The thought of attending a health and safety training course may not elicit much enthusiasm, but it is essential for keeping employees safe and employers out of the dock. Beverly Coleman explores why training is so important and how employers can encourage employees to take up training and enjoy it.

In this age of swiping left or right — left for dislike and right for like — health and safety training would probably get more left than right swipes. It is just not that enticing but it is crucial and must be undertaken by employees. The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to provide training as necessary to ensure employees can undertake their work tasks safely. There are, however, methods that can be adopted to make sure that course invites do not simply languish in inboxes, unread.

Why is health and safety training so important?

Training employees how to work safely has many advantages. It saves lives, reduces accidents and incidents, enables employers to meet their legal duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and makes financial sense. In January 2017, a popular fast-food chain was fined £950,000 for two separate accidents where employees sustained second and third degree burns — a lack of training was cited as a cause. A training course or two would have cost a fraction of this fine and prevented the harm caused to the unfortunate employees.

Effective training helps to develop a positive health and safety culture where employees thrive and safety is a part of their everyday working lives.

Who needs to be trained?

Everyone. Accidents and ill health resulting from the work we undertake affects everyone, therefore all in the workplace, from those who instruct to those that do the work, must be trained. Think about:

• board members

• senior and middle management

• team leaders and supervisors

• employees/team members

• trainees and volunteers

• safety representatives

• young workers/apprentices.

To make decisions that keep the workforce safe, the board and executive team need to have a good understanding of health and safety at work, the safety management system, the particular risks that employees are exposed to, and their roles and responsibilities. Managers and supervisors need to know what is expected of them and how they are to discharge their duties. This enables them to lead by example and champion health and safety. Employees, trainees, volunteers and young workers all need to know how to do their jobs safely and need to understand the health and safety policy.

Do you have contractors working for you? If so, they also need to be trained so that they are familiar with the safe systems of work that are in place and the working environment. Providing effective training is the only way to ensure that all parties have the necessary knowledge and competence.

Who needs what training?

A good starting point is to know what can harm the workforce by assessing the risks. This will give a steer to what training is required and what regulations need to be referred to; many have specific training requirements such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 and the Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992.

A training needs analysis will help to identify who needs to do what training based on their job role, capabilities, knowledge, experience and training history. This will also aid in the selection of courses and the decision whether to deliver courses in-house or to use an external trainer. Nothing is more irritating than turning up for a training course that is not relevant, due to subject matter or the level at which it is pitched. It is important to get the right people on the right course.

Consider the specific training needs of each employee or group.

  • Are they new to the organisation?

  • Are they existing employees moving to a new role?

  • Are they in need of just a refresher?

  • Has a deficiency in knowledge been highlighted following an accident?

Method of delivery

It is vital that a variety of methods are considered to attract and engage employees. With the range of media available there is no need to stick to traditional methods such as hours of PowerPoint slides. Contemplate the audience and the possible range of learning styles. Everyone learns differently. Some are visual learners and prefer videos, diagrams and photos. Others are auditory and benefit from lectures and discussion, while kinaesthetic learners thrive where elements of role play and demonstrations are part of a course. It may not be possible to deliver a course that satisfies all candidates’ learning styles, but a mix of methods and activities will ensure that each learning style is embraced and will in turn make a course more interactive and interesting.

Training does not have to be confined to a big room set up in classroom style; elevate a session by taking it off-site if possible, holding it on the shop floor or in a workshop, partner with a similar organisation so that the session can double up as a networking/ideas sharing opportunity. On-the-job training can also be delivered on a one-to-one basis through coaching and mentoring.

Think about real-life working scenarios, so that the message hits home and also try to inject some fun; incorporate the format of a popular television show perhaps. Alternatively add an element of fear, arrange for a session to be interrupted with the news of a major incident and get the candidates to assist in the initial stages of an investigation. Of course, the delivery will also be determined by the audience, getting a group of board and executive members to roleplay may not be the best use of their time, but bringing in an expert guest speaker with a background in litigation and compliance will.

In addition, the candidate’s level of competence, command of the English language, literacy skills, mobility and any special requirements will also determine the method of delivery. A simple pre-course assessment will help to understand whether anything further needs to be taken into account.

Sell it

Once it has been established who needs the training and how it is to be carried out, the health and safety course needs to be sold to the workforce. If there has been difficulty in getting employees to attend training in the past get senior management and Human Resources involved. Try delivering a taster session to them at a committee meeting so that they can see what is to be presented to the workforce. They can then help in communicating the importance of attending and what is to be expected to the workforce and their team members.

It is also worth attending team meetings to further encourage take up and to find out from employees themselves what style of training they enjoy and what has prevented them from attending courses in the past. Going out and meeting those that undertake the work makes a big impact, further emphasising how important training is in keeping them safe. Focus on the benefits and rewards of training such as accreditation, career development, and knowledge that will enable them to do their work more efficiently and safely so that they can get back home each day without injury or ill health. After all, that is the whole point.

Last reviewed 11 January 2018