The case for training

Published: 10th May 2009

A Lack of Training can cause Serious Accidents

Failure to train is training to fail - was a popular saying a few years ago. Nobody disputes that teaching someone how to do their job is a good thing, but too little weight is given to the value of continuing training. Learning is development, and without development you get stagnation, and that isn’t a good thing for any business. In terms of health and safety, training is not only important, but essential for workers’ continuing competence and safety.

Why train?

Just about the only way to learn how to do a job, especially the more complex and technical ones, is to be properly trained. This can be as simple as the person working next to you showing you how to do something - although that has its own particular drawbacks - to spending time in education learning something more complex. Learning the basic skills of a working environment - essential for new staff -is induction training.

Ongoing ‘on the job’ training is also essential and tends to involve enhancing or broadening existing skills to make a person more effective and safe at work.

Sometimes training can be regrettably haphazard, as busy or financially pressured employers are occasionally reluctant to expend the necessary resources on a proper training programme. The benefits of proper training are many, including a sharp reduction in exposure to avoidable hazards and a minimisation in risk taking, which results in, amongst other things, measurably fewer accidents and the resultant paperwork.

There are many legal obligations for training, both general and task specific,such as the use of abrasive wheels, power presses, operating forklift trucks etc. If tested, the employer must be able to show that staff have received the correct instruction or face potential legal consequences. The Health and Safety at Work Act, section 2.2.c, lays a duty upon the employer to train all his employees as far as is necessary. A good employer always does more than the minimum.

A workforce that doesn’t spend it’s time wondering how to do its job properly will clearly be more productive, with higher and more consistent quality standards. This in turn has a positive impact on morale and teamwork, which increases job satisfaction and results in a reduction in absenteeism and staff turnover.

With less time being spent on correcting deficiencies, investigating accidents and generally supervising the individual’s job performance, managers will have more time for more commercially constructive activities.

So why train? Optimising the skills of your workforce has to be a primary concern of any responsible manager, and training is the easiest way to achieve that.

The benefits

  • Hazard exposure and risk taking will be minimised, resulting in fewer accidents. A trained employee will be aware of the job requirements and how to apply the necessary safe systems of work. A likelyhood of gas alerts or fall arrest situations occurring and where lone working is definitely not a possibility
  • Legal obligations will be met for both general and specific training needs, e.g. abrasive wheels, power presses, forklift truck operators etc
  • The workforce will be more productive, with higher and more consistent quality standards
  • Employee morale and teamwork will improve, increasing job satisfaction
  • Managers will have more time for constructive activities. Less time will be spent correcting deficiencies, investigating accidents, and generally supervising the individual’s job performance
  • A systematic training programme will result in a more flexible workforce
  • If it is not already evident, it should be noted, in meeting the aims of workplace safety that the employer will achieve benefits in all areas of workplace activity

Types of training, Induction training

A properly constructed induction process for new staff is vital. Most accidents happen in the first few months of a working life, but the second highest period of risk is immediately following a job transfer - effectively starting a new job. Regrettably staff on internal transfer rarely receive the same level of induction as new people.

The objective of induction training is to enable the recipient to quickly and efficiently fit into a new and unfamiliar workplace. They may not understand the company’s procedures, the local language or the specialist terminology, but they will still be expected to perform their duties quickly and efficiently almost from the moment they arrive - and without creating hazards for their colleagues or themselves, or damaging plant, equipment, product or the workplace.

Language problems may not be cultural or even regional, although they often are. In England, for example, the term al fresco means ‘outdoors’. In Italy, used ironically, it means ‘in prison’. A frequent stumbling block is also the terminology developed by, and peculiar to, a trade or workplace. The ‘thumbs up’ gesture, for another example, is generally understood to mean ‘ok’, but to a soldier it means ‘friendly forces’ and to a diver it means ‘I am ascending’. In parts of southern Europe it is considered impolite enough to start a fight.

The basics that a new employee needs include:

  • Facilities e.g. toilets, canteen, first aid, welfare arrangements
  • The company’s Safety policy, plus immediately essential workplace rules and procedures
  • Responsibilities of the organisation and individuals, especially trainees, for health and safety
  • Major site hazards of which the trainee needs to be immediately aware. These need to be reinforced during the job training, together with training in other workplace or task hazards
  • Personal and occupational hygiene requirements and preventative health measures
  • Need for, use, maintenance and replacement of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Emergency procedures e.g. fire, gas escape and spillage control actions
  • Access, egress and safe travel within the working areas
  • Also the location and operation of emergency alarms and refuges
  • Terminology

Induction training cannot be limited to the trainees’ first day at their new workplace. With no experience of their new employer’s product/procedure or the local work rules, the trainee may be unable to understand the full implication and relevance of all the ‘dos and don’ts’ in one day. This is especially true for young people without previous work experience.

It is therefore necessary to establish an on-going programme which will systematically develop the required knowledge. Built into this programme should be a number of feedback sessions to determine its effectiveness.

