Health and safety training best practice

Quality health and safety training provide ‘mind tools’ to protect employees and prevent loss. Here is a general guide for in-house trainers.

Effective training develops the skills of workers to improve their own procedures and working conditions, writes Saide Mansur.

Several factors contribute to successful training. One of the most important is ensuring that the training facilitator demonstrates safety and health expertise; sound instructional skills; and flexibility.

In effective training, participants should learn:
• How to identify safety and health risks at their workplace;
• How to analyze the causes of safety and health risks;
• How to bring about safer, healthier workplaces;
• How to involve their co-workers in accomplishing these.

Health and safety training program characteristics

If the employee’s vocabulary is limited, or there is low literacy among some participants, the training must account for that limitation.

A general review of training best practices reveals four characteristics that sound training programs have in common. The best training programs are accurate, credible, clear and practical.

Accurate training materials should be prepared by qualified individuals, updated as needed and facilitated by appropriately qualified and experienced individuals employing appropriate training techniques and methods.

Credible training facilitators should have a general safety and health background or be subject matter experts in the relevant health or safety-related fields.

They should also have experience training adults or experience working with the target population. Practical experience in the field of safety and health as well as experience in training facilitation contribute to a higher degree of facilitator credibility.

Clear training programs are fully understandable to the participants. If the material is only understandable to someone with a college education or someone who understands the jargon, then the program falls short of meeting worker’s needs.

Training materials should be written in the language and grammar of the everyday speech of the participants. Training developers should ensure that readability and language choices match the intended audience.

If an employee does not speak or comprehend English, instruction must be provided in a language the employee can understand. Similarly, if the employee’s vocabulary is limited or there is evidence of low literacy among participants, the training must account for that limitation.

Remember that workers may be fluent in a language other than English, or they may have low literacy in both English and their primary language. Training needs to be adjusted to accommodate all the factors that are present.

Practical training programs present information, ideas, and skills that participants see as directly useful in their working lives. Successful transfer of learning occurs when the participant can see how information presented in a training session can be applied in the workplace.

Trainees learn from the trainer and from one another (photo posed).
Trainees learn from the trainer and from one another (photo posed).

Health and safety learning exchange

Three kinds of learning exchanges should be used during training:

[] Participant-to-Participant: “Participant-to-participant” learning exchange recognizes that participants can learn from one another’s experiences. Participant-to-participant exchanges should be a key feature of the training.

[] Participant-to-Facilitator: Facilitators can learn as much from training sessions as participants do. On many subjects, a group of participants may have more extensive knowledge and experience in certain areas than a facilitator.

[] Facilitator-to-Participant: Classroom learning needs structure. A facilitator’s role is to guide discussions, encourage participation, draw out and/or add information as needed, and highlight key issues and points.

Health and safety training facilities
Ideally, training facilities should have sufficient resources and equipment to perform classroom and activity-based learning in a setting conducive to effective learning.

However, often such facilities are not available and instructors find themselves having to make do and adapt to training in the environment they are given. Sometimes training will be conducted in remote or non-traditional locations.

For example, in the case of day laborers, training could be “in the field / at site locations” where workers are waiting to be hired.

In other cases, you may be in a smaller room than anticipated, or there may be no electrical outlets or flip charts in the room where you are training. Trainers should anticipate such setbacks and prepare as best as they can.

Instructor-trainee ratio is important. Class sizes of about 25 people (or less) work best, especially when incorporating activity-based learning into the training experience. When class size exceeds 30 people, it is advisable to provide a second instructor and divide the class into two sections during instruction.

Training facilities and resources must be adequate and appropriate for supporting the training:
• Sufficient space for all attendees to sit comfortably during instruction;
• Sufficient room set-up for participants to interact with one another;
• Enough equipment for all attendees and demonstration equipment for the instructor/facilitator (if applicable);
• Space and facilities for small group exercises or hands-on training using equipment as part of activity-based learning;
• Equipment, technical support, and resources sufficient to support training via technology, such as during instructor presentations or web-based training used by students to enhance learning (if applicable).

Health and safety training objectives
Every instructor has objectives to accomplish during training. Instructional objectives should be student-focused and state the desired learning outcome.

However, it is necessary to note that, while good training can be provided, workers can still face difficulty at work when raising their voices to try to get problematic conditions corrected.

When constructing objectives, the main question that objectives answer is: What should the participant be able to do differently, or more effectively, after the training is completed?

The SMART Model is one method used to construct practical objectives;
S for Specific. Objectives should specify what they need to achieve.
M for Measurable. You should be able to measure whether you are meeting the objectives or not.
A for Achievable. Objectives should be attainable and achievable.
R for Relevant. Objectives should lead to the desired results.
T for Time-bound. When do you want to achieve the set objectives?

Train at all literacy levels
Do not assume that all participants are equally skilled or confident in speaking, reading, writing, and math.

