Recently, I came across a Los Angeles Times article that chronicled the fallout from a chemical spill on the campus of California State University in Sacramento in 2016.1 During that event, five employees were injured after they responded to a spill of an unknown liquid in one of the university’s laboratories. While the technicians involved initially believed the liquid was acetone, the chemical was later discovered to be dimethylformamide – an industrial solvent used to manufacture synthetic plastic fibers. More importantly, the agent is also a known liver toxin.
An internal investigation eventually led to calls to Cal-OSHA, triggering a state audit by the regulatory agency2. Of the series of systemic lapses found in how worker safety protocols were implemented and enforced at the university, one of the most shocking revelations was that of the nearly 200 employees serving as lab technicians, only 36% had completed required training for their role. Overall, the university’s EHS training program was found to be either ineffective or outright missing. One employee told investigators that they hadn’t received EHS training for over 20 years!
EHS Training is Essential
Having an effective EHS training program is crucial to safeguard workers from harmful exposures, reduce the risk of adverse environmental impacts, optimize product quality and throughput, and protect business continuity. Failing to provide your staff with the necessary training can result in serious consequences.
In this blog, we’ll review:
- How failing to manage EHS training effectively can cost your business
- The common challenges organizations face when trying to build an EHS program that works
- How learning management solutions offer new possibilities to not only boost training compliance, but to support better training engagement, knowledge retention and overall performance
Ineffective Training Hurts Everyone
The events at California State University clearly illustrate the effect that a poorly designed and executed EHS training program can have on any business. Just consider:
- 15% of Federal OSHA’s most-frequently issued citations are related to employers failing to provide requisite worker training. The cost of those citations was estimated to exceeded $61 million in 2019 alone.3
- Research reveals that organizations missing formal EHS training programs exhibit 24% higher incident rates than those with such programs.4
- Poor worker training programs can seriously hamper the ability of an organization to attract and retain top talent. Nearly 3 in every 4 workers identify lack of training as the biggest hurdle to performing successfully on-the-job.5 In that case, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that 40% of employees who don’t receive necessary job training – including EHS training – will leave their positions within their first year of employment.6
These statistics suggest there is a considerable upside for businesses to invest in EHS training programs. But knowing where to focus efforts and resources isn’t always straightforward.
What are the biggest challenges organizations face when it comes to managing EHS training?
Last year, a group of over 1,100 EHS professionals and organizational leaders were asked to identify their top 3 challenges when it came to creating an effective EHS training program.7 Here’s what they said:
- 59% of organizations struggle to organize and complete training, even when that training was mandated by law.
- Despite dedicating considerable resources toward EHS training, 31% of organizations didn’t feel confident that their training was effective at creating the behaviors needed for EHS success.
- Even where training was being completed, 24% of organizations were concerned that employees were not retaining the knowledge long enough to influence their future behavior. Many firms lacked specific processes to help continuously reinforce that training over time.
How do organizations begin to overcome these challenges?
Leveraging digitization is a simple way to streamline your EHS training program to empower employees with essential knowledge that will help them effectively identify, assess, and mitigate risks in real-time, ultimately enhancing program outcomes.
1. Enhancing Training Program Management
Employees who receive at least 20 hours of annual safety training are found to be nearly 70% more likely to follow safety protocols and practice safe behaviors than those who don’t meet the 20-hour threshold.8 And firms who leverage software to manage their training programs were found to be 20% more likely to reach this 20-hour threshold, in part due to:
- The ability to automate training assignments that optimize scheduling and reduce related administrative burdens.
- The availability of online learning content to offer workers more flexibility to complete training at times and in locations most convenient to them.
- The use of automated alerts and escalations to help ensure workers and supervisors are aware of training required, and that they are held accountable to complete that training in a timely manner.
2. Increasing Training Effectiveness
Ensuring that employees receive the right amount of training each year is only part of the equation.
For EHS training programs to be truly effective, they must help employees build the skills and knowledge needed to manage risk more effectively and adhere to established EHS protocols more consistently. And research suggests that our EHS training programs just aren’t as effective as they should be.
When organizational leaders were asked to assess the reasons why worker compliance to EHS protocols hadn’t improved over a specific period, nearly 70% attributed the result to employee attributes – in other words, perceived behavioral characteristics including laziness, lack of engagement, taking shortcuts, or simply ‘wanting to do things the old way’.
But interestingly, when looking at the survey results further, it was found that almost 30% of respondents identified gaps in training as the likely culprit – including the unavailability of training material, along with inadequate training delivery. Specifically, it was indicated that training programs didn’t account for the different learning, language, and literacy needs of the workforce.9
Did you know that:
- Workers who do not speak the majority language of the workplace are 30% more likely to be injured, and four times more likely to die on the job
- 66% of foreign-born workers make mistakes at work due to language and literacy barriers
Source: Jincom, 202110
Ensuring training is structured and delivered in a way that speaks to the different learning needs of individual workers is particularly important. With that in mind, here are a few things to consider when designing EHS training to optimize its effectiveness.
