Inductions, technology and effectiveness

In relation to the new harmonised laws in Australia Amy Towers recently stated in a media release that

“Many employers still haven’t got it quite right. While most have an understanding of their new health and safety responsibilities, we’re finding the practices they do have in place don’t sufficiently meet the new compliance requirements – particularly for managing temporary or contracting staff…”

This is no great surprise.  While reviewing the compliance with incoming legislation, many law firms have similarly found that clients were not compliant with existing OHS laws.

Towers goes on to say that “businesses are most at risk of non-compliance in these areas:

  • Lack of evidence regarding plans to consult, coordinate and communicate with multiple parties
  • Failing to meet new due diligence requirements as an ‘Officer’
  • Flawed inductions”

Not sure about that but the principal purpose of her media release is revealed in her justification of the third risk:

“Ms Towers said while both agency and host employers are regularly performing employee inductions, many are still relying on outdated, manual, paper-based inductions, exposing themselves to risk of non-compliance if the induction content is not provided consistently….”

“Using computerised or online inductions not only ensures employees are protected, it provides employers with a greater sense of security. For instance, systems such as WorkPro include competency assessments to demonstrate that the individual understands and remembers the important information……….” (link added)

A major failing in safety training and management is this belief that modern  technology is more effective than old technology.  Technology may change the method of communication but not what is said.  There are many instances where “outdated, manual, paper-based inductions” work.  Inductions are an essential element of establishing the site safety rules or having a benchmark of safety knowledge from which management, safety and risk decisions can be made.

Inductions are also an element of the safety management system to which workers can be beholden.  Part of the induction, usually, is a commitment by the worker that they have understood the information and they pledge to comply with the site rules, it is a condition of work.

Establishing this “state of knowledge” is of particular importance if a workplace incident occurs.  Any investigation would want to find out who knew what and when they knew it.  The starting point would be the induction.

Would a computerised induction system provide this level of detail?  Such a system has an inbuilt unreliability, the computer and the network from which it operates. (Similar reliability issues were discussed in an article earlier this year) Site safety inspections often identify hazards or poor work practices that are contrary to the induction information but cannot be verified for many reasons, such as

  • The network is down
  • The computer is broken
  • The induction data has not be entered yet
  • The battery is flat
  • There is no wi-fi network coverage in this location.

An “outdated, manual, paper-based inductions” system avoids all of these problems.  A worker’s induction can be immediately verified, there is a signature on the induction form, there are likley to be certificate numbers recorded for the mandatory qualifications.  A well-managed “outdated, manual, paper-based inductions” system is likely to trump a computerised system for effective safety enforcement and supervision.

There is also another problem with the media release.  Amy Towers is described as “an employment lawyer” but, a few lines later, is a “Work Safety Managing Consultant at employment law firm FCB“. Her only qualification according to her LinkedIn profile is “Bachelor of Applied Science (OHS)” and there is no mention of a law qualification in her online profile at Stratecom.  This is likely to be an error by the public relations company that produced the media release but these sort of anomalies detract from the tone of authority such releases seek to project.

Kevin Jones

reservoir, victoria, australia
Categories advertising, consultation, education, OHS, safety, technology, trainingTags ,

17 thoughts on “Inductions, technology and effectiveness”

  1. Interesting discussion raised at an opportune time. I have just finished an on-line “orientation” after completing on-line “inductions”. These both gave me a heads up but were not effective inductions. I am a great believer in doing a face to face induction and walkaround so things mentioned in the induction are pointed out and can be elaborated on further.

    My personal belief is that an on-line orientation should be done first followed by a face to face walk around. If it can’t be done with a safety person, get an experienced worker or supervisor to do it. A lot of little site-specific idiosycrasies can be identified and discussed.

  2. What you call induction in Australia is called orientation in Canada and is required to be given to new workers before they undertake any work task. It normally consists of a general orientation which is standard for any worker and then a group or departmental orientaion which is more specific to the hazards and tasks to be performed by the worker.
    From my experience it is not the mode of training that presents problems but outdated or incorrect information. Both hard copy and computer based training will not be effective unless properly developed and presented.
    As for who should do the orientation a great deal will depend on the employer. Larger employers that have an HR person usually rely on that person to do the general orientation, if the employer has an OHS person the health and safety portion of the orientation often falls to that individual. It is usually a front line supervisor or department head that does the task specific orientation so at that point you have the operations group actively involved.
    I agree with Les that whoever does the training has to be qualified to carry out the process and has to feel comfortable in doing it. A lot of individuals do not have either the technical or people skills to effectively teach others.
    I personally believe that an instructor led orientation session is much more effective than one done on a computer because the instructor is there to provide guidance and assistance to the participants.
    I think the selling point for computer based training is simply cost, however I wouldn’t want to have to defend the concept if an incident occurred and the issue of training was raised.

    1. Watchkeeper, I agree that the quality of information, together with the degree of engagement generated by the type and style of training are the two oars in the water.

