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Recognizing the Impact of Effective Training to Achieve Better Health and Safety Performance

25 Aug 2022 1:09 PM | Duncan Hawkins (Administrator)

Very often when people talk about improving effective health and safety performance, the subject of adequate training often comes up as a necessary activity but one that, at times, is the least organized and consistent in a functioning health and safety management system.  We have often heard at one time or another the term “competency” which is defined by many as the need of a person to possess the following 3 elements: 1) be adequately qualified, 2) have suitable trainings, and 3) possess sufficient experience to be considered competent. 

Now with the changes that we are seeing in the Codes of Construction with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), etc. we are also seeing this term now also include specific mention of competency to also include the understanding that competency includes understanding and awareness of responsibilities and accountabilities in relation to regulatory requirements. To that end, training is considered a very important activity to help elevate quality, health and safety, environmental practice, etc. as well as the competency of our resources.  It’s logical – in order to produce a quality product/ service, you need people who are competent to conduct the required activities in a safety and healthy manner.

That means we need to train people; however, just training people won’t do the trick. Most of us know that, because simply, in one way or another, we have tried that approach. So what is it that we need to know to make training more effective and to contribute to a company’s continued success in their dedicated industry?

Managing the Training

In order to answer that question, we first need to understand the levels of competencies and abilities we have with all areas that have a direct and/ or indirect impact on quality, and health and safety performance.  This can be achieved by understanding what our positions require to be successful and comparing what each person has in terms of documented evidence of training and competency. This will allow us to evaluate more closely whether or not a person is deemed competent in their role and all related processes that they are expected to be able to carry out based on their position.

After that, we will be able to identify how we can acquire those competencies, provide resources for the training, and at the end, evaluate the training to determine whether or not baseline competency has been achieved.  Training management can be realized through three simple steps:

Define Training Needs

In order to define the training needs that are required of a department within a company, we need to think about where we envision our departments will be in a few years and what we intend to plan on how to get there (i.e. new technologies to improve our internal processes, adding new products to what a company is able to offer in to their industry, trends in industry i.e. incident investigation information, etc.).  Setting up department goals and objectives lays the foundation for a roadmap to follow and be focused on. 

At the same time we need to know the current competencies of employees within our departments, so we can identify the gap in the existing and required competencies, and define the competencies that employees require to meet the goals and objectives for quality products/ services in a safe and health manner.   In order to be able to effectively identify the competence gap, we have to have various types of information available (preferably in written form). As an input for defining training needs, we can use:

a)     Employees’ performance appraisals and employees’ requests for training,
b)    Specific requirements for individual certifications,
c)     Analysis of customer complaints, corrective actions and non-conformities, market research,
d)    Regulatory/ industry requirements,
e)     Inventory of processes that the employee’s position is required to execute within the company, etc.

The result from this step is an identified competence gap related to the training needs that will lead into a more focused competency development plan.

Plan the Training

The training should be planned based on the identified training needs and the competence gap. Training can be internal or external, through official education, training courses, workshops, on-the-job training, self-learning, online courses, etc. When planning the training, the required resources and constraints should be identified, as well as the criteria for evaluation of the outcome of the training.

Training requires resources, finances, time, and people. All of this should be taken into account when planning the training. A common mistake is that people neglect to take into consideration that for internal training, although you don’t need to pay a training provider, you have to give the employees time to perform any self-study on associated processes that they are receiving training on, or in the case of on-the-job training, time for the mentors to guide the trainees in a manner and pace that allows for greater opportunity of a more successful training experience. 

Rushing through training just for the sake of saying the training has been complete may not allow a person to achieve the necessary level of competency to provide as strong of a positive impact on health and safety performance.  Often this rush can partially be attributed to not being as organized in the planning of the training.

The main thing to keep in mind when planning the training is that it’s not enough just to send employees to be trained. We need to know – and they need to be shown – the bigger picture: why are they getting such training, where will their competencies fit, how will they contribute to the organization’s goals with the new competencies, what is expected of them, etc. Simply put, we need to communicate the training goal with the trainees in order to achieve better results from the training.

Evaluate the Training

In the end, the most important and most neglected activity is the evaluation of the outcomes of the training. The main goal of the evaluation is to determine whether the training goals have been successfully achieved and thereby being able to identify the achievement of competency.

Evaluation provides lots of information, but most important is whether goals have been reached – whether the competence gap that was earlier identified has been closed, and training objectives achieved. There are two types of evaluation: short and long term. For the real effects of the training to be evaluated, we need some time distance so we can assess if the employee is using the new learned skills and if those skills are making any difference in our respective departments. For example, short-term evaluation can give us input about the competence gap. We can easily calculate how many employees have participated in a course, and how many of them have passed the exam provided at the end of the course to give us a short term evaluation.

However, only long-term evaluation can give you input about the effectiveness of the training in relation to any established goals.  After some time we will be able to check the progress of an employee executing their gained knowledge and experience as a result of the training and be able see the concrete results created by the trained employees, and we will know how effective the training was.

Evaluation also offers information about the quality of the training itself and the training provider – was the training good; should we send more people to this training, self-study or on-the-job training; was it effective; if yes, should we reproduce it; if not, why not; etc.

Why Manage Training

One way to improve health and safety at a company is to assess the level of competency within each department and determine what can be done to elevate our performance through targeted planned training.

And, at the end, investment in training might create ROI (Return on Investment) much greater than anything else – so if we have a process that quality, health and safety depends on employees being able to execute on a consistent basis, we need to ensure we don’t neglect the value of ensuring proper documented training.

As a health and safety auditor, the question you may need to ask yourself any of the following questions:

1)     How does the company identify their training needs and objectives?
2)     Does the provide training within their company?
3)     How is the training documented and does it include short-term and long-term check points as part of establishing competency?
4)     How does the company re-assess the continuance of employee competencies i.e. when there is a change to a process, new legislation being introduced, etc.?
5)     If the company conducts management review meetings annually, do they include a review of current levels of competencies within their company to ensure continuity with their efforts to provide quality products/ services in a safe and healthy manner?

In most cases, if there is a serious incident, competency is a default area for investigators to spend time in determining in their pursuit for all causal factors associated with the incident.  Not investing the appropriate time to plan, execute, and evaluate training hinders a company’s due diligence efforts.  What best practices do you have or have seen that would help companies and their efforts in establishing competencies?

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