- While every individual learns at a different pace, traditional in-person training approaches tend to be designed around the ‘average’ worker. This means that novice employees might get lost in the training content more easily, while more experienced workers may easily get bored and disengage. In either case, the result is the same – knowledge acquisition is negatively impacted. So, when designing training, consider how you can empower the individual to control the pace at which they learn, which will help boost engagement and overall learning adoption.
- For organizations with a more global workforce, it’s likely that the majority language of the workplace isn’t the first language for many employees. Enabling workers to complete EHS training in their preferred language not only helps drive engagement but can also help address issues in comprehension that can increase the risk of undesired behavior in the field.
- While we often don’t realize it, one in five U.S. adults struggle to read English at a basic level.11 Digital training solutions allows organizations to reduce possible literacy barriers by leveraging different media options to share learning in a meaningful way.
- Although many organizations rely on incident rates to evaluate their EHS training programs, research shows that leading indicators serve as a better tool to measure overall training program effectiveness. In fact, while EHS professionals generally agree that ‘documented behavior evaluation in the working environment’ is one of the best measures of training effectiveness, only 28% of employers actively incorporate this method into their training programs.12 When designing training programs, consider how to incorporate practical, in-field evaluations into your toolkits to ensure key learnings are actually acquired, and training gaps can be identified and addressed.
Want to learn more? Check out our eBook, Measuring Performance: Your Guide to Health and Safety Leading Indicators
3. Ensuring Knowledge Retention
EHS training is of little use if employees don’t retain the information long enough to be able to apply it when it’s needed. Where periodic reinforcement of learned material is used, you can drastically reduce the percentage of information loss, and improve the potential of that data making it into long-term memory.
Fortunately, digital training solutions can be an effective tool in building reinforcement levers into our overall training model.
- Mobile e-learning modules have been shown to improve knowledge retention by up to 20%.13 And organizations are getting more creative in how their employees can access refresher content within their daily activities, such as embedding training links into barcodes that employees can scan in the field with their mobile device to access quick tutorials before using equipment or starting a task.
- Another effective way to reinforce training is to build refreshers into the employee’s given workflow. For instance, where an employee is required to obtain a permit to work, organizations could design the workflow to require the employee to complete a short refresher training before they can submit their permit request for approval.
- One of the best means of training reinforcement is active coaching and performance feedback through on-the-job observation. Software affords businesses the ability to associate observation tasks within their training programs, leverage the results of these evaluations to identify knowledge gaps, and then auto-assign additional refreshers or actions to help drive learning retention.
Take Your EHS Training Program to the Next Level
Improving your training program to support better EHS outcomes can seem daunting. But by embracing digitalization, you can begin to streamline your program to deliver more effective training, while removing the heavy administrative burdens that often come along with training management.
With software-enabled learning management solutions, organizations can leverage innovative tools to automate training processes, allowing for the efficient delivery of tailored content that aligns with specific EHS needs. Not only does this save valuable time and resources, but also ensures that employees always receive up-to-date and relevant training materials, enabling them to make informed decisions that will contribute to exceptional – and sustainable – EHS results.
1 Resmovits, J. April 2018. A chemical spill, unchecked eyewash stations, poor training: Audit details Cal State’s lax lab safety. Los Angeles Times. Accessed at: https://www.baltimoresun.com/la-me-calstate-lab-audit-20180425-story.html
2 California State Auditor. 2017. California State University It Has Not Provided Adequate Oversight of the Safety of Employees and Students Who Work With Hazardous Materials: Report 2017-119. Accessed at: https://www.auditor.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2017-119.pdf
3 Druley, K. November 2019. OSHA’s Top 10 most cited violations for 2019. Safety+Health. https://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/19087-oshas-top-10-most-cited-violations
4 Waehrer, G.M & Miller, T.R. 2009. Does safety training reduce work injury in the United States? Ergonomics Open Journal. 2: 26-39
5 Your Training Edge. March 2018. 10 astonishing corporate training statistics and what you can learn from each. Accessed at https://www.yourtrainingedge.com/10-astonishing-corporate-training-statistics-and-what-you-can-learn-from-each/
6 April 2018. 6 ways staff training improves your bottom line. Practice Builders. Accessed at https://www.practicebuilders.com/blog/6-ways-staff-training-improves-your-bottom-line/
7,8,9,12 Intertek Alchemy. 2022. The State of Workplace Safety Training: A comprehensive analysis of methods, effectiveness and surmountable deficiencies.
10 Jincom. 2022. Customer Case Study.
11Clark, A., et al. June 2022. One in five Americans struggles to read. We want to understand why. ProPublica. Accessed at: https://www.propublica.org/getinvolved/literacy#:~:text=One%20in%20five%20American%20adults,Some%20cannot%20read%20at%20all
13 Brown, T. & Pennington, B. February 2022. Best practices: Adopting digital technology for EHS training. Verdantix.