      To re-inforce the last point you make on the ‘defendability’ of a computer training/testing process, I came across the results of an individual’s general and site-specific inductions for a mining company. The General Induction contained 22 questions, and the site induction contained 27. They were check the boxes type answers, and the worker completed them in 16 and 21 minutes repectively. Not a lot of deep thought required there.

  3. I keep seeing comments to the effect that ‘inductions must be presented by O/WHS professionals. What does that approach do for ‘ownership’ of safety by operations management?
    I agree that the content of safety training should be vetted, if not developed, by those with subject matter technical expertise.
    But surely presentation of safety training should go hand-in-glove with job focussed training. And if Operations don’t ‘own’ the safety component how will it be viewed by the recipient?
    For organisations with geographic diversity, or of large size, it may not be practicable for a single WHS resource to present all induction training. But there must be a ‘site based’ component and a job based component in any induction training and so why should it not be incorporated into ‘operations’ training and then have operations responsible for delivering it?
    This raises another issue – legislation requires training to be provided by ‘competent’ people. I’ve received training from many O/WHS ‘professionals’ that, in my mind, were not ‘competent’ to deliver training. That’s not a comment on teir skills as saftey professionals – it’s a comment on their ‘trainer skills’.
    Even in my own experience, as a previously ‘certified’ consultation trainer under NSW WorkCover, the process of determining my ‘competence’ to deliver that training was seriously flawed. (Though I believe I was competent, I had some doubts abouts others I saw presenting this training).
    In terms of ‘inductions’ that I have experienced (done to me), the process has generally been aimed more at ‘ticking the box’ and less at ensuring I had knowledge and skill to apply safety principles and processes in the relevant workplace.
    But then I have also long struggled with ‘operation’s’ desire for any training, and especially safety training, to be a brief as possible because ‘it costs’. And I have to cry ‘But injuries cost more!!!’.
    So it may well be that the problem with inductions is more to do first with ‘ownership’ and second with competence to establish an appropriate delivery methodology and deliver it in an appropriate context.

  4. Sometimes, the “outdated, manual, paper-based inductions” system works when it comes to occupational safety rules. If there are no computer connection, the good old paper with the rules can still provide basis. And yes, I agree with one person here who stated that “competency assessment” is merely memorization. I agree with his idea of an essay test, as this will really test if employees really understand safety regulations and what they would do if in that situation.

  5. Thanks for raising this debate, it’s important to consider the different perspectives around online inductions and their suitability for different circumstances.

    I’d like to clarify my title as I was not intending to pass myself off as a lawyer in any way, the reference to employment lawyers in the media release was referring to FCB, my employer, which is an employment law firm, my title was made clear in the second line. I apologise for any misrepresentation.
    I have also, for some time now, advised WorkPro on their WHS content both as an independent consultant and more recently as an employee of FCB – hence the reference to this system.

    In relation to the real topic, although it would be ideal to have a qualified health and safety practitioner providing interactive and personalised inductions to all workers unfortunately for many businesses in 2012 this is not possible. Online inductions provide an avenue to assist employers/PCBU’s to meet there obligations in circumstances where it’s, arguably, not practicable to be giving personalised face to face inductions at all times. I think one of the commentators on the blog pointed this out well. For example, for workers working in remote locations, or working alone online inductions can provide flexibility for PCBU’s. Examples include on-hire/labour hire firms and contracting firms where their workers get access to consistent information, delivered online followed up by an assessment which demonstrates the workers understanding of the information. Of course, as we all know, the provision of information through an induction is only one element of the duty to provide information and therefore, no induction, online or otherwise, stands alone. However, to eliminate the option of online content delivery completely is, I believe, very unhelpful and failing to understand the multitude of ways Australians are working in 2012.

    In response to Brett’s comment, we have to remember the issue here is as much about compliance as it is about safety and I referenced WorkPro as an example of a technology-based system (that I am aware of) which ensures employers will have the records to demonstrate they have met some of their key obligations, it also has the capability to deliver automated reminders to individuals when they are due for a refresher, among other features. As we are the WHS compliance advisers to WorkPro, we have faith in its content and ability to meet requirements and so I’m not in a position to comment on other technology-based systems that may exist. However, I don’t doubt there are others.

    Once again, I appreciate the healthy debate.

    1. Amy, thanks very much for participating.

      You say “Online inductions provide an avenue to assist employers/PCBU’s to meet there obligations in circumstances where it’s, arguably, not practicable to be giving personalised face to face inductions at all times”. I agree that online inductions can be an option, or “avenue”, and that “no induction , online or otherwise, stands alone” but the OHS laws require employers and PCBUs to evaluate the practicability of options and not rush to an attractive option without that evaluation.

      Recently a safety forum discussed, at length, how it may be possible to make inductions effective in reducing unsafe acts by workers. It was stated that many existing physical and virtual inductions do not achieve safety improvements even though they may, technically, comply with OHS laws. The inductions were ineffective and that is the deficiency of many inductions – they occur for compliance sake and not safety stake.

