Last September, OSHA published its list of the Top 10 Most Frequently Cited Standards for FY2015. The report showed that the violations were cited across a variety of industries and workplace environments, yet they all have one thing in common: they were all preventable through increased hazard awareness and more adequate safety training.

Many businesses have recognized the importance and value of implementing effective safety training programs to reduce incidents and risk. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to safety training, particularly when you consider the diversity of the modern workforce. The most successful programs take advantage of the fact that training is most effective when it is designed to accommodate the unique characteristics of employees.

Training that fits

A wide variety of training solutions and materials are available to safety managers, and finding the right training delivery mix to meet the needs of your organization can be a challenge. The specific elements of your business’ safety training program will be determined by its unique safety requirements, risks, size of your workforce, geographic distribution of your facilities, the demographics of your workforce, and your employees’ individual learning behaviors.

Hands-on training

Hands-on, in-person training will always be an essential component of safety programs for demonstrating and verifying practical skills like donning personal protective equipment, performing safe operating procedures, or properly responding to life-threatening emergencies. A Tulane University study published in the January issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that, “highly engaging [hands-on] training was considerably more effective than less engaging training when hazardous event/exposure severity was high, whereas less engaging training had comparable levels of effectiveness when hazardous event/exposure severity was low.”

Researchers attributed this effect to the “dread factor” — a psychological state of heightened awareness and perception of risk that significantly improves training retention. The considerable reflection and discussion that typically accompanies interactive, hands-on training scenarios also helps to emphasize hazards and promotes recognition and awareness of danger.

eLearning solutions

In training scenarios where perceived risk is more moderate, eLearning tools can offer a substantial advantage in training retention. This is particularly true in cases where information must be distributed consistently across a wide audience with diverse languages, cultures, and learning styles, and when time, distance, and accessibility are limiting factors. Many employees prefer eLearning formats over traditional classroom environments because of their streamlined, easy-to-use, easy-to-access features. Employees can engage in training from remote locations, learn at their own pace, and benefit from a wealth of digital media available to supplement training modules.

Another significant benefit of eLearning formats is their ability to easily integrate “gamification” with the learning process.

Gamification is the process of incorporating game-design thinking and concepts into non-game applications. Gamification encourages greater levels of interaction and promotes retention through the use of virtual rewards and incentives for completion of learning objectives. A July 2013 issue of Learning Solutions magazine highlighted a case study in which a gamified approach to safety training resulted in 45 percent reduction in safety incidents.

Blended learning

Despite their increasing effectiveness and popularity, some safety professionals remain skeptical about the effectiveness and quality of eLearning formats, and many employers still rely on traditional classroom learning environments to provide the bulk of their training needs. However, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Education revealed that eLearning is equally effective and achieves similar retention rates to in-person instruction. The study concluded that a “blended learning” solution that takes advantage of both formats was frequently more effective than either in-person or eLearning-based training alone. 

Employers and trainers should take advantage of web-based EHS training management solutions to create, modify, and administer both the hands-on and eLearning-based components of their training programs. EHS management software provides the ability to:

• Identify applicable OSHA safety training standards

• Deliver safety training materials and certification programs

• Access interactive online safety courses and host trainings within virtual classrooms

• Conduct training assessment and employee evaluations

• Schedule and track employee training status

• Customize course content to suit unique employee needs and training scenarios

Making the business case

Online safety training programs and training management software may require a larger initial investment, but they eliminate many of the recurring costs associated with in-person training. These include the cost of physical training materials, employee/trainer travel expenses, lost time and productivity, and trainer wages. Compared to classroom safety training programs, eLearning tools have been shown to save approximately 20 percent during their first year of implementation. During subsequent years, once development and implementation costs have been realized, the savings grow to nearly 50 percent.

Culture counts

OSHA studies have shown that developing a strong safety culture has the single greatest impact on incident reduction. Effective training is an important component of a strong safety culture within your organization. Safety training, sensitive to the diverse characteristics of the workforce, backed by  support from C-level executives, will improve your organization's safety programs and prevent incidents.