EHS Management, Safety Culture, Training

Gauging the Effectiveness of Safety Training: Research and Best Practices

How effective is your safety training program? You know training is required by federal or state regulations, but does occupational health and safety training really result in fewer employee injuries and illnesses?

Safety training

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The jury may be out. Researchers so far have not found enough evidence showing that training and education are clearly effective, but it can be difficult for researchers to focus their studies exclusively on the impact of training. Much of the existing research does not even consider desired outcomes like fewer accidents, injuries or illnesses, and fatalities. Training usually is just one element among many factors in a workplace safety and health management program.

Researchers do have strong evidence that training and education positively affect worker behavior.

Remember, too, that many of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) standards contain training requirements. Enforcement personnel will cite employers for violations of training requirements and usually propose penalties for violations.

You also should keep in mind that safety training is not “one and done.” Audits, a strong safety culture, safety meetings, and walkarounds can reinforce training.

NIOSH Research

Training alone may not translate into fewer injuries, illnesses, and fatalities. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) released reviews of training effectiveness research in 1998 and 2010. The 1998 review concluded training does positively affect workplace health and safety. Later researchers questioned NIOSH’s conclusions, and in 2006, the institute began a new review.

The review issued in 2010 looked at 14 randomized studies of training effectiveness. The reviewers found strong evidence that training affects worker safety and health behavior, including behavior regarding ergonomic hazards. They reviewers found, however, that published studies could not clearly demonstrate or disprove training leads to a reduction in injuries, illnesses, and fatalities.

NIOSH researchers pointed out there is a need for high-quality randomized trials examining the effectiveness of occupational safety and health training. Regardless of the lack of proof of the effectiveness of training, OSHA and state plan states have specific training requirements in their occupational safety and health standards.

Standards with Training Requirements

General industry standards with training requirements include standards for the control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout); electrical safety; emergency action and fire prevention plans; forklifts; hazard communication and hazardous and toxic substances; occupational noise exposure; permit-required confined spaces; personal protective equipment (PPE), including respiratory protection; and powered platforms. Some standards like the forklift or powered industrial truck standard also have certification and refresher training requirements.

There also are training requirements in specific industry standards like those for electric power generation, transmission, and distribution; logging; and telecommunications. One of the most frequently cited construction industry standards is the fall protection training requirements standard (29 CFR 1926.503).

Training on the floor

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Other construction industry standards with training requirements are blasting and the use of explosives; cranes and derricks; hand and power tools; motor vehicles and motorized equipment; overhead power lines; scaffolds and steel erection; signs, signals, and barricades; underground construction; and welding and cutting.

OSHA inspectors often will cite employers for both training and other requirements under a standard. For example, an employer may be cited for the lack of a hazard communication program, failure to label containers and post signs or maintain a safety data sheet (SDS) collection, and failure to train employees in workplace chemical hazards. A construction employer may be cited for failure to provide personal fall-arrest systems and a failure to provide fall protection training. Citations for control of hazardous energy (lockout/tagout) violations often include citations for training violations.

During an inspection of a facility, inspectors will interview supervisors and employees during an inspection to evaluate compliance with training requirements like those for hazard communication. They will check whether employees are aware of the hazards they are exposed to and understand how to read container labels; find, read, and understand SDSs; and know what precautions to take when exposed to hazardous substances.

Penalties following OSHA inspections can be severe:

  • OSHA slapped Paris Produce with $236,089 in penalties for failure-to-abate violations that included allowing employees to operate forklifts without proper training.
  • The agency cited Fuyao Glass America Inc. for repeat and serious violations, seeking $724,380 in fines for, among other things, confined-space entry, electrical hazard, lockout/tagout, and occupational noise training violations.
  • OSHA added Kumho Tire Georgia Inc. to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program and sought $507,299 in penalties for repeat and serious violations that included hazard communication and lockout/tagout training violations.

Safety and health training should cover both the requirements of specific standards and general knowledge of workplace hazards and the hierarchy of controls to protect against injuries and illnesses.

OSHA 10, OSHA 30

OSHA administers a voluntary Outreach Training Program of authorized safety and health trainers, which was launched in 1971. Authorized trainers, independent service providers who set their own schedules and fees, can provide a 10-hour training program intended for entry-level workers, and a 30-hour training program is intended for workers and supervisors with some safety responsibility.

Outreach Training Program classes are focused on construction, general industry, and maritime employment safety, as well as disaster site work. Trainees are awarded cards upon completion of training.