      I would appreciate if someone can point me in the direction of which types of OHS induction provide the best improvement in safety performance.

  6. As someone who has sat through an ohs inductions while the workplace trainer sat in the back without participation ,it sadly seemed to me a waste of time there was no feedback sought ,no assessment of the training effectiveness ,as someone who is doing an ohs diploma I dont believe the workplace safety culture benefited from this ,I recall last years Australian trainers magazine surveyed a number of ohs trainers who found this type of media training the least effective means of ohs training the most effective involving a trainer with ohs experience participating with trainees

  7. Thanks, Kevin. I would make a couple of observations.
    Firstly, concerning the question of, “outdated”.
    I would tend to agree with the author that, perhaps a current computer-based induction may indeed be superior to an ‘outdated’ manual system. However, that presupposes and implies that all paper-based systems are necessarily out of date. Clearly, not so!
    In fact, I recently did a computer-based assessment module from Cert IV OHS (BSBOHS406C – “Use Equipment to conduct workplace monitoring”). In the ‘References’ section at the back of the module, of the 15 web links offered, 7 were broken, led to incorrect references, or went to a homepage for someone like CSIRO (where finding a single research paper without the correct link or title is impossible). The links were set in 2005 and haven’t been updated since. So, “on-line” does NOT equal “up-to-date”.
    I note that a large agency (Hays) uses on-line inductions, but it seems to be more of a Power Point than interactive, so, there are on-line inductions and there are on-line inductions.
    The second issue is around “consultation & communication”. One of the features of modern technology (especially “social media”) is how damn unsocial it makes people. The sight of a whole bunch of silent friends out together tweeting people who are not there brings to mind the aphorism, valuable in OHS, “Wherever you are, be THERE.”
    One of the things legislation, training and work culture should be inculcating is a sense of alert presence and a natural habit of communication & discussion. One of the things induction training should do is to commence the creation of a culture of discussion & communication, which sending workers off to push keys in front of a monitor on their own undermines.

  8. So does FCB sell WorkPro, or have a share in it? The least they could do is suggest three pieces of software that do the same job like Rapid Induct. That way it wouldn’t be so obvious.

    Good article Kevin.

    1. Brett, I don’t know the commercial relationship between the two companies. I was not aware of Rapid Induct. Please let me know of other similar products or services that exist and perhaps I can do a comparison.

  9. Agree but when you have multiple remote workers (many ‘000’s) across the country, it is not reasonably practiacble to meet and personally induct them all. The online training and competency model provides an important aspect for these individuals.

    In most cases, I think the PC training should be mixed with hands on training on a routine appropriate to the risk of the hazard being controlled. It all has a part IMO.

    1. Greg, I would agree that online training may be an adjunct to face-to-face training but it should never be solely relied on.

      I would ask that you elaborate on why personal induction of multiple remote workers is “not reasonably practicable” given that cost is supposed to be the last element of reasonable practicability considered. Are we selling safety too cheaply? Are we being too accommodating of potential training costs?

  10. In my role at BHP Transport, and my subsequent role as a safety consultant I have visited hundreds of workplaces.
    In respect of inductions I only visited one site with a really robust induction system. It was based on a video of actual critical safety issues on the site, and demonstrating required behaviours. That was followed by a manual questionaire which questioned the specific critical site issues. And the answers were reveiwed and discussed by the responsible safety person on site.
    Worrying to me, many sites have inductions available but they are not enforced, and/or they have inductions based on no more than common safety messages. AND in addition many sites allow inductions to be bypassed if someone in accompanied on site – but then due to demands on the accompanying person the visitor is left to work alone. Finally for an induction system to work there must be control of access to a site – yet many sites I visit have no access control – and that includes all sizes of work sites.
    In summary in my expereince the most common induction failues have nothing to do with the technology – they relate to procedural/ process failures

  11. Two other significant flaws in ‘computer based’ training are:
    1: The computer is not able to answer clarifying questions should they arise.
    2: The assessment, claimed as ‘competency assessment’, is usually nothing more than a memory test, often relying on multiple guess questions rather than ‘essay’ style questions which actually allow qualitative assessment of ‘state of knowledge’.

    For my money these types of articles are nothing more than a ‘pitch’ for selling training development aimed at unwary employers.

    1. Les, even with “advertorial” media releeases I try to identify any nuggest of usefulness. Inductions are a vital part of establishing safety, particularly, in high-risk industries but rarely are they done well. This is partly because effective inductions require interaction, dialogue and discussion, and this can cost a lot. Computerised options seem to be cheaper but I believe they produce an increased amount of support and administrative costs and, as I said in the article, an unreliability.

      Before looking at new ways to provide safety inductions, we need to investigate if the old ways are as ineffective as people claim. I beleive that traditional ways of communicating safety in inductions can be very effective IF they are provided with the appropriate prominence and resources.

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