Does OHS training work?

Businesses thrive on the concept of return on investment (ROI) but it has been very hard to apply this to training in workplace safety and SafetyatWorkBlog can only provide clues to this relationship.

Training is an important component in any company’s safety management program but it will not solve all OHS ills, regardless of  the claims of some training providers.  Specific training to achieve licences is one type of training where skills become directly practical but other training, such as First Aid, Health & Safety Representative (HSR) training or general OHS training, is more difficult to quantify.

If there are no serious injuries in one’s workplace, First Aid training often can be perceived by others as a couple of days training paid for by the company for parents to use on their children.  In some workplaces it is the only safety-related training on offer.

HSR training is, perhaps, more difficult to quantify as the training, although expected to be uniform, is often laden with political ideologies of both the Left and the Right.  This politicisation of HSR training can often cause disruption when the HSR returns to the workplace, depending on the workplace and the industry sector.  In some cases, this stigma deters some businesses for even considering HSR training as a valid option.

On 29 January 2010, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health wrote an article about research into “A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Training & Education for the Protection of Workers.”  As with most research, there is a recommendation for further research and a warning that the current findings are based on the dearth of research preceding it.  However, with these limitations stated the report does raise some interesting conversation points:

“With regard to Behaviours, the review found strong evidence of training’s effectiveness.”

“The review team concluded there is insufficient evidence of high engagement training (single session) having a greater impact on OHS-related behaviors compared to low/medium engagement training (single session).”

The review also raised several questions that should have OHS professionals asking for more information from their training suppliers:

“It is also generally believed that training can have beneficial effects on attitudes and beliefs, and that this will in turn motivate healthier behaviours.  Our review was unable to confirm this because only one study of Fair or Good quality included this outcome.”

The report cannot help on the matter of ROI as there has been insufficient research.  But here is an important challenge, perhaps for the HSE’s mythbusters, is it true that “training in OHS reduces workplace injuries and deaths”?  If the safety profession is serious about evidence-based decision making, perhaps it needs to ask the hard questions about its own operations.  If the beliefs turn out to be false, the profession can change and improve .  If the myths are true, the evidence will un-myth the practices and make them indisputable facts.

The report (and readers are strongly encouraged to read the full report) raise some important training questions:

  • What is the optimum amount of practice needed during training to ensure the mastery of new knowledge and skills?
  • In what way does a complete mastery during training translate into more effective transfer into the workplace?

But perhaps the most important finding was that, even though there are positives on worker health and safety behaviours:

“OHS training as a lone intervention has not been demonstrated to have an impact on health”.

This is an important reminder when choosing OHS training providers.  These providers should have an understanding of the workplace so that training can be made more relevant.  The training needs reinforcing and supporting in the workplace, so it may be useful to look at a training provider who is part of a broader OHS service provider.

It is also, probably, the workplace context of OHS training that is complicating the determination of ROI.

The report is one of those that confirms how little we know but we must start somewhere and this report should get the attention of OHS researchers in Australia (those few we have) and elsewhere to start the hard research into the core of the safety profession and the safety training industry.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia

6 thoughts on “Does OHS training work?”

  1. Without a doubt OHS Training works. Safety officers carry the sole responsibility of designing and implementing safety procedures and are also responsible for the health and well being of large amounts of people at work.

  2. I too read your blog with interest as the main report is the basis of my current research for my doctorate of education. As a OHS trainer and Doctorate student I hope in the near future to add to the body of knowledge that is OHS research. Im keen to link up with other researchers or industry bodies willing to participate in OHS training research.

    Kevin I would be interested in catching up with you for some discussion on your perception on research in the OHS field.



  3. In my experience, many companies consider people sitting through an OHS presentation as “OHS training\”. To enable the measurement of the effectiveness of \”OHS training\”, there need to be an assessment or review take place to ensure that the training has actually increased knowledge, increased skills or shifted a behaviour. How many of us have sat through \”training sessions\” only to walk away have learnt no new skills, behaviours or knowledge?. There are different reasons for this I am sure- such as an ineffective trainer, poor training resources etc, but I believe that training that is never reviewed or assessed, cannot be considered as training but is merely an information session. Great article.

  4. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. your note makes reader feel interesting. I would like to read more of your blogs and to share my thoughts with you.

  5. I found this article very interesting. As a OHS Specialist and Trainer I agree you need to ask the important questions. Effective training is a three step process which involves the trainer, trainee and employer. The trainer provides the new skills and knowledge; the trainee learns then returns to the work place to practice and implement the new skills and knowledge and the employer/supervisor supports and guides, assesses, monitors and reviews performance and provides feedback to all stakeholders. Through industry consultation the course could be modified to better meet the essential skills and knowledge for the roles.

    PS. I have not read the links in this article as they are not coming up.

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