By: Joe Kennedy, Safety Consultant
Have you ever wondered whether or not all those reams of paper used to print off those endless corporate safety manuals and policies are worth their weight in, well, at least the paper they’re written on? Wednesday, May 9th, 2018 is National Safety Professionals’ Day and since your safety professional is probably the one who does most of the training and education about safety topics for your employees, why not celebrate National Safety Professionals Day with a quick look at what your safety professional really is doing for you? Whether your company has its own full-time Safety Professional, or contracts it out, you and your company (especially those assessing the company’s bottom line) might be wondering whether or not investments in time and training really are having any positive effects for the company’s goals and growth.
If you have ever wondered about whether or not investing in safety pays off, you’re not alone. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, was wondering the same thing in 2010 when it commissioned and published “A systematic review of the effectiveness of training & education for the protection of workers.” The study, completed in cooperation with Canada’s Institute for Work and Health, had researchers reviewing dozens of studies published in a variety of peer-reviewed scientific journals between 1996 and 2007 and ultimately identified 22 that provided them with consistent, and measurable insights about the effectiveness of safety training.
Essentially, through a very complex system of evaluating each of the studies by contrasting safety training provided to one group of employees against a control group of employees who had received little to no safety training (a “no-training control condition”, as the study puts it), the effectiveness of training was evaluated by measuring changes in employee behaviors, retention of knowledge, and attitudes towards safety. In appeasing those who appreciate brevity and aren’t interested in reading all 184 pages of NIOSH study, the summary of the study’s findings provides good news for those who are willing to invest in safety training: there is “strong evidence” to support that simply investing in one or two training sessions can produce significant and observable improvements in employee behaviors, attitudes, knowledge and beliefs about safety.
The study also found evidence to support a number of other conclusions that one might expect about safety training, including: increasing the number and frequency of training sessions increases the amount of employee knowledge retention as well as other “positive outcomes”, increasing the degree and interactivity of training provided also drastically increases the amount of employee knowledge retention as well as other “positive outcomes” (e.g. “hands on” and “in person” training was found to be much more effective than simply handing the employee a pamphlet or training document without formal instruction). The summary even included one study that provided a simple cost benefit analysis showing that when a large retail chain store, which was wrestling with whether or not to upgrade to more safety centric equipment or to stick with what they had, was ultimately able to calculate, by factoring in workers compensation and lost time costs, a net cost savings of $245 per store for the stores that decided to upgrade to and retrain employees on new equipment, as opposed to only $106 for the stores that did not.
Moving forward from NIOSH’s conclusions, any number of reasonable conclusions can be drawn from the studies complexly stated, but otherwise fairly simple affirmation: training employees about safety will generally improve their behaviors, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs about safety. By improving these elements of a company’s safety culture, the science that is commonly accepted is that an improved safety culture will generally help decrease costs of accidents, injuries, lost time, and other costs associated with lapses in safety compliance. So, if your company has already fully implemented a great safety program and safety culture, or if you’re just starting to develop a new opportunity or new attitude towards safety, keep the faith. If you train them, they will learn.
For those interested in the details of the entire study written by NIOSH, you can check it out yourself at:
HAPPY NATIONAL SAFETY PROFESSIONALS’ DAY.