It is important to remember that trainees, especially the younger ones, may be reluctant to admit that they don’t understand something, usually for fear of looking silly or getting kicked out for being slow. They may do things wrong, hoping to work out how to do it properly as they go along. So any feedback sessions must be non-judgemental, and these are often best carried out by an experienced member of the workforce (a mentor) rather than a manager.

Job training

An employee’s training and development programme should be based on an analysis of the tasks they are expected to do whilst doing their job. Safety matters must be built in as an integral and unavoidable part of any skill development, even though there will be occasions when training activities which are solely concerned with health and safety are required.

Training needs may arise as a result of:

  • New or revised legislation, company standards, HSC approved or industry codes of practice, or HSE guidance
  • New or modified equipment
  • New or revised processes or procedures
  • Deficiencies identified as a result of accident/incident investigation
  • Re-training to maintain or enhance efficiency

The following is a list of typical topics to be found in a training programme:

  • Legal responsibilities
  • General site rules
  • Correct operation of machinery
  • Safe use of tools
  • The requirements of operating manuals, checklists, forms and necessary records
  • Current workplace procedures and codes of practice
  • The requirements for the supply, use, maintenance and replacement of PPE
  • The meaning of safety signs and workplace notices
  • Safe handling procedures for substances hazardous to health
  • Their role in emergency/disaster plans, including the use of fire fighting and other emergency equipment
  • Manual handling techniques
  • How to report accidents and workplace hazards
  • The objectives of the accident investigation procedure
  • How to contribute to safety committee meetings
  • First Aid skills
  • The benefits of good housekeeping and how to achieve acceptable standards
  • General practices for both on and off the job safety

Systematic training

The traditional method of sitting with “Nellie” - learning from someone who is already doing the job - is no longer regarded as acceptable as:

  • The trainee can acquire Nellie’s bad as well as good habits
  • The “trainer” may not be able to explain ‘why’, leading to a lack of essential information
  • There may be a lack of understanding of the needs of the trainees
  • Unsystematic learning is often in steps too large for easy assimilation

It is essential to ensure that the trainer is competent, not only in the subject, but also in training techniques. If such a trainer is available within the workforce, the one to one technique will provide excellent benefits, especially where detailed and complex concepts are to be mastered.

A systematic training programme should contain the following elements:

  • A trainee selection programme to assure physical and mental fitness, and training ability
  • Appointed competent trainers
  • Acquisition of necessary knowledge and skills
  • Suitable training areas, properly equipped
  • Sufficient time to learn
  • Competency tests, either written, verbal or by demonstration or any suitable combination
  • Comprehensive training records
  • Refresher training at defined periods
  • Periodic reviews to assess the effectiveness of the training programme

Research findings

Research into health and safety training courses in the construction industry, and the impact of the Site Management Safety Training Scheme, was conducted by IFF Research Ltd in March 2007 on behalf of Construction Skills. It showed that only 35% of managers had undertaken formal health and safety training, and that just over a third of all employers spend less than £250 a year on training in this area. Both these figures are at least mildly alarming, as the weight and importance of health and safety legislation increases and the penalties for failure to comply become both greater and more stringently applied.

Certificates of competency

The issue of certificates of competency, or assessed training should be considered, for the following reasons:

  • They demonstrate that the organisation has set standards for the performance of critical tasks/operations of critical equipment
  • They recognise that the trainee has met the required standard. They may also provide a status symbol, motivating operators to maintain standards in order to keep the licence or certificate
  • They can assist supervision to deter untrained and hence unqualified persons from operating critical equipment
  • They assist in assuring periodic review with subsequent refresher training


Training is both the starting point for new staff, an insurance policy and the best way to grow a business without having to hire in trained staff. Legal necessity aside, getting staff to do their jobs as efficiently and happily as possible can only be a good thing. Someone who has been properly trained feels both acknowledged and valued by their employer and their fellow workers. Trained and motivated staff are the most valuable asset a company has, and the loss of key people can ruin an organisation almost as fast as a fire - more machinery can be purchased with the insurance money, but if the only person who knows how to operate it leaves, it might as well go with them.

To fail to train your staff to the highest degree that they are willing and able to achieve is to waste them. New people who are untrained and confused and unhappy, through the working day are likely to leave. Existing staff who want to develop their skills and can’t, will probably follow them out of the door. A positive attitude to all types of training and a clear understanding of how the acquired skills can be best used is one of the best insurance policies that a business leader can take out. This will become particularly important as the recession takes hold and employers are tempted to make savings by reducing/halting health and safety training to their staff.

If you are a business owner or manager, unsure about how to develop a comprehensive training programme for your employees, there are several companies who can provide guidance on both legal requirements and the training that is appropriate for your staff and your budget. BSS, for example, offer audits and consultancy in addition to a full range of both accredited and non-accredited training courses.

Equally, if you are an employee, concerned about a lack of health and safety training, discuss this with your employer as soon as possible.

A lack of health and safety training can cause serious accidents. Don’t leave it until it’s too late.

Published: 10th May 2009 in Health and Safety Middle East