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Let’s put training in context

Training is recognised as one aspect of competence. In this article we examine the importance of training to ensure the health and safety of employees at work. Where do you go, what do you look for and what constitutes good training?

Written by Ray Cooke, Former Principal Inspector, HSE

The article on competence in the last Saving Lives mentioned training as one aspect in gaining such competence. So where do you go, what do you look for and what constitutes good training?

First, let’s put training in some context. The Health & Safety at Work Act requires an employer to provide such training, as is necessary, to ensure the health and safety at work of his employees. It’s safe to say that this includes both training in the tasks, roles and activities to be undertaken, as well as in understanding safe systems of work and management procedures to be followed.

In essence, training should include both the industry role/task and health and safety. How can you fully understand your industry training if you are not also given explanation and (health and safety) training in why things need to be undertaken in specific ways. If you are not given the reasons/context why you need to work in a specific manner, then it’s less likely you will understand and keep to that safe system.   

HSE guidance is clear that, as with competence, a proportionate approach is needed. For example, a low-risk business would not need lengthy technical training. Elsewhere however, some workers may have particular training needs, and this might include new recruits and induction training; young persons, who may understand risk less; those where there are specific legal requirements (eg operating fork lift trucks); etc. Your risk assessment should identify these, and any training needs associated with specific risks (danger areas in the workplace; fire & emergency procedures etc).

As part of a proportionate approach, it’s quite possible to deliver some training in-house, though you will still need to show that those providing the training are competent to do so and how they ensure a consistent approach to that training (do they follow a set syllabus or course). This is especially important if you have more than one person delivering your training.

And remember, training is very much not about ‘bums on seats’, it’s about people being able to understand and put what they have learned into practice and to do so safely. So, you also need to have a management system in place to check this when workers return from the training.

Training can be in various guises and some organisations might even call it learning and development (L&D). People might learn by a variety of methods (e-learning, coaching etc) rather than just by attending formal training courses. Whatever method is chosen, you still must be able to demonstrate a consistent approach to ensure all receive the same quality of L&D that is required and your management approach in checking that it has embedded and is being properly used.

For many organisations it is simpler and easier to bring in / buy in (send workers away to) training. What you will need to do, as an employer, is make some checks to ensure that whoever you approach to deliver that training is genuinely able to deliver a consistent and quality product. Some routes may be easier to follow than others, and you may find it simpler to approach FE colleges, qualification awarding bodies, trade unions or trade associations. And don’t just accept what courses are ‘on the shelf’, discuss with those providers what the course covers and whether it meets the needs you have identified for your employees. They might well help you identify things you hadn’t considered, or even be able to tailor training to your needs.

Where work at height is concerned, you could do worse than approach Access Industry Forum member bodies, who can provide technical training, awareness training and management training (if managers/supervisors are not trained then you will likely find it difficult to check your employees are following the training they have received, so how can you then be sure you haven’t just wasted your money).    

I’ve already mentioned ‘bums on seats’ training. Many of you may well have experienced such courses. You simply turn up, sit in a classroom, have someone talk at you (probably deliver death by powerpoint) and pick up your certificate of attendance on the way out. And it is (or at least should be) just a certificate of attendance. Without any kind of assessment or check on whether attendees have learned and can apply that training, how can it really be anything else?

That’s one of the main reasons why you need to choose your training provider carefully. Choosing a provider and course that includes assessment/checks/tests (just like a driving test) gives you at least some help in demonstrating your employee had a level of competence when they completed the training. But, as mentioned in the previous article on competence, that’s not the end of the matter for an employer. You must still monitor that your employee continues to demonstrate that competence during their work for you.

Further very helpful guidance is available in HSE leaflet INDG345 Health and safety training – A brief guide or on the HSE website.

Ray Cooke

Ray Cooke

Ray recently retired after 35 years with the Health and Safety Executive, finishing his career as Principal Inspector in charge of the construction division’s sector safety team.

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