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How to develop safety skills versus safety knowledge

July 9, 2014
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Credential mills flourish because few people take the time to understand how the numerous and varied credentials from a state driver’s license, school diploma, and whatever title, such as CPR certification, are legally and ethically bestowed upon individuals. Many people willingly accept the provider’s assurance that the credential being offered through some processes of training and qualification e.g. testing is valid.

Credential mills flourish, too, because of constraints of time and money.  Any ten minutes, day, night, or whenever, and $20 dollars spent online for CPR certification easily trumps the cost for a live instructor and scheduled time, normally hours out of the business day, for actual classroom learning and CPR qualification.ISHN0714_C3_chart_300px.jpg

Training and credentials

The scope of EHS credentials includes training. The qualification outcome for all EHS training is a combination of knowledge and skills. Skills are more important than knowledge. Treat skill credentials with extra care.

The answer to the question of whether obtaining an online CPR and/or first aid certification is acceptable should be answered as follows: aside from OSHA compliance it may be legal to hold a CPR or first aid credential without a skill qualification, but promoting the credential under this condition is unethical. Unethical actions should not be tolerated in the workplace.

Education vs. skills

Each organization must determine whether education or skill dominates for a particular credential and place training emphasis on the credential accordingly. For example, more time should be spent training an “authorized” employee to perform LOTO than training an “affected” employee to have knowledge of LOTO procedures. 

Generally, OSHA hazard communication training leans more to knowledge and Hazwoper leans more to skill. OSHA acknowledges the difference and does not set a required amount of time for HazCom training but specifies various times for training, up to 40 hours, for Hazwoper.

DOT Hazmat training (49 CFR 172.704) is a good example of how employers may invest resources for various training requirements. DOT does not set a minimum time for training on the topics shown below. Employers, however, may be wise to invest more resources to establish credentials in DOT Hazmat topics that lean more to skill than knowledge.

Show me

Skill means a person can actually perform rather than knowing how to perform. Risk communication is a good example. Many EHS pros understand proper risk communication practices; but from my observation, when pressed to communicate risk when stressed, many EHS pros get tonged-tied and fall back to spouting knowledge rather than using plain language skills to bond with stakeholders.

CPR and first aid response place most responders in a stressful situation.  Knowing how to perform is not the same as performing. Again, this is why a skill performance is needed and knowledge alone is not enough. “Show me you can do this” is critical for success.

Supervisors

EHS pros are most often the ones who develop and deliver training. But supervisors are most often the ones who determines if skills – “show me” actions – are taking place on the job through employee conduct.

It is not enough to believe that employees are knowledgeable. Put them in circumstances where their conduct, or skill, may be demonstrated. The opportunity to beef up employee skills are plentiful and are built into many EHS regulations, but often are used sparingly. For example, most organizations understand that an annual employee evacuation drill is necessary. But if evacuation skills do not meet organizational objectives, employers may be wise to increase the frequency of drills until skill is certain.

Drills for spill response, active shooter, and severe weather action, forklift rodeos, severe injury scenarios, defensive driving opportunities and more should be beefed up. As more resources are requested, the reality of resource limitation creeps into decisions.  Short-cuts to save time and money enter into the equation and ethics such as online CPR and/or first aid training without skill demonstration appeals to the uninformed or misinformed.

Plant seeds

The people who control resources in your organization should be informed of the trend for people to get quickie CPR and/or first aid certifications online. Help them understand the false allure for people to obtain credentials in this way. This conversation will help plant the seed that more skill qualification may be needed in the organization. Getting them to think deeper on EHS training needs, with a shift toward more observations and measurements of skills, may get them to be more willing to free up limited resources.

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Recent Articles by Dan Markiewicz, MS, CIH, CSP, CHMM

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