Plan for plenty of small group activities where participants get to work together on shared tasks – reading, discussing, integrating new information, relating to life experience, recording ideas on flip charts, and reporting back to the whole group.

In small groups, participants can contribute to the tasks according to their different backgrounds and abilities.

Try to use as many teaching techniques as possible that require little or no reading.

At the beginning of a class mention that you are aware that people in the group may have different levels of reading and writing skills.

Establish a positive learning situation where lack of knowledge is acceptable and where questions are expected and valued. Participants need to be able to indicate when they do not understand and to feel comfortable asking for explanations of unfamiliar terms or concepts.

Make it clear that you will not put people on the spot. Let them know that you are available during breaks to talk about any concerns.

Let the group know that they will not necessarily be expected to read material by themselves during the training.

Let people know that you will not be requiring them to read aloud. Ask for volunteers when reading aloud is part of an activity. Never call on someone who does not volunteer.

Do not rely on printed material alone. When information is important, make sure plenty of time for discussion is built into the class so participants have the opportunity to really understand.

Read instructions aloud. Do not rely on written instructions or checklists as the only way of explaining an activity or concept.

* Saide Aly Mansur is a safety consultant. He is the Senior Advisor of the World Safety Organisation, Qatar Chapter, 2012 to 2015; and former IIRSM ME Qatar Charter coordinator 2013 -2014.

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3 thoughts on “Health and safety training best practice

  1. Excellent article! Training is a very broad concept. It is important to note that there is an acute difference between technical training and Emotional Intelligence training. Goleman (1998) opines that learning an emotional competence is a titanic labour; he further warns that one mistake “made by organisations is trying to instil an emotional competence like service orientation or SAFETY CULTURE using the same technique that effectively teach how to create a business plan {emphasis mine}. The aim of training is to transfer knowledge to the trainees and trainers should be aware of the difference between Declarative knowledge (knowing a concept and its technical details) and Procedural knowledge (being able to put concepts and details into practice). Trainers should also understand the didactic situation in their training environment. Simply put, the didactic situation refers to the trainee, subject matter as well as the training centre where the training takes place. It is also important for trainers to employ didactic principles such as inductive as well as deductive methods in their training. For example, whenever they introduce a new concept to the trainees; they have to move from the known to the unknown, from easy to difficult and simple to complex. It is also vital for trainers to learn to approach people in a positive way instead of avoiding them, to listen better, and to give feedback in a skilful manner. According to Goleman (1998), the following are the examples of Emotional competence training:
    -assess the job
    -assess the individual
    -make change self-directed
    -prevent relapses
    -deliver assessment with care
    -give performance feedback
    -encourage practice
    -arrange modules
    -arrange support
    -reinforce change

  2. One of the key failures of H&S training is the presumption that everything in the manual is “new” knowledge. As this type of training is an interaction between adults, the trainer’s biggest challenge is to break through the “experience” of the recipient.
    There are a vast number of reasons why the transfer of knowledge between the trainer and the adult learner does not succeed. The biggest reason however is “expectations”. The adult learner comes to a training intervention, expecting to walk out with fresh knowledge and something new to apply in the work place. If this expectation is not met from the first engagement, training will not occur. You will merely be stuck with an audience.
    The other reason why training does not occur is the facilitator’s lack of understanding of the role of the learner. In public workshops and training sessions, this is often the biggest frustration for a trainer. Groups are collected from various roles, various industries and various levels of responsibility.
    And this is what is meant by the “experience” of the learner. Any bad experience, whatever the reason, will not result in the transfer of knowledge. Experienced trainers knows how to identify these individuals during the session and will respond accordingly.
    And yes, as Saide indicated, relevance is vital. I can recall a training session in the Construction Regulations a few years back. I was bored out of my mind. But I was forced to attend the training. I ended up testing the knowledge of the poor trainer and taught him a few things he did not know. Likewise, I sat in workshops where I could not care what time of day it is as the knowledge were well presented and relevant to my “lack” of learning.
    The success of adult learning is thus dependant on the “structure” of the learning group on the one side and the ability of the facilitator or trainer to adapt to this structure.
    If the structure of the learning group is among peers, one also get the added benefit of “collective learning”, where the delegates takes over the “teaching” function in an interactive training environment. This is extremely useful and allows the trainer to “Facilitate the learning” rather than “presenting the training” or in some cases even “read from the text book”.

    1. Interesting comments from Danny about the relevancy of training. A Harvard professor noted the following about employees who are sent for training: Firstly, there are the ‘bee hivers’, these are employees who are ‘hungry’ to receive training to enhance their knowledge. In a nutshell, they have got a natural appetite for knowledge.
      Secondly, there are ‘prisoners’, these are employees who go for training because their managers forced them to go for training and they had been warned that failure to attend training would result in some punitive sanctions.
      Finally, you have the ‘vacationers’, these are people who are not interested in training at all; they just enjoy to be out of the office and free breakfast and lunch. They consider the office environment to be purgatorial, and training is a temporary escape.

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