Does Online Safety Training Really Reduce Losses?

I just read an advertisement on the website of a safety training company. In the case-study provided, they claimed that by using their online training a client saved nearly $700,000 in reduced injury claims. Excuse me, but I have a really difficult time believing claims like this.

Most safety professionals know that training is an important part of an effective safety program, and a key element in the overall management system. However, for any training initiative to be successful, management needs to buy-in and provide full support.  Ideally, there will be a culture where the leadership has decided that safety is a core value and will not be compromised.  In the absence of this support, safety initiatives of all types, not just training, will become ineffective very quickly. 

Off-The-Shelf Courses Need Follow-up

Hazard awareness is fundamental. If managers, supervisors and individual employees are not aware of the hazards they face and the methods of control, injuries will most certainly result. The problem with any off-the-shelf online training course is that it usually is not specific enough to provide all the information needed to truly protect the worker.  All too often, when employees go off to take their required online training, supervisors think that the workers will come back trained and that’s all there is to it. Of course that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Once the online course is completed follow up and additional instruction is necessary.  Supervisors or instructors should make sure the employees understand how the information pertains to them and the work they perform, and how to actually perform the actions or skills learned.  Can they demonstrate and explain what they learned?

The next time any training company tries to tell you (CLMI included!) that by using their training courseware you will reduce your losses or be in OSHA compliance, think again.  Training is a key element, but to be successful it requires a fully integrated management system approach. Then, when an online training company says it…..maybe it’s time to find another training partner!

Make Online Training More Effective

According to the Instructional Systems Association, online training is good at promoting learning and often provides excellent results. The interactivity between the course and the learner requires participation and a higher level of attention, leading to greater retention.  It also saves time and can be cost effective. There are caveats however.

Think about the outcome of your training.  Is there a specific action or skill you want the learners to be able to perform?  Are you trying to cover emergency response procedures, or the specific method for donning a respirator? Be thoughtful of when it’s used. Online training is best in providing information (like that required by the OSHA Hazard Communication standard) and for presenting education elements (for example, the PASS method when using a fire extinguisher).  However, when skills need to be performed (actually extinguishing a fire) there should always be additional hands-on instruction. The risk to an employee of either not understanding or not being able to perform correctly is too high.

When selecting online courses for skill development, always select those that have instructor’s guides and other hands-on training materials, or develop them yourself. Transferring knowledge from the computer screen to the shop floor takes planning and follow-up.  The risk of incomplete learning is too great.

ANSI/ASSE Z490.1-2009 

One last thought.  Online training is one of many methods for training and educating your workers.  For a much better understanding of training and what needs to be done to make it effective you should read ANSI/ASSE Z490.1-2009 “Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training”.  This ANSI Standard, available at www.asse.org, was developed to assist SH&E trainers in creating, preparing, presenting and evaluating safety training.  I highly recommend it.