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Health and safety education: What methods are out there, and how can we create impactful training?

All organizations will have some level of health and safety procedures in place. Health and safety can vary greatly depending on the type of work performed, the equipment used and the environment, but the aim is the same regardless: to keep people safe and healthy while at work.

That might sound like an odd statement to make. But health and safety is often removed from the idea that it is there to help people. It might seem like it takes time away from production, when it is there to save lives. Having to implement health and safety procedures is an acknowledgement of a level of risk in the work. It is understanding that employees are putting themselves at risk (no matter how big or small) and that in accepting that risk, they also agree to hold themselves to high standards of working for the safety of themselves and others. 

While many high-risk industries such as oil and gas, marine, and chemical, have people who are familiar with health and safety procedures, there can still be situations in which health and safety is compromised. Humans are fallible, and unfortunately, accidents can and do happen. The only thing we can control is the likelihood of an accident happening, being prepared for the event and being able to mitigate damage.

This is where taking ownership of keeping procedures up to date, staff training maintained and safety as the highest priority comes into play. When inexperienced people arrive on site, how can you be sure that they have taken on-board the knowledge and will put it into practise? When knowing how to use certain machinery or what to do in the event of an on-site emergency can mean the difference between life and death, health and safety training and education becomes about much more than a box-ticking exercise.

How do we learn?

There are 4 dominant ways of learning that have been identified and grouped as follows:

·  Visual – People who learn best by seeing and visualizing. This could include the use of maps, infographics, diagrams, photos, and drawings.

·  Auditory – Listening is the key skill here. Auditory learners are best at listening and find it easy to remember conversations and discussions over reading them or writing it down.

·  Kinaesthetic – Also known as practical or hands-on learning, this is learning by doing. Kinaesthetic learners like to do things (i.e. activities, problem-solving) to help them learn, including through trial and error.

·  Written word – Reading and writing is how these learners do it best. They are able to read and absorb texts, and prefer to write or paraphrase information to help them remember.

Most people will have a method they prefer, but we can learn through any of these approaches – the difference is how impactful the learning will be. Often, using a mixture of active learning methods (practical tests and problem solving,) and passive learning methods (lectures, talks, prescribed reading) is the best way to disseminate a large volume of information.

Common Training Types

Training is usually done in one of three ways, but like with learning methods, they may be mixed to get the best results.

·  Face-to-face – Training is conducted in groups with an expert delivering the training. This could be through a workshop, a seminar with practical elements, or a lecture. Informal sessions like ‘toolbox talks’, which are held on the job with the manager and their direct team, would fall into this category.

·  Online or e-learning – This is usually delivered through a series of online modules. It may involve reading, watching videos, listening to talks, completing questionnaires and filling out answers. It is usually expected that individuals will complete the training within work hours but on their own schedule.

·  Practical or on-the-job training – This is a great teaching method that works effectively in small groups or one-to-one. Trainees are shown how to conduct a procedure or operate equipment by an expert in a controlled environment and practice in various settings and scenarios. They may complete a short form at the end of the training to demonstrate they have retained the knowledge, or be assessed by the trainer.

But how do we measure the effectiveness of training? You can mark down the employees who attended, but how do you know if the training improved a person’s knowledge and skills? The natural instinct is to look at figures to determine return on investment. Did people behave better on site? Did safety improve and incidents fall? Were spot checks successful and were people able to answer training-related questions?

There is pressure on businesses to equip their employees with the correct skills – often motivated by insurance reasons, wanting to retain a good safety record, or government compliance. When the heat is on to deliver information quickly to large groups, it’s easier methods like presentations that are chosen. This can make the training feel impersonal, box ticking and lacking impact. So how can we create training that is engaging and useful to employees?

Creating Engaging Training

Start by looking at your workforce. If you have a diverse, multicultural, or multilingual workforce, training may have to be adapted to ensure it delivers impact across various groups. Using visual methods or practical instruction are good because they can transcend language. Often the case is that in health and safety training, these types of demonstration or visualisation are good ways of getting across the correct way of working.

Think about what would motivate them to attend (even if it’s mandatory) and what would get them engaged. It could be a certificate of completion, or a chance to demonstrate their new skills to earn appreciation. It’s important to assure them that the training is essential, and that taking the time to attend will not be counted against them or their productivity record. If possible, provide examples of other sites where training has been put in place and show what a difference it’s made. Helping them to see the benefits both short and long term will encourage them to engage with the training and use it at work.

Ask for honest feedback after a training session, and ensure that all participants can feed back equally. In companies with diverse language speakers, look at options such as having translators or alternate language forms so they can accurately express themselves. Ask what could have been done differently and if they have any suggestions for training going forwards. By involving those who are benefiting from the training, you can tailor it exactly to the needs of the workers and design training that works for them on all levels. 

Work towards delivering training that doesn’t just benefit the business. Training should be there to support the workers who are putting their own health and safety at risk every day. When we respect that, health and safety is no longer seen as a corporate chore but as an essential part of working life. 

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