legislation or the performance of the joint safety and health committee. However, not all problems can be solved by training; in some cases, other action is needed to supplement it. A simple example of this is the case where the problem identified is a low level of compliance with the rule obliging workers to wear personal protective equipment. While part of the problem may be due to the fact that employees do not understand why the equipment is needed or how to use it correctly, it is equally possible that some or all of the problem may be caused by the fact that there is consistent failure to replace broken or missing equipment.
The existence of problems may surface in the form of a high rate of accidents, refusal-to-work situations or government inspectors' orders or citations. However, it is the problems which underlie such outward signs of trouble that need to be clearly identified. A training needs assessment may be defined as the process of identifying problems that are signalled by deficiencies in compliance with standards or external requirements and that can be resolved wholly or partly by training. A systems approach to training needs analysis involves a number of logical steps: problem identification, analysis, identification of training needs, the ranking of needs in order of urgency and the setting of training goals or objectives.
The sorts of problems that lend themselves to solution by means of training include the following:
Those that are identified after accidents have already happened. In this case, problems may be identified through review of accident statistics, accident investigation reports or, more broadly, through the failure to meet organizational goals for safety and health.
Problems that can be anticipated. Dangers can be identified before actual harm is done—for example, hazards can be foreseen when new machinery, substances or processes are introduced into the workplace, where there exist processes that have never been thoroughly analysed or where existing practice conflicts with known safe procedures .
The existence of external requirements. New legal requirements which either impose specific safety and health training duties or other requirements suggesting the need for training are examples of external requirements. The development of new industry codes of practice or national or international standards affecting safety and health are other examples.
The next step is to analyse the problems so that necessary training may be identified. Problem analysis involves collecting information about the problem so that its causes can be determined. It also requires determining an appropriate standard which should be met. If, for example, the problem identified relates to a lack of effectiveness of the joint safety and health committee, analysis seeks to answer several questions. First, what is the committee supposed to be doing? Second, how well is the committee performing each of its required tasks? (This question requires the analyst to determine appropriate performance standards which should apply.) Third, why is the committee not performing particular tasks effectively?
Once the problem has been analysed, the next step is to determine suitable solutions. If training is the solution or part of the solution, the particular training needs must be identified. What combination of skills and knowledge is required and by whom?
A critical part of the investigation of training needs is the assessment of the people involved. The purpose of this is threefold: first, people are likely to be more committed to training (and thus more likely to learn) if they have played a part in identifying the needs themselves; second, it is often necessary to assess the current level of required skill and knowledge among the target group of employees (for example, one might investigate whether joint safety and health committee members actually know what it is they are supposed to be doing); third, basic educational levels and literacy and language skills must be known so that appropriate instructional methods are applied. Surveys can be used to assess a number of these variables. If they are used, however, care should be taken to ensure individual confidentiality.
Setting priorities and goals
Once training needs have been clearly identified, the next step is to set priorities and objectives. Consideration must be given to the relative urgency of various training needs, taking into account factors such as the relative severity of consequences should accidents occur, the frequency with which problems are likely to occur, the number of people affected and legal compliance.
Training objectives must be specific because, if they are not, evaluating whether the training has been successful will prove difficult. Specifically defined objectives also help determine appropriate training content and delivery method. Training objectives or goals establish the results that training should achieve. Examples of specific training objectives might include (a) to ensure that every manager and supervisor knows and understands legal safety and health duties and rights applying to themselves and to all workers, (b) to ensure that all welders know and understand the hazards of welding and the required control procedures or (c) to provide fork-lift truck operators with the skill to operate their vehicles safely according to required procedures
Needs Assessment Methods
Methods for analysing training needs depend on the scope of the assessment and on available resources. All or some of the following methods may be used:
- Documentation review. For example, written statements of safe working practices, legal requirements, company policies and procedures, accident statistics and workplace inspection reports can be examined to determine their bearing on training needs.
- Specific analysis. Accident statistics, joint committee minutes, accident investigation reports and job and task hazard analyses may be examined for their specific relevance to the problem in question.
- Interviews and observation. Interviews with representative samples of supervisors, workers and others may be used to assess attitudes and perceived problem areas; observations can be made of representative jobs to assess compliance with safe working practices.
- Surveys. A survey can be used for relatively large groups to gain information about current skills and knowledge levels and about perceived training needs and problem areas as well.
Choosing Appropriate Instructional Methods
Instructional methods include a number of techniques such as lectures, problem-solving exercises, small group discussion and role-playing.The methods chosen must be appropriate to what is being learned (whether knowledge, skills or concepts) and the training objectives. If, for example, the training objective is to impart knowledge about basic safety rules in the workplace, then a short lecture may be appropriate. However, there are different levels of learning in adults. The lowest level of learning is listening to information; the next level is acquiring knowledge; then, developing understanding; and finally, at the highest level, the ability to apply what is learned to different situations. In most training situations, participants will need to learn at more than one level and so a variety of instructional techniques will be required. Instructional methods must also be based upon sound principles of how adults learn best.
Principles of Adult Learning
The way in which adults learn differs from the way children learn in several important respects. Adults approach the task of learning in possession of life experiences and a developed concept of self. The process of learning is an individual experience which takes place within the learner and depends on the learner's willingness to learn, the ability to relate his or her own experiences to what is being learned and the perceived value of what is being learned to the learner. In many cases, adults make a free choice to learn and so, unlike school children, they are voluntary participants. However, when safety and health training is provided in the workplace, workers and managers may be required to attend training sessions, with little room for individual choice. Where this is so, particular attention needs to be paid to involving learners both in the process of identifying training needs and in the design of the programme itself. Addressing the perceived training needs of workers may be as important as the identification of needs in other areas. Above all, adult training involves change. As with any change, acceptance is dependent on the learners’ belief that they have some control over the change and that the change is not perceived as threatening.
