The beginning of the year is a classic catalyst to “start fresh,” an opportunity to take stock and improve anything that was not optimal in the prior year. In the world of workplace safety, that might mean scrutinizing an organization’s Safety Training Program.
Employee Training: Going Beyond the Safety Orientation
Too often, Safety Training Programs involve an initial safety orientation but not much else. Safety orientations are necessary to familiarize new employees with workplace hazards and policies so that they can safely perform their initial job duties. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all employers provide workers with appropriate safety training before engaging in potentially hazardous work, some states have additional required orientation elements. For example, in Washington state, a safety orientation must include an overview of the organization’s safety program and policies, such as how to report work-related incidents and injuries, where to receive first aid, emergency procedures and evacuation routes, and information on any hazardous chemicals or substances used. It also must include on-the-job training related to employees’ actual duties. And while a comprehensive safety orientation is very important (particularly because new employees typically represent the largest demographic of injured workers), it is not enough.
The Case for a Robust Safety Training Program
New workers can often experience information overload when they are hired. Things like work policies, procedures, and production expectations can crowd out the safety precautions they learn in their safety orientation, resulting in a lack of retention. Even if they remember what they learned, complacency tends to creep in naturally as workers get more comfortable with their job tasks. Employees often pay close attention to policies and safe work rules when a hazard is new to them. Over time, as operations continue without incident and employees get more comfortable around the hazard, they can forget that the work environment still poses risks and start taking shortcuts. Eventually, the way work is done may look very different from the safe procedures imagined and communicated during orientation! This is when mistakes (and injuries) are most likely to occur. For these reasons, employers should treat initial safety orientation as a first step toward creating and maintaining an effective ongoing Safety Training Program.
State and/or federal codes do not always expressly require safety training for every danger an employee will encounter. Still, employers have an overarching responsibility to provide a workplace free from recognized hazards. Mitigation efforts typically focus on hazard elimination, isolation, or substitution. When these techniques are not possible or aren’t effective, employers must rely on other methods to reduce the likelihood of worker injuries. These other mitigations include developing and communicating safe work procedures and providing workers with personal protective equipment (PPE). Regardless of mitigation techniques used, regulatory agencies expect ongoing safety training to ensure employees are routinely reminded of their responsibilities to help keep themselves safe. But how do employers know which training should be prioritized, when employees should receive it, how it should be delivered, and what the content should include?
What Safety Training Topics Should be Included?
When prioritizing what safety topics to cover, some training will be stipulated in federal or state safety regulations. Employers are responsible for knowing which regulations apply to their workplace based on their industry and job tasks and then delivering appropriate training at specified intervals. For example, workers who operate forklifts must receive training on pre-use inspections, safe operation, and facility and equipment-specific requirements at regular intervals. These intervals are typically every three years or as needed, such as when the operator is involved in an accident or uses the equipment in an unsafe manner. Another example of regulatory training requirements includes training employees who use respirators at work. These workers must receive annual respirator-fit testing and training on how to don, doff, and care for the equipment.
Beyond understanding the training requirements applicable to their workplace, employers may feel uncertain about how to move forward with training their employees. With limited time and resources, one strategy might be to prioritize training for hazards that pose the highest risk of severe injury or that employees are exposed to most frequently. Employers may consider examining past years’ near-miss and incident investigations to identify these high-priority topics. For example, suppose a severe injury involving time loss occurs because an employee bypasses a machine guard; now might be a good time to offer machine guard training for all relevant workers. Additionally, if several less serious injuries involve debris in the eye, training to address the proper use of safety glasses is a safe bet. Another way to determine training topic priority is to go to the people who know the work best—employees. This might mean asking the Safety Committee to chime in on what types of process errors they see or holding a round table with each department to garner opinions on what hazards are not adequately addressed with current training. Employees are often an untapped resource that employers should use to gain insight into hidden workplace hazards and safety improvement ideas.
Methods and Intervals of Training
No prescribed methods or intervals are required unless specified in a state and/or federal safety regulation. Depending on the topic and nature of the work, brief, consistent efforts like toolbox-style talks that take 5-10 minutes can be just as effective as longer classroom training on a pre-determined basis (annual or otherwise). Many employers follow a monthly training schedule, each month dedicated to a single safety topic delivered in person during a company-wide training session, using tools like PowerPoint. The schedule repeats on an annual basis, so each topic is refreshed. In contrast, other employers use learning management systems to automatically assign and track virtual training each year and allow employees to complete it in their downtime.
Whatever the chosen method, ongoing training should be efficient, engaging, and appropriate for the facility and topic. Training materials that get to the point (times will vary, but studies show that 30 minutes or less is ideal) improve retention of information. Materials that clearly communicate the “what’s in it for me?” to employees, such as by tying safety information back to their actual job duties, can drive engagement, increasing the likelihood of applying the lessons to actual work. Other tactics, like actively involving participants through Q&A sessions, hands-on demonstrations, group activities, etc., can achieve the same results. That is not to say that formal classroom training doesn’t have its place; complex topics with a high likelihood of serious injuries, such as operating heavy machinery or working on live electrical circuits, warrant additional training time and expertise.
Regarding what should be covered during training, employers must exercise their best judgment if there is no regulatory requirement. However, it’s important to remember that training must be tailored to employees' work environments, processes, and equipment. Generic training, such as a safety video on machine safety that reminds employees to know when and how to operate emergency stops, might be sufficient. A machine-specific training designed by the employer or the manufacturer that shows employees where the emergency stops are and how they operate is even better. Similarly, general training on hazardous spill cleanup might relay important concepts like securing the scene or using appropriate PPE. However, a mock drill that allows employees to respond in real-time, determine the source of the spill and the chemical’s unique hazards, don and doff the appropriate PPE, and practice using spill socks or acid neutralizers is far more engaging. Tailored training allows for greater knowledge retention and meets the intent of regulatory requirements, ensuring employees can perform their jobs safely.
How Can Archbright Help?
Still need help? Fortunately, Archbright members have access to many resources to help their Safety Training Program succeed. In the mozzo Resource Library, eligible members can find a growing list of Safety Snaps (5–10-minute toolbox-style training that can be tailored to the work environment), employer guides, and other training resources, including Required Training & Written Programs Checklists. These checklists help employers identify what safety programs are required for their workplace, including what training and training intervals are needed based on their work environment. Archbright members will also find numerous safety microlearning courses in the mozzo Video Training Library. Remember to check this library often as the list of training topics continues to grow. For employers looking for a more interactive option, Archbright offers Safety Essentials—live virtual or in-person training sessions delivered to your employees! Contact the Archbright Safety Hotline or mozzo Advisor Chat for more information.