To better understand if occupational health and safety training and education programs have a beneficial effect on workers and businesses, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in collaboration with the Institute for Work and Health (IWH), Ontario, Canada, conducted a review of some of the recent research in this area. Earlier this month NIOSH and IWH released "A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Training & Education for the Protection of Workers."

This report shows that investment in training results in positive changes in worker knowledge and skills, attitudes, and behavior. These results are encouraging given that a primary purpose for workplace training is to impart new skills/behaviors that are transferred into the workplace.

However, this research revealed that training as a lone intervention has not been demonstrated to have an impact on reducing injuries or symptoms. The fact that the study did not show an effect of training on health outcomes was, in part, an indication that training alone is not sufficient to result in reduced morbidity, mortality, or injury.

For training to be effective in preventing occupational injuries and illness, it also requires management commitment and investment and worker involvement in a comprehensive hazard identification and risk management program.

Additionally, the nature of the available research, prohibited researchers from linking training to health outcomes. Randomized, controlled trials are considered by many, but certainly not all, to be the gold standard in research designs, but they are often expensive, difficult to conduct, and sometimes impractical for workplaces. As a result, many training studies are only quasi-experimental or completely correlational. This makes it quite a bit harder if not impossible to draw generalizable conclusions about the effectiveness of the training studied.

The research also examined the impact of one characteristic of training programs — the degree to which they "engage" the learner in training activities.

Low engagement is defined as training that uses oral, written, or multimedia presentations of information by an expert source, but requires little or no active participation by the learner other than attentiveness.

High engagement involves hands-on practice in a realistic setting.

The review of randomized, control trials published in the last ten years found that a single session of high engagement training has a greater effect on behavior than a single session of low/medium engagement training.