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The Training Imperative

Published: 18th Oct 2012

Why Health and Safety Training is so Important

As we are all aware, work related accidents are one of the most important problems being faced by industries. Research on occupational accidents confirm the negative impacts these events have on their victims, families, co-workers and society as a whole.

Apart from the humanitarian aspect of reducing occupational deaths and injuries, a strong case can be made for reducing work related accidents on economic grounds, as they consume massive financial resources that the countries can ill afford to use.

Preventing accidents and ill health caused by work should be a key priority for everyone at work. As professionals it is for us to impart our knowledge and culture to others, often through our own behaviour, but also as often through a mandated classic or innovative training scheme.

Providing health and safety information and training helps us to:

• Ensure our employees are not injured or made ill by the work they do

• Develop a positive health and safety culture, where safe and healthy working becomes second nature to everyone

• Find out how we could manage health and safety better by gaining feedback and encouraging risk based work discussions among employees

• Meet our legal duty to protect the health and safety of our employees

While there is no doubt that the primary goal of providing training is to improve health and safety in the workplace, the impact of the training in this regard is the most difficult outcome to measure.

Further, it can be suggested that utilising accident and injury rates as measures of improved workplace conditions can be deceptive, since some safety promotion efforts involving rewards result in under reporting of accidents.

If training is carried out effectively, however, then it:

• Will contribute towards making our employees competent in health and safety

•Can help our businesses avoid the distress that accidents and ill health cause

• Can help us avoid the financial costs of accidents and occupational ill health. Don’t forget that insurance doesn’t cover all these costs. Damaged products, lost production and demotivated staff can result

It should also be mentioned that the legal enforcement imperative regarding health and safety training that was once scant in the Middle East is now becoming more prevalent. These legislations often state that we provide whatever information, instruction and training is needed to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of our employees.

Why people do not train

The reasons often given for not providing training include:

• Contractors, for example, have a short term focus and may choose not to spend money on long term training

• Trained workers will leave for higher paying jobs elsewhere, perhaps with contractors who can pay more because they spend less on training

In fact the moral and legal imperatives to ensure your personnel are trained to carry out work safely and without endangering the health of themselves or others does not seem to figure in either of these arguments, and as such they rarely retain much credibility.

What is training?

Training means helping someone to learn how to do something, telling people what they should or should not do, or simply giving them information. Training isn’t just about formal ‘classroom’ courses.

Training helps people acquire skills, knowledge and attitudes to make them competent in the health and safety aspects of their work. There are generally two types of safety training:

1. Specific safety training, or on the job training, which aims at tasks where training is needed due to the specific nature of such tasks. This is usually a job for supervisors, who by virtue of their authority and close daily contact, are in a position to convert safety generalities to the everyday safe practise procedures that apply to individual tasks, machines, tools and processes. 2. Planned training, such as general safety training, induction training, management training, skill training or refresher courses that are planned by the organisation, and relate to managing risk through policy, legislative or organisational requirements that are common to all employees.

Before any employee can work safely, they must be shown safe procedures for completing their tasks. The purpose of safety training should be to improve the safety awareness of employees and show them how to perform employing acceptable, safe behaviour.

Who needs health and safety training?

Education and training, as outlined above, are the basic elements focusing on human factors and aiming at employees behaviour change in line with health and safety improvement. Thus, training activities which serve to promote employees’ participation as a sign of behaviour change, are considered necessary to both workplace and personnel safety and health.

Ideally, job skills, as well as safety and health training, should occur before the time of hiring and continue on the job site; however, this is not always the case.

Apprenticeship programmes, which include classroom learning as well as hands-on activities so that trainees gain mastery of the specific skills of their trade, and learn how to perform those skills in a safe and healthy manner, are one very successful way that this can be achieved. As such, it should be thoroughly examined for applicability within your organisation.

Further to this, mentoring schemes are also of great effect. The role of mentors in enhancing the safety and health of the workforce should not be underestimated. Formalising the process by selecting mentors on skill based competencies and interpersonal relationship skills, coaching mentors on how to mentor effectively, setting specific goals, defining the apprenticeship time period, and compensating mentors for their work, can greatly enhance the changes for success.

Whatever our role, whether as employers or self-employed, it is vital that we make sure that we are up to date with our hazard identification techniques and the ability to control these hazards. We must ensure that we utilise the information and resources available to us. This will of course include trade organisations, safety groups and our local enforcing authorities.

A rich resource of information that is available to us all is our employees themselves. Effort in this regard, especially in regard to knowledge transfer, risk awareness and safety culture, is well worth consideration. Although we may have a multinational, transient workforce, this effort should still be considered and can make a distinct difference to how you move forward with your training regime.

If you are not in a position to say that you have addressed the above comfortably then you will certainly need to consider health and safety training.

Managers are active in maintaining policy and it is essential that they are not only aware of their role, but also that you give them the tools to be able to deliver what is needed. Many ‘blue-chip’ organisations have health and safety training requirements for their managers and some for their directors, and this has proven to be very successful. If the leaders of the organisation?understand how health and safety can affect their business and how it should be managed, then they will become the health and safety practitioner’s strongest advocate.

Supervisors are the key to health and safety performance and policy implementation in many organisations and this level needs to be examined closely. Their role in implementation is such that they set the standard on job sites and influence heavily the culture of their staff.

