Consider the following:
- The prevalence of safety training is high, with virtually any job that encounters hazards requiring some type of safety training.
- Organisations use safety training as a way to increase workers’ knowledge, skills, and motivation, with the goal of employees performing safety behaviours more frequently and effectively.
- Safety training only meets this objective if employees actually use what they learned when they get back to work – this is called “safety training transfer”.
- Unfortunately, estimates from general employee training research indicate that anywhere between 60% and 90% of training fails to transfer even immediately after the training program. Well-established in training circles, this challenge has been labelled as “the transfer problem”.
So, organisations see safety training as an important component of their safety strategy, but in actuality, a lot of what is covered in safety training likely never makes it to the shop floor and that which does likely erodes over time. This is not a great story for the ROI of safety training for many organisations. Luckily, there is a good research base on the factors that predict training transfer that can be drawn on to improve the ROI realised from safety training interventions.
What we know from employee training research and safety science is that there are three key categories of factors that impact whether safety training is actually used on the job:
- Employee characteristics – the attitudes, beliefs, and motivation that a trainee has before, during, and after the training program
- Training design characteristics – the structure and format of the training program itself
- Environmental characteristics – the organisational and team contexts that trainees perceive around them before, during, and after the training program
With the aim of improving the transfer of safety training, possible interventions targeting these factors can be considered. By integrating what we know from the practice of and research in safety training, some potential intervention strategies include the following:
Before Safety Training
Clearly communicate the objectives of the training as well as observable and realistic changes that the training is meant to create back in the workplace.
Collect diagnostic information about the training transfer factors and adjust the training approach to reflect strengths and opportunities across these areas.
Facilitate coaching/mentoring of frontline leaders by middle or senior managers in techniques to encourage workers’ transfer of safety training (e.g. providing feedback more effectively, dealing with resistance among more experienced workers).
During Safety Training
- Open the program with an introduction by a senior leader or other employee who has significantly benefited from it, as a way to demonstrate organisational commitment to and tangible benefits arising from the program.
- Identify and discuss tangible examples of when the training concepts could be applied at work.
- Ensure the program provides ample opportunities for participants to interact socially and involves them actively in the learning process (e.g. group discussions, role-plays).
After Safety Training
- Align safety tools and documentation with training concepts and terminology (e.g. modifying the language of a risk assessment to reinforce learned knowledge).
- Incorporate trained behaviours into performance evaluation criteria, which are supported by both organisational (e.g. safety observations) and team (e.g. safe peer of the month) recognition programs.
- Identify ‘coaches’ responsible for ongoing championing of training concepts within the workplace.
Simply put, organisations invest significant resources in safety training and only evaluate the return on this investment by assessing the impact the training had on safety outcomes like incident rates. There is a critical gap missing in this analysis – whether employees actually applied their training back at work. Transfer of training not only explains why return on investment happens or not – it also offers an excellent opportunity for intervention and to bolster transfer of training to maximise safety training ROI.
This article summarises some of the key points in a chapter recently authoured by Sentis Researchers in Volume 3 of the book Contemporary Occupational Health Psychology: Global Perspectives on Research and Practice.