Joining the debate

13 September 2016

With so many training providers offering different courses, the panel at the Health & Safety Event’s Safety Dialogue sessions – which included representatives from NEBOSH, BOHS, Mines Rescue Service and 3M – focused on the importance of training programmes and how employers assess competency. Alan McArthur, technical supervisor at 3M, gives an overview of the key discussion points from the event.

It is a legal requirement to give employees the necessary information, instruction and training required for them to carry out their job safely. This can be delivered in-house or by an external provider. There are many ways to deliver training, including on-the-job, during a formal classroom session or online, but one of the biggest challenges with all these methods is how to decide whether the training received was sufficient.

It is not uncommon to find that employees have been trained, but may not know the content well enough to keep themselves and their colleagues safe. This may be because they did not fully understand the training or it could be that they simply attended, but didn’t participate and learn.

To make the most of training courses – and for reassurance that people are able to safely carry out the task at hand – it is highly advisable to opt for a programme which has some form of competency assessment.

Here are some of the discussion points from the Safety Dialogue sessions.

Attending training versus competence

Workers are often given a certificate of attendance after completing a health and safety training course. However, at the Safety Dialogue session, it was widely felt that this stood for very little in terms of competency.

To be able to certify someone as competent, assessment is required alongside training and depending upon the subject and circumstances, this could be practical or theoretical. The key point is to judge the standard at which someone can be deemed competent. In some situations it may be possible to turn to an established body, such as NEBOSH, who can offer industry recognised qualifications.

Another example is the ‘Fit2Fit’ competency scheme for fit test providers, which has been developed by the British Safety Industry Federation, along with the HSE and other industry stakeholders.

In many circumstances, however, there may not be an industry qualification available and employers may have to define their own standard of competence.

Refresher training

The need for refresher training was a topic frequently raised by the audience at the Safety Dialogue sessions. While it is always good practice to give workers reminders, this would mainly depend on the level of risk, familiarity with the activity and also the occurrence of carrying out the task.

For example, refresher training is likely to be required if tasks or responsibilities are not carried out frequently. This is because there could be a long time span between the training/assessment and the worker actually having to put the skills to use, resulting in a lack of confidence or awareness.

Online and e-learning

Training courses have become readily available online and this was a topic of much debate at the Health & Safety Event. One audience member was wary of online and e-learning training courses as, in some cases, participants can go straight to the assessment without reading the content – so what are they really learning? 

These types of training courses do have value in particular scenarios, as they are easily accessible and can very efficiently impart information. However, it is often easier to engage learners and adapt the course to best suit the audience when the delivery is in person.  A good option can be a blend of online and classroom based training, maximising the benefits of each method.

Legal status
Employers are required by law to give employees the necessary information, instruction and training required for them to carry out their job safely.  In many industries how this is done in practice is flexible and there are very few situations where a specific certificate is required. However, well-established courses and qualifications can help by defining a level of expertise that can generally be considered as competent.

The Safety Dialogue sessions continue at this October’s Health and Safety North event at the Bolton Arena. The topics to be covered are respiratory protection and fit testing, managing noise hazards and training and competency. To register visit