Training program cards include the following:

  • 10-hour card for students who complete the 10-hour course covering worker rights; employer responsibilities; how to file a complaint; and basic awareness training on the recognition, avoidance, abatement, and prevention of workplace hazards;
  • 30-hour card for supervisors or workers with some safety responsibility who complete the 30-hour course, which covers a greater depth and variety of training in topics associated with workplace hazards beyond the 10-hour course;
  • Disaster Site Worker cards for students who complete either a 7.5-hour or a 15-hour Disaster Site Worker course covering safety and health hazards workers may encounter, as well as the importance of respiratory and other PPE and proper decontamination procedures used to mitigate disaster site hazards; and
  • Trainer card, which must be updated every 4 years, authorizing the holder to teach 10- and 30-hour outreach courses and receive OSHA student completion cards.

The agency maintains a database of authorized trainers on its website at OSHA also monitors trainers’ compliance with the program’s guidelines and maintains a watch list on the agency’s website site at of trainers whose authorizations have been suspended or revoked. Program guidelines include verifying student identity; class sizes; classroom setting, attendance, breaks, and hours; and documentation.

OSHA limits outreach training classes to 7.5 hours. A class for the 10-hour program must take a minimum of 2 calendar days, and a 30-hour class must take a minimum of 4 calendar days. A training session can be no longer than 10 hours, including instruction and administrative time, such as meals and other breaks, taking attendance, and optional testing.

Safety Training Best Practices

The best training programs are accurate, credible, clear, and practical, according to OSHA. Training needs to be geared toward the intended audience, taking employees’ cultural and educational backgrounds into consideration, including literacy levels. In some instances, training may need to be delivered in a language other than English. OSHA compliance safety and health officers (CSHOs), in fact, will check and verify during an inspection that training materials are provided in a format that the workers being trained can understand.

Well-documented findings about adult education can be helpful in developing and delivering training, according to OSHA. Adult learners typically are self-motivated, expecting to gain information with practical applications on the job. Trainers can use flip charts, handouts, overhead transparencies, and slide presentations to cover material.

Adults learn best when actively engaged or during interaction with either instructors or other employees. Trainers should make sure to include time for interaction, such as role-playing or small group discussion.

Safety committee meeting

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During an OSHA inspection, CSHOs will interview workers and supervisors and observe how workers perform their duties to assess your compliance with training requirements. CSHOs may pay particular attention to training at multiemployer sites and sites that use temporary workers. Host employers and temporary agencies share responsibility for employee training, and CSHOs often will cite both the host employer and the temporary agency if workers are not adequately trained.

Help Outside of OSHA Programs

The American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) has developed two consensus standards covering environment, health, and safety (EHS) training—the American National Standards Institute (ANSI)/ASSP Z490.1-2016 “Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health and Environmental Training” and  ANSI/ASSP Z490.2-2019 “Accepted Practices for E-Learning in Safety, Health and Environmental Training.”

Z490.1 covers the overall management of EHS training programs, criteria for developing training by incorporating adult learning principles, effectively delivering training, documenting training to maintain compliance with company policies and regulatory requirements, and evaluating training outcomes and improving training programs. Z490.2, a supplement to Z490.1, covers best practices both for e-learning courses and learning management systems (LMSs). Effective e-learning courses should include lesson content, practice questions, and a test to confirm learning.

Current and emerging technologies for training include chatbots powered by artificial intelligence, video, and virtual reality. Training can be provided on a desktop or laptop computer, mobile tablet, or smartphone. Training materials should be easy to navigate so learners can easily follow the material presented. Materials can include audio or video elements, but any audio or visual elements used should meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

This can be achieved by creating multiple versions of training material, such as one version with subtitles, one version with narration, one version with subtitles and narration, and a version with no subtitles or narration.

The ASSP also suggests developing clear learning objectives for your training program to determine the best delivery method for your training—instructor-led, field-based, or online training. Having clear learning objectives can help you assess the effectiveness of your training program. The ASSP recommends continually evaluating and improving your training in a “plan-do-check-act” loop.

The ASSP also suggests looking at safety training at a higher level, integrating training into your overall safety and health management system. Other aspects of safety and health management can include safety observations, safety audits, job hazard analyses, and incident investigations.

The National Safety Council (NSC) makes similar recommendations that include identifying training needs; setting goals and objectives; choosing among a variety of materials, methods, and resources for training; and continually evaluating and improving your program.

Workers’ compensation insurance providers also may have resources for employers. For instance, The Travelers Companies offer a Workforce Advantage® program to help employers with the onboarding and training of new employees.

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