Research has identified a number of factors which facilitate learning in adults:
- Motivation. Since learning is an individual experience, adults must want to learn and must perceive the relevance of what they learn to their personal interest.
- Seeing and hearing. Adults tend to learn best when they can see as well as hear what is being taught. This means that lectures should include accompanying visual material such as overhead transparencies or slides.
- Practice. The opportunity to practise what is being taught facilitates learning. When a skill is being taught (for example, the correct fitting of self-contained breathing apparatus) learners should be allowed to exercise it for themselves. Where the objective is applied knowledge, problem-solving exercises can be used. “Experiential” exercises whereby learners actually experience the application of abstract concepts such as teamwork are valuable instructional tools.
- Relationship to practical experience. Learning is facilitated when the training material can easily be related to the practical experience of the learners. This suggests that examples used should, as far as possible, relate to the industry processes familiar to the learners.
- Participation in the learning process. Adults should know from the start what the learning objectives are and be given the opportunity to test the lesson content against these objectives.
- Feedback. Adults need feedback on their own results (how well they are doing) and positive reinforcement.
- Trying out ideas. The opportunity to try out and develop ideas is part of the individual process of internalizing new information and its application. This can be achieved through small peer group discussions.
- Physical environment. The training facility and equipment should be sympathetic to the learners, allowing them, for example, to see visual material and to work effectively in small groups.
Careful consideration should be given to the selection of trainers, the scheduling of training and pilot testing. In selecting trainers, two equally important abilities must be sought: knowledge of the subject and teaching ability. Not everyone who has the required safety and health knowledge will necessarily have teaching ability. On the whole, it is easier for people to acquire knowledge than it is to acquire teaching ability. In most workplaces, including the shop floor, there will be a number of people who have a natural teaching ability, and they will have the advantage of knowing the workplace and being able to understand practical examples. In small group learning, a “group learning facilitator” may be used in place of a trainer. In this case, the facilitator is learning along with the group but has responsibilities for the process of learning.
The scheduling of training involves several important considerations. For example, it should be arranged at a time convenient for the learners and when interruptions can be minimized. Training can also be packaged in self-contained modules so that it can be spread out over time—perhaps a three hour module once a week could be scheduled. Not only does this approach sometimes cause less interference with production, it also allows time between sessions for learners to try to apply what has been learned.
Every training programme should be pilot tested before initial use. This allows the programme to be tested against training objectives. Pilot testing should involve not only the trainers but a representative sample of the prospective learners as well.
The purpose of evaluating training is quite simply to establish whether the training objectives have been met and, if so, whether this has resulted in solving the problem addressed by those objectives. Preparation for training evaluation should begin at the training design stage. In other words, the problem to be addressed by training must be clear, the training objectives must be specific and the status quo prior to training must be known. For example, if the problem to be addressed is poor observance of safe working practices in material handling operations, and training has been designed to address part of this problem by providing information and skills to, say, fork-lift operators, then a successful outcome in this case would be high observance of correct safe working practices.
Evaluation of training can be done at various levels. At the first level, the aim is simply to assess student reactions to the training programme. Did they like the programme, the instructor and the course material, were they bored, did they feel that they had learned something? This approach may be useful in assessing whether or not the programme was perceived to be of value by the students. Such evaluations are most usefully conducted through an attitude survey and should not generally be administered by the course instructor. Participants are unlikely to provide candid answers at this point even if the questionnaires are anonymous. As an aid to this type of evaluation, students can be allowed to test themselves on the training content.
The next level of evaluation is the assessment of whether or not the learning objectives have been met. Learning objectives are related to the content of the training and they define what the student should be able to do or know when training is completed. Learning objectives are usually developed for each part of the course content and are shared with students so that they know what they should expect to learn. Evaluation at this level is designed to assess whether or not students have learned what is defined in the learning objectives. This can be done by testing participants at the end of the course. Knowledge, concepts and abstract skills can be assessed in written tests whereas practical skills can be assessed by direct observation of students demonstrating the skill. Where this level of evaluation is used, it is absolutely necessary to have prior knowledge of the knowledge or skill baseline of the students before training begins.
The third level of evaluation is the assessment of whether or not the knowledge and skills learned in the training are actually being applied on the job. Such assessment can be made through direct observation at specified intervals of time following training. Evaluation of application on the day following training may produce a result quite different from that based on an evaluation some three months later. It is important to note, however, that if the evaluation shows a lack of application after three months, it may not be the training itself which is defective; it may be due to a lack of reinforcement in the workplace itself.
Finally, the highest level of evaluation is the determination of whether or not the problem addressed by the training has been resolved. If the problem identified was a high rate of musculoskeletal injuries in the shipping and receiving area, is there evidence of the desired drop in the injury rate? Here again, timing is important. In this case, it may take time for the training to become effective. The rate may not drop for a number of months because such injuries are often cumulative; and so the rate for some time may reflect conditions prior to training. Furthermore, the training may result in greater awareness of the problem leading to increased reporting soon after training.
Ideally, all four levels of training evaluation should be built into the training design and implementation. However, if only one level is used, its limitations should be clearly understood by all concerned.
Where training is designed and provided by an external agency, the organization can and should nevertheless evaluate its potential usefulness by applying criteria based on the principles outlined in this article.
No matter how successful training is in meeting objectives, its effect will decline with time if reinforcement is not provided in the workplace on a regular and consistent basis. Such reinforcement should be the routine responsibility of supervisors, managers and joint safety and health committees. It can be provided through regular monitoring of performance on the job, recognition of proper performance and routine reminders through the use of short meetings, notices and posters.