Training & Compliance, Part 2:Take 4 Steps to Verify Effectiveness of Training

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No matter what kind of industry you’re in or how many workers you have, effective training must be at the centre of your safety program. Most injuries and illnesses can be prevented with the right training. Training also boosts productivity and morale. And, when all else fails, providing appropriate training should enable you to minimize liability for injuries that do occur. In fact, if you train right, you may even avoid liability altogether.

But training takes more of a commitment than some employers realize. Last month, in Part 1 of this series, we explained that simply training your people isn’t enough to keep your organization in compliance with your province’s occupational health and safety laws. You must also be able to document the training you provide. Without this proof, even organizations that make the effort to train are vulnerable to second-guessing by regulators, prosecutors and judges.

Documentation isn’t enough, though. You must be able to prove that you verified that the training you provided was effective. What does effective training mean under the law? And how do you go about proving that you lived up to the standard? We’ll help you answer these questions. With the help of safety experts and professional trainers across the country, we’ll also give you four steps that you can take to make sure your message is getting through.

What the Law Says

The OHS laws include two kinds of training requirements:

  1. A general requirement that says employers must ensure that workers are adequately trained in health and safety; and
  2. More detailed requirements meant to ensure that workers understand and are prepared to deal with the hazards they can expect to confront on the job. These obligations vary based on the kind of task, machinery, equipment, process or site involved. For example, in Ontario, employers must “ensure that a hazardous material is not used, handled or stored at a workplace” unless workers understand how to identify the material, the hazards associated with the material, and how to protect themselves against those hazards.

What the Law Means

OSHA law in the US specifically requires employers to take steps to verify that workers understood the training and instructions they receive. Canadian OHS laws generally don’t say this. But this is clearly the way regulators, prosecutors and judges interpret the law. In other words, Canadian employers must provide not just training, but effective training.

Effective training involves more than going through the motions. Simply holding tool box talks and handing out safety instructions doesn’t cut it. In the words of an Alberta court in a recent case, “it is not enough for [an oil company accused of violations] to orally order workers to conform to certain safety procedures and send them pamphlets that reinforce that order. If that were so, the accused could fulfill its [training] obligations under the OHS Act by holding meetings and distributing pamphlets” [R. v. Ledcor, [2005] A.J. No. 766, June 27, 2005].

Resin Manufacturer Fined $120,000 for Not Verifying Training

Because of this interpretation of training requirements, many Canadian companies that think they’re providing adequate, if not world-class training and instructions, get hit with charges because they don’t take steps to verify that workers are absorbing what they’re taught.

Example: Two workers — one experienced and one a trainee — were manufacturing resin for an Ontario-based company when a tank they were using started to spew white particulate. The experienced worker realized that the particulate was toxic, shouted out a warning, ran out of the building and escaped harm. But the trainee didn’t realize the danger and stayed behind. Workers found him later near the ruptured tank with chemical burns over most of his body. He died later that day.

The problems with the tank began when the trainee added recycled water to the reactor. The company had given the trainee instructions and a “production batch sheet” listing the proper resin ingredients and instructions about how to mix them. Among other things, it instructed him to add only fresh water to the reactor. But the trainee had also received contradictory oral instructions about the kind of water to use.

OHS investigators found that nobody had bothered to verify that the trainee knew what he was supposed to do before he started working. They also failed to verify his understanding that spew from the reactor was toxic and highly dangerous. Had training been verified, the company might have identified the hazards and corrected them and the tragedy might never have happened. The Ministry of Labour charged the company with several OHS violations including failure to properly train [Mancuso Chemicals, Limited].

Signed Acknowledgement Isn’t Proof

Some companies ask their workers to sign a form after training sessions acknowledging that they understood the lesson and will put it into practice. These forms don’t prove anything and you shouldn’t let them lull you into a false sense of security. “Most workers will just sign these things without even reading them, let alone making sure that they understood everything you told them,” says a health and safety attorney in British Columbia. This is especially true if the training and instructions are complicated.

Example: A worker was hit on the head with a falling bucket while installing a storm pipeline in a drainage ditch. OSHA inspected and cited the employer for not having an adequate protective system to guard against cave-ins. The employer disputed the citation. Besides, it argued, if any violation occurred it was because the foreman didn’t follow safety rules. The court upheld the citation. The employer did in fact put its trenching rules in the safety manual and required foremen to sign a form acknowledging that they read and understood the manual. But the rules were complicated and a signed acknowledgement form wasn’t enough to prove they were adequately communicated, said the court  [Complete General Const. Co. v. OSHRC, 2005 U.S. App. LEXIS 5197 (6th Cir.), March 29, 2005].

Although the case took place in the US, the same principles apply in Canada.

4 Things You Can Do to Make Sure Your Workers “Get It”

The lesson: Just providing training and walking away isn’t good enough. To satisfy OHS training requirements you must make an active effort to verify that workers retained the lessons you taught them. The effort must also be ongoing. That means you need to test, reinforce and make adjustments. In the words of one expert, “any safety coordinator looking for a bright blinking light to go off on the worker’s helmet to let them know the lesson has been absorbed is going to be quickly disappointed. You must come to grips with having to continually engage the worker to gauge his ability to apply learning to the workplace.”

Unfortunately, there’s no magic formula or set of steps you can take to meet this standard. There are, however, at least four techniques that safety professionals recommend using to evaluate and enhance the effectiveness of your training:

1. Post-Training Quiz. The most recommended technique is to have workers take a quiz after the training session to test their understanding of the key points. Workers who don’t score a certain percentage should get additional training. Repeat the quiz a few weeks or months later to ensure that workers retain what they were taught.

2. Participant Demonstrations. After you explain the right way to perform a job, get the worker to show you how to perform it. For example, watch whether forklift operators are stacking pallets the right way and driving safely. “Simply asking the worker whether he understands what you told him isn’t enough,” says a safety consultant in Ontario. “A lot of times, workers will tell you that they understood what you said even if they didn’t, either because they don’t want to seem dumb or because they want to get training over with.”  But with a demonstration workers can’t hide what they did and didn’t absorb. Moreover, actual performance of the technique is a strong pedagogical device. “Demonstrating the technique shows the worker how to perform it better than anything else,” notes the Ontario expert.

3. Post-Training Evaluation. You should have some form of evaluation to get worker feedback on the training. There are lots of different techniques—interviews, questionnaires, focus groups and even informal chats. One expert says she requires workers to fill out a Comprehension & Understanding form.

4. Post-Training Observation. The only sure way to know if training is effective is to observe what the workers do when they get back to the jobsite, according to one consultant. For example, if you’re training on lockout/tagout (LOTO) and three days later you observe workers locking out their machines before cleaning, it’s a sign that they remembered something from the training program you just held. If you see them doing the same thing three months later, it’s a sign that your training was effective.

Show Your Lawyer

Mancuso Chemicals, Limited, MOL News Release, April 4, 2005.

R. v. Ledcor, [2005] A.J. No. 766, June 27, 2005.