Is Training the Answer?
Addressing the Cause
Can this be solved with retraining?
The first step in the training process is a basic one; ask questions to determine if a problem can be solved by training. Whenever employees are not performing their jobs safely, we might assume training will bring them up to standard.
Let's say your supervisor comes to you and says his or her employees are not using safe procedures. The first assumption might be that they need training. Don't roll over and agree with that assumption. It's quite possible that training (for those employees anyway) may not be the solution to the problem.
It is possible the supervisor and/or others in the organization may need to accomplish one or more of the following non-training strategies to help make sure employees use safe procedures and practices:
- Correct existing hazards using engineering controls
- Provide adequate resources to work safely
- Adequately enforce safety rules
Who knows, maybe the supervisor and others need the training! Let's not always assume employee safety training is the solution for unsafe behavior.
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Training or Something Else
Worker training is essential to every employer's safety and health program. The time and money it takes to train workers is an investment that pays off in fewer workplace accidents and lower insurance premiums. Effective training also helps inexperienced workers, who tend to have higher injury and illness rates than experienced workers. Ideally, safety and health training should occur before exposure or accidents occur.
Training should be conducted or repeated if an observation, near-miss incident or injury accident occurs due to a lack of knowledge, skills, or abilities (KSAs). Problems that can be addressed effectively by training include those that arise from lack of knowledge of a work process, unfamiliarity with equipment or incorrect execution of a task.
When Training is the Solution
Training is likely the solution when unsafe performance is due to the following surface causes:
- Lack of Knowledge (K). New and current employees must be trained anytime unsafe behavior is observed due to a lack of knowledge. As an example, when given the requirement to enter a confined space, employees have no idea how to open and enter the space.
- Lack of Skills (S). Employees may know what the steps of a procedure are, but lack the skills to do the procedure safely. For example, employees may have watched a video on using fall protection, but they have not yet practiced using the equipment.
- Lack of Abilities (A). Employees may know the steps of a procedure and how to do it safely, but they may not be physically or mentally capable of performing the procedure safely. For instance, employees may not be able to lift heavy objects, or they may have a fear of heights.
When Training May Not be the Solution
Training may not be the solution for when unsafe performance is observed for the following root causes:
- Lack of Support. If the culture doesn't support training, the worker is less likely to follow procedures that were trained. As an example, if employees are stressed and pressured to work fast, they may intentionally take unsafe shortcuts.
- Lack of Motivation. If the worker doesn't care about the job, no amount of training will help. For example, if a supervisor constantly ignores an employee performance, they will not be as likely to care about their safety performance.
- Lack of Focus. To be successful, employees must pay attention to the job in a "sober and focused" manner. If employees are under great stress at work due to any reason, they may be distracted or "somewhere else" in their minds causing unintentional errors.
It's important to know that all of the above causes may exist due to "root cause," or weaknesses in the safety management system. To solve the surface causes, the root causes must first be addressed and corrected.
Finally, no amount of training is likely to improve workplace safety unless you make it part of an effective, integrated Safety and Health System (SMS).
Current Safety Performance
Before we can determine if a discrepancy is caused by a lack of knowledge, skills or
abilities (KSAs), we need to observe, analyze, evaluate and accurately describe the employee's current safety performance. For example, we might describe a safety performance discrepancy as, "failure to perform proper lockout/tagout procedures."
If, in our analysis, we discover employees demonstrate a lack of KSAs, then
training is the answer. Non-training actions are most likely not appropriate.
It is wise to assume that a new employee in your organization requires comprehensive safety
training. To find out if they meet your standards, test what they know and can do. If they need training,
give it to them before first exposure to hazards. Experienced current employees may only require training on
new procedures or machinery. Again, if in doubt, "test them out!"
If you discover employees demonstrate adequate KSAs, training is likely not the answer.
It is appropriate to use non-training corrective strategies to improve performance levels.
For instance, discipline may be appropriate if an employee demonstrates adequate KSAs but has made the decision not to perform safely. However, discipline may still not be appropriate because a root cause analysis may uncover one or more system weaknesses that has contributed to the unsafe behavior. Remember, if the system fails the employee, first fix the system!
Safety Training Decision Tree
To help figure out the appropriate solution, you can the use this checklist. It takes you through the decision-making process to determine training and non-training intervention options: training, resources, supervision, enforcement, and leadership.
____ Are employee knowledge, skills and ability (KSAs) sufficient?
- Yes. The employee has demonstrated adequate knowledge and skills to accomplish the task to standard. Go to the Non-Training Options checklist below.
- No. The employee does not have adequate knowledge and/or skills to accomplish the task to standard. Go to the Training Options checklist.
Training Options Checklist
____ Has the employee performed the task before?
- Yes. Continue to the next question.
- No. New employees and employees transferred to new jobs need to be formally trained before they perform any tasks that might cause injury. Conduct formal training.
____ Is the task accomplished often?
- Yes. The employee accomplishes the task regularly. Provide feedback. Observe the task and provide one-on-one feedback on any discrepancies.
- No. The task is rarely accomplished. Examples might be tasks requiring the use of fire extinguishers, confined space rescue, or chemical spill procedures. Conduct practice. It's important to practice tasks from time to time when it's normally not required.
Safety Training Decision Tree (Continued)
Non-Training Options Checklist
____ Are resources and support adequate?
- Yes. Management provides adequate physical resources and psychosocial support. Employees are provided with safe tools, equipment, machinery, workstations, facilities. Workloads, pressure to perform, stress and work schedules are reasonable. Evaluate other options.
- No. The employee lacks the physical resources and/or psychosocial support to perform to standard. Employees are NOT provided with safe tools, equipment, machinery, workstations, facilities. Workloads, pressure to perform, stress and work schedules are not reasonable.
- Provide the necessary resources and support to ensure employees are able to perform to safety standards.
____ Is safety supervision/management adequate?
- Yes. Supervisors/managers effectively detect and correct hazards/unsafe behaviors before they result in injury or illness. Evaluate other options.
- No. Supervisors fail to effectively detect and correct hazards/unsafe behaviors before they result in injury or illness. Supervisors may lack training, looking the other way or otherwise ignore unsafe conditions and/or behaviors. Ensure adequate design and performance of supervisor safety plan to ensure supervisors are effectively trained and held accountable for performing safety responsibilities.
____ Is safety enforcement adequate?
- Yes. An effective process exists to ensure employees are administered progressive discipline (when justified) for failing to comply with the employer's safety policies, procedures and rules. Supervisors insist that all employees comply. Evaluate other options.
- No. Management fails to ensure employees are administered progressive discipline, when justified, for failing to comply with the employer's safety policies, procedures and rules. Supervisors merely encourage, not insist, that all employees comply. Design and implement an effective safety accountability program.
____ Do supervisors and managers comply with safety policies and rules?
- Yes. Supervisors and managers set the proper leadership example by complying with safety policies and rules. Supervisors communicate through word and deed that job security depends on working safe, not fast.
- Evaluate other options.
- No. Supervisors and managers do not set the proper leadership example by not complying with safety policies and rules. The words and actions of management lead employees to believe their job security depends on working fast, not safe. Design and implement an effective management leadership plan that includes supervisor/management safety responsibilities training.