HSE Training as a 'Fix-It'
Having been a team member, leader and sponsor for many an incident investigation, one thing I've noticed is the inevitable root cause of ‘insufficient safety training’, In thinking about this, I've recently found myself questioning whether providing more HSE training does actually provide that 'fix-it' that will result in a material decrease in incident and accident rates.
It's common to hear 'experts' profess that the provision of training and development opportunities for your employees is often not given the priority that those in the HSE profession would like to see. The pragmatist in me understands this. But I also understand that rarely are issues so simple. Often it’s simply a case of resource rationalization. For most reasonable people, it’s understandable that business, in ever increasing commercially competitive environments must try to balance their competing priorities (time, budget, resources, expertise, customers, shareholders). Often, this business reality is therefore closely intertwined with the organizations' ability to deliver HSE training. As a starting point, many organizations have a tendency to allocate resources where they are told to, be that by the regulator, or by their industry partners and customers.
I agree that there is irrefutable evidence that there are many organisations clearly failing in their duty to provide HSE training to their employees, I'd also assert that when it comes to finding root causes and defining corrective actions from an accident, there are many instances where these HSE 'experts' are guilty of taking the easy route and claiming that more HSE training would’ve prevented every accident, every time.
Not only is a hallmark of a lazy investigator, it’s fundamentally wrong and I firmly believe that HSE training alone cannot prevent all accidents.
1. Not all Training is Retained
My experience with HSE ‘professionals’ is the tendency to assume and profess that everything trained is retained. The belief, that once you've trained someone, your responsibility to that employee ends is absurd. Anyone that’s ever done competency assessment at the workplace after the classroom component can attest to the fact that a good proportion classroom training isn’t able to be recalled once the employee is back in their job. Research suggests that we only actually retain approximately 10% of what we see, 30-40% of what we see & hear and 90% of what we see, hear and do. So whilst providing some HSE training might make you feel like you've fulfilled your obligation, actually the training methodology and style will dictate how much is actually retained by your employees and therefore how valuable your training has actually been to your organization. If you believe that a classroom-based awareness training session in which a presenter stands at the front of the classroom reciting a PowerPoint slide to the workforce is the solution to your problems then I’d suggest you probably need an expert.
Source: Learning Solutions Magazine (2014)
2. Employee Morale and Motivation
I think it’s a naive employer who believes that every single one of their employees jumps out of bed in the morning smiling at themselves because they’re ‘just so darn lucky to be employed by my company’. The motivating factors for why an employee would want to work at any given company are as disparate as the reasons that same persons choose what color socks they will wear in the morning. It’s impossible to define all motivations, but it's somewhat easier to understand demotivation. If you’re ready (mentally) as an HR Manager, or a CEO to understand what demotivates your employees – ask them. The reasons will be varied and vast - it may be that they simply don’t like their job, their manager, and their colleagues or maybe they feel that they’re under-appreciated or simply they’re working at a pointless job.
Whatever the reason for employee demotivation, it should absolutely be a matter for consideration by the organization's leadership team. Sooner or later, employees are going to become demotivated. Having a greater understanding, and being cognizant of this fact and that training in itself can’t fix motivation will go a long way to reducing incident and accident rates in the workplace. It’s going to take much more effort than simply requiring ‘HSE Training’. It requires organizations to take a much more holistic, employee focused view of firstly improving morale and motivation.
3. Why Do We Do ‘HSE Training’
Whenever training isn’t directly focused on the employee’s job (i.e. HR training, HSE Training) there tends to be a general resentment or disagreement on the need for that training. This disagreement can happen at the shop-floor, or at the board. Training requires resources and those that disagree are those that consider that their own resources (i.e. time) are being wasted having to do ‘unnecessary’ training. Can we blame them for thinking this way? Probably not, I know for me at least, I get quite frustrated when I feel that my time is being wasted.
