How training can play its part in improving safety performance
01 March 2017
Effective behavioural safety is not assured simply by drafting appropriate policies and procedures and expecting them to be followed by employees. According to Barry Wilkes, director of strategy at NEBOSH, to ensure that they have their desired effect on health and safety performance, it is critical that they are understood by employees and implemented effectively.
Health and safety training, within a positive and supportive health and safety culture, can play a massive part in helping to achieve the desired positive outcomes. It shouldn’t, however, be seen in isolation – on its own, it’s not the panacea. It is important that individuals undertaking training are very clear about the expected outcomes and why they are being asked to participate. It is also vital that employees feel that at the end of the training they have the skills they need to do what is expected of them competently and they see a value in the skills they are gaining.
To translate learning into real behavioural change, there needs to be a workplace environment or culture that facilitates, encourages and values the behaviours that the training aims to instil. This could be as simple as ensuring that someone has the physical tools they need to do their job. It could be demonstrating the value the company attributes to the training by incorporating it into an individual’s overall career development plan. But it could also be as fundamental as taking the time to talk to an employee to help them identify opportunities to put their new knowledge into practice. Most of us have forgotten how to do something just because we don’t do it regularly. It’s obvious really - if people aren’t encouraged to put their new knowledge into practice then it will go to waste. The old adage ‘it’s like learning to ride a bike’ doesn’t always hold true!
Employees must feel like they are empowered to challenge behaviour that is at odds with what they have been taught. By encouraging employees to take ownership in this way, change can be achieved in a more inclusive rather than directive way. To achieve this, a sense of ownership of health and safety must be deliberately fostered across the workforce, making it something that everyone has responsibility for so that, no matter what their role, employees who become aware that something is not quite right deal with it. Training is important here as it can help explain the rationale for safety processes and having this background knowledge helps employees understand why procedures are set and the benefits of following them.
It is also important for peers to be supportive; a shift in behaviour may start with one person, but it needs the majority to be on board for it to be really effective. At food ingredients manufacturer Cargill (formerly ADM Cocoa UK), they identified that employee engagement is a hugely important contributory factor for delivering continuous improvement. For environmental management specifically, often the biggest changes occur because the workforce are aware of the environmental impacts that their activity is having and understand what they can do about them.
After recognising this, the company encouraged a number of its employees at their plant near Liverpool to take the NEBOSH Environmental Awareness at Work qualification. H&SE Co-ordinator Greg McCannon says that as a result, the company has “immediately seen that our employees are being more proactive. They’re also coming forward with ideas of their own. Altogether, it’s proving very positive and has given everyone a more structured approach to environmental management.”
The experiences of companies like Cargill show the positive effect that training can have on raising awareness of health and safety and environmental management in the workplace. But training is only part of the story.
The changes in behaviour that follow training and have the desired positive effect on safety performance come to fruition when a company also has evolved health and safety cultures. These cultures support and encourage employees to implement what they have learnt in their workplace. Feeling empowered to put into practice changes beneficial to not only the company but employees too, has been a good way to perpetuate enthusiasm in those implementing health and safety initiatives.