The approach of many training courses is to raise workers’ awareness of risks and precautions and to impart knowledge about ways to respond to those risks that are most likely to protect. The final assumed or stated aim is to encourage behaviour that aligns with good practice.
Although there have been some serious efforts at investigating the return on investment from safety and health programmes – from the ROI Institute, for example – we tend to assume that more is better, and that increasing our training efforts will naturally yield greater effectiveness.
We don’t always look at the efficiency of our approaches, sometimes because we know the regulator is less likely to scrutinise the quality of training than the quantity. So the agenda for site inductions gets longer, the sessions more tedious and less impactful, but resistance to reduction is fuelled by that perceived risk of “missing something important” that could be cited in court.
Training evaluation data often boils down to accident rates – which are determined by a wide range of factors – and some “customer” evaluation sheets, many of which do little more than summarise the quality of the coffee and biscuits provided.
When we plan a new initiative, we could consider how we will later report it
Recent research by construction equipment supplier Hilti has explored three aspects of short workplace training sessions: awareness; the “stickiness” of what was learned – how much was remembered unprompted some time after the course; and whether the workers or their managers perceived the training to have affected behaviour.
This sort of investigation creates the opportunity to change the training, to try to enhance the desired outcomes. Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and as an antecedent to the next phase of work it can have only a limited influence on behaviour, along with supervision, bonus arrangements and culture, among many other factors. But looking more closely at what works and investing in that is surely essential if we are to make the best of what will always be limited resources.
That is why IOSH’s research programme is so important in funding researchers to identify current practices and initiatives and exploring the differences they make in the workplace. This is difficult to do since we never have perfect experimental conditions where everything is held static apart from one variable. Nevertheless, we all have a lot riding on the findings of these investigations because they guide us to the efforts we should make in the future to improve our workplaces.
One lesson from the formal research is that when we plan a new initiative, we could consider how we will later report it – in a submission for an award, for example. This will encourage us to think how to track and measure the outcomes and will provide an explanatory narrative to our colleagues who participate in the training and our directors who authorise the budgets. Those case studies can win friends and influence people.