Likewise, everyone who works for you, including self-employed people, needs to know how to work safely and without risks to health. Like your supervisors, they need to know about your health and safety policy, your arrangements for implementing it, and the part they play. They will also need to know how they can raise any health and safety concerns with you without recrimination.

You should: • Take into account the capabilities, training, knowledge and experience of workers

• Ensure that the demands of the job do not exceed their ability to carry out their work without risk to themselves and others Some employees may have particular training needs; for example:

• New recruits need basic induction training into how to work safely, including arrangements for first aid, fire and evacuation

• People changing jobs or taking on extra responsibilities need to know about new health and safety implications

• Young employees are particularly vulnerable to accidents and you need to pay particular attention to their needs, so their training should be a priority. It is also important that new, inexperienced or young employees are adequately supervised

• Some people’s skills may need updating by refresher training

Your risk assessment should identify any further specific training needs and as mentioned above, many establishments choose also to include an all-encompassing induction programme.

The nature of this orientation varies considerably across companies; from passive approaches such as providing new employee handbooks, packets of information, videos and films, to more engaging approaches requiring each new employee to meet with his/her supervisor or foreman and discuss safety manuals, the firm’s vision and expectation, safety procedures that are pertinent to them, and what expectations the company has of them while at work.

Similarly, the content of the orientation programmes can range from furnishing a general overview of the basics of safety, first aid, hazard communication, fall protection, and so forth to providing a job specific orientation. One of the phrases that is often used to describe the latter is an ‘indoctrination programme’.

How should it be carried out?

Remember that effective training should include teaching workers the necessary job skills for performing their tasks and also ensure that skills are carried over to the job in a safe and healthful manner. This can be of great impact in the Middle East where many labour staff do not have sufficient job skills on their arrival.

Firstly, you should show your commitment so that the trainees recognise that the training is important. Providing training needn’t be a great burden, but you need to think ahead and prioritise. Think about a five step approach.

Step 1 – Decide what training your organisation needs

• Identify the skills and knowledge needed for people to do their job in a safe and healthy way. Compare these against people’s current skills and knowledge and identify the gaps

• Review your experience of injuries, near misses or cases of ill health

• Look at your risk assessment to see where information and/or training have been identified as factors in controlling risks

• Consult employees or their representatives for their views

• Consider awareness training needs for directors, managers and supervisors, including: - How you manage health and safety - Who is responsible for what - The cost to the business if things go wrong - How to identify hazards and evaluate risks - The hazards encountered and measures for controlling them

Step 2 – Decide your training priorities

• Does the law require you to carry out specific training, e.g. first aid training?

• Top priorities would include those where lack of information and/or training might result in serious harm, and those which benefit the largest numbers of staff

• Consult employees or their representatives for their views

• Training for new recruits and for people changing jobs or taking on new responsibilities should always be a priority

Step 3 – Choose your training methods and resources Don’t forget that though there are many external trainers who can help you – much effective training can be done ‘in house’.

• Choose your methods, for example: - Giving information or instruction - Coaching or on the job training - Training in ‘the classroom’ - Open and distance learning - In groups or individually - Computer-based or interactive learning

• Consider who can help you by providing information, materials or training courses. You could try, for example: - Trade associations - Further education colleges - Private training organisations - Independent health and safety consultants - Employer bodies - Qualification awarding bodies

Step 4 – Deliver the training Try to ensure that the training includes the use of attitude empowering techniques traditional to the local culture, enabling safety culture to be enriched by the application of practises native to a particular national culture.

• Ensure the information is easy to understand and try to use a variety of training methods to deliver your message

• Ensure the trainer has enough time to prepare for themselves, their resources and the venue – preparation is particularly important for people who are not experienced as trainers

Step 5 – Check that the training has worked

• Do your employees understand what you require of them?

• Do they now have the knowledge and skills needed to work safely and without risk to health?

• Are they actually working as they have been trained?

• Has there been any improvement in your organisation’s health and safety performance?

• What feedback are you getting from line managers and the people who have been trained?

• Is further information and/or training needed?

• Was the most suitable training method used?

• What improvements can be made?

• Has there been a change in behaviour and practise?

• It is important to keep records of training, even in-house training

• You should monitor training records so that refresher training can be given when needed

Conclusions

One of the most important tasks is to equate whether the training your personnel have achieved has actually been successful and that the information given to them has been retained. This can obviously dwindle over time and should be enhanced regularly to ensure retention – or when new techniques or technologies have been introduced.

Also, you must keep in mind the use of creative or innovative training techniques that help trainees use their ability and imagination to produce new ideas in a participatory environment, whereas in a classic approach the trainees have limited or no involvement in the training process. The use of these creative approaches can increase group awareness through intra-group discussions and teamwork, which in turn could affect retention of knowledge directly.

Although not mentioned specifically above, the language barrier is one that is often touted as a reason for an ineffective training programme, or even a reason for not training at all. Although differentiating for varying languages requires thought, the time and effort taken in the planning stage should be used to determine how this is to be addressed.

Generally, the use of translator staff, translated material or national trainers is advised, but some organisations take the time and effort to train personnel in the language required, which can have distinct long term benefits.

Published: 18th Oct 2012 in Health and Safety Middle East

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Toby Hayward
Mr. Hayward has worked in various high-risk industries including nuclear, offshore and deep sea. Having also been a corporate leader of health and safety in international companies he has spent more than 20 years advocating for sensible risk culture both in the Middle East and Globally