All the safety gear and protective equipment in the world may not be enough to stop employees from injuring themselves if they haven’t received sufficient safety training on the job. Fortunately, there are a number of fine workplace safety training services across the country — and they come in different forms.
Alina Martin, president of Danatec Educational Services Ltd. in Calgary, identifies three general types of safety training, all of which Danatec provides: face-to-face, or the traditional method of an in-person trainer speaking directly to employees; online training, or e-learning, in which one undertakes a program on the Internet; and a third form of training called “self-teach”.
“Self-teach is just like an online training program,” says Martin, noting that Danatec began on the foundation of a self-teach training manual. “The user takes the booklet, they read, they do the practical workplace exercises in the booklet, and then their employer marks the exam that’s on the inside front cover. If they get a passing grade, their employer then certifies them and they’re able to go to work.”
A very niche-oriented company, Danatec specializes primarily in safety training for workers in transportation of dangerous goods and WHMIS exports. “We focus primarily on regulated training,” adds Martin. “We also do a lot of work in ground disturbance. That’s also highly regulated.”
With all the different forms of training available, how does an employer go about selecting the right one for the workers? Don Sayers, founder of Don Sayers & Associates in Fredericton, advises that a defensible objective-needs analysis is essential.
“Many employers make assumptions about what’s needed, and part of the reason for that is, the person making the decision is isolated at arm’s length and beyond from what the actual shop floor needs,” says Sayers, whose clientele includes businesses in the oil and gas, mining, forestry, transportation and healthcare sectors. “You have to know what you need, and you can’t assume that from a 12th-floor boardroom.”
Once an employer determines what the company needs, the next step is to create specific learning objectives around the needs. This way, the employer will know what to look for when shopping around the different types of programs, noting what exactly they teach, under what standards and under what conditions.
“The third step is most critical of all — is the assessment,” adds Sayers. “You have to determine how you’re going to verify the learners have mastered those learning objectives. This is just basic due diligence.”
Sayers notes that he has met with many company representatives who wanted to use his training, but could not be bothered to perform any kind of needs assessment. “You’d be surprised at the number,” he says. “That’s fairly common, actually.” He cites one “major” firm that he once asked: “‘How are you going to explain to the judge they actually mastered those skills?’ ‘Well, we can’t.’ ‘Second point: how are you going to explain to the judge that you know with certainty that you’re teaching the right skills?’ ‘Well, we don’t.’ You can see where that’s going.”
According to Martin, building a strong safety culture at an organization is the most essential way to minimize risks for employees. “Training doesn’t create safe work environments. People and organizations and managers create safe work environments,” she points out. “The training is really just an add-on. Most people look at it as the other way around.”
Once a company decides to invest in training, Martin adds, the best strategy is to look for current, relevant material that’s easy to understand. “We write and provide the best material on the market,” she says of Danatec. “It’s up to date, it’s easy to use and users are actually going to learn something when they go through our material.
“There are a lot of organizations out there that have popped up over the last couple of years and run by some good folks. But they’re really focused just on technical material,” continues Martin. “They’re not focused on adult learners or user engagement or those kinds of things. We spend a lot of time working with adult educators and creative writers and all these people, to ensure that when people go through our courses, that they’re actually retaining something.”
Sayers describes his company’s training materials as interactive and text-based. “People interact in various elements,” he says, “and they’ll get immediate feedback on how well they did — that sort of interaction.” He adds that he designed his training to be convenient for working adults who cannot attend a physical campus.
“I spent 12 years in night school finishing my undergrad degree while working full-time,” recalls Sayers, “and so one night a week, I had to drop down tools and drive sometimes five or six hours to get to the campus, do four hours in the classroom and drive for hours back to where I had to be the next morning. Not good.” With his firm, on the other hand, a user can undergo training on his or her own time. “The instructional design was to find a way to enable working adults to succeed academically without requiring them to attend a campus.”
Sayers counts himself as a pioneer in the e-learning field. When he founded his company about 15 years ago, e-learning was still in its infancy, he says. “There was some in the marketplace; most of what was out there was bad, it was very badly done. But it was intriguing.” He realized that the advantage of an e-synchronous learning environment was that students could enter and leave the program anytime, day or night. “The number of learners you can reach is limited only by the capacity of your server.”
Still, Sayers faced skepticism from peers. “Our university partner at that time said, ‘Nobody would ever do this. Everybody wants to go to the classroom.’” But since then, e-learning has become the norm for many educational and training organizations.
“If we develop exceptionally good-quality materials that are regulatory-accurate and we deliver them in a way that users can understand, I think it’s a winning combination,” says Martin.
Jeff Cottrill is the editor of Canadian Occupational Health and Safety News.