It’s not simply a matter of undertaking training in an organization, first, the benefit of any training must be defined in concrete terms and to the audience that it’s going to be delivered to. Just because the HSE team think training is valued, doesn’t mean your drilling or production crews will think the same. If training is considered irrelevant by those receiving it, then it will be dismissed. The human brain has a wonderful capacity to ‘self-cleanse’ itself, if your brain believes something (information, training, knowledge) is not necessary, has not been used for a period of time, or is simply taking up valuable room that could be better used by some other snippet of information, then your brain will remove that information, or at the very least will archive it so deep in the recesses of your brain it will inevitably become useless and unable to be recalled when it’s most needed. Convincing and, more importantly, tailoring HSE training to meet the needs of your own work team is paramount in decreasing disagreement on the need for training.
4. Is the Classroom the Best Place to Learn?
Every one of us has attended a HSE training course where a proportion of the trainees were there as ‘prisoners’ - unwilling participants who were there for the simple reason that their boss told them they had too. For those rare few of you who haven’t experienced this sort of colleague during a training session, these are the employees who had to be figuratively handcuffed and dragged into the training room kicking and screaming ‘why!’ and who will actively disassociate themselves throughout the training session, sometimes to the point where they are a distraction. Not only are these a tough for colleagues, they’re also tough converts for any trainer.
I would assert though, that if there are ‘prisoners’ at your training courses, then you probably haven’t considered that there are other options for HSE training and that the traditional classroom or lecture methodology isn’t the only option to get your message across. We, as HSE professionals must consider that for some people, the simple memory of their school days sends shivers down their spines, they simply don’t associate the classroom environment with one that’s conducive to them improving themselves. They see the classroom as a place where they’re going to be told who, what, where when and how. If HSE training is necessary, organisations must first question whether there are other adult (yes, you’re training adults, not children) training techniques can be applied with greater buy-in and ultimate success.
5. Inadequate Resources
As a general rule, I’ve always found that the good majority of employees want to do the right thing by their employees. They want to perform, they want to get the job done and they take pride in earning their paycheck each week. At the same time, many companies believe that a better-trained workforce will result in better outcomes and performance for the company. And yes, whilst this is true to an extent, it doesn’t negate the fact that any workforce, no matter how well trained they are, still need the right tools and equipment to perform as per their own expectations and also those of their employer. For the companies that still think ‘let’s put the workforce through more training, then they’ll surely meet our targets’, it beggars belief. A workplace performs well when the people, the process, and the equipment are working in unison. No matter how good your training is, if the work processes (procedures, work instructions) or the equipment is substandard, performance will not improve and this is a big frustration for both the employee and the organization. Don’t get caught in the trap once again of looking myopically at the root cause as just the training, consider the overall picture of your workplace.
6. Having the Right People with the Right Abilities
Sadly, many of us have likely worked in companies where our colleagues were injured, sometimes fatally, and it wasn’t until after the event that someone asked themselves, should this person really have been working here. Line Managers are often the victims of a poor HR employment strategies, strategies that make it difficult to hire people with the right competencies and fire those that aren’t up to standard. Line managers around the world have, and will continue to be, lumbered with employees that don’t have the aptitude or ability to do the task/job that they’re being employed to do. No amount of training will help this. Abilities are a part of who we are as a person, they define us to some extent and if there isn’t a self-realization of one’s own abilities and the company fails to recognize it – an incident is inevitable, no matter how much training you may have given to that employee.
7. If Not Training, Then What?
So whilst HSE training is certainly a key component to an organizations ability to deliver safe outcomes and performance, at the same time, HSE training isn’t the be all and end all. HSE training needs to be considered as a part of a greater, overarching strategy of employee engagement, performance management, and continuous improvement. Ensuring that employees have the right motivation, morale, resources, tools, equipment and that they clearly understand their role, their obligations and the ramifications of not meeting expectations are all equally critical aspects to successfully reducing incident and accident rates in the workplace.
Don’t blindly rely on HSE training to solve greater organisational issues, if you have the wrong people – replace them, if you don’t have the right equipment – get it, if your processes are poor - improve them, if people don’t understand their job – explain it and document it in your employee’s job descriptions. These are just some examples, the underpinning message from me is to look a little deeper. Just because someone can do an investigation, doesn’t mean they understand your organization. You need to take the time to properly understand your organization, and I'm confident that if you have recurring incident rates, then HSE training is most likely only be a part of the solution you need.