What’s next for safety training?
By Jack Burton
By Jack Burton
One of the pandemic-era workplace’s defining features has been a renewed focus on occupational health and safety, and following from this transformed role in the workplace are numerous changes regarding how health and safety are taught.
Whether through emerging ways of learning, new policies or regulations on training, or refreshed perspectives and topics being taught, the majority of changes that OH&S education is currently undergoing centre around a significant shift in attitudes toward safety in the workplace, and the role that it plays under the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The primary focus of this shift in perspective, according to Jan Chappel, senior technical specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ont., is characterized by a move toward the idea of safety as a more active and embedded part of the company culture and day-to-day operations of the workplace — as opposed to a series of background certifications and regulations.
“Training on everyday aspects became much more important,” she said of this shift.
‘Everyday’ mental health
One area affected by this move toward a more “everyday” philosophy has been the area of mental health and psychological safety.
COVID-19 has really offered an opportunity for how it is taught and treated to evolve, noted Chappel.
“What I’ve been noticing is a shift away from focusing just on the awareness of mental health issues, and more towards figuring out how to help prevent it, or at least make it something that is more of an everyday conversation,” she said.
A major benefit that stems from the changing values around mental health discussion and education in the workplace, Chappel added, is the possibility that this openness creates for employees to “get the help that they need without worrying about stigma and repercussions for (speaking up).”
When approaching mental health education in the workplace as an everyday conversation, she recommended centring this discourse around establishing clear boundaries and expectations, especially as COVID-19 and remote work continue to blur the lines around work-home life.
“It’s about fostering a culture about knowing when a person is available and what expectations are, and that goes to both management and workers.”
E-learning: training by choice
An effect of the mass migration to remote and digital workplaces has been a reframing of e-learning and electronic modules into a necessary solution of contemporary OH&S training, though the demands of this new role means approaching online learning tools as more than just a novelty or convenience.
“The pandemic resulted in a clear paradigm shift to virtual learning; training could continue, remote teams could be connected, and the value of learning did not have to be undermined,” said James Kruck, curriculum manager at OSG, a health and safety training provider based out of London, Ont.
“That being said, this shift in delivery method necessitated some new thinking around the product.”
Central to this new line of thinking is an approach that considers the trainee’s needs, perspective, and decision-making capabilities; which Kruck sees as being satisfied by “self-paced” e-learning programs and digital solutions that emphasize employees’ control over qualities such as the structure and content of their individual training.
With self-directed learning tools, “not only do you ensure the content is more relevant, but you can save time by skipping subjects that aren’t applicable to the participant’s workplace or role.”
The option for these programs to provide training relevant to the specific needs and experiences of each individual does not only foster efficiency, but also creates the space for employees to feel seen.
“Learners don’t often come to you as blank slates, ready to just soak up every lesson you deliver; instead, they come with their own experiences that have shaped what they understand and how they see the world,” said Kruck.
“They want training that acknowledges that reality.”
Simulation in the spotlight
The current wave of changes in safety training is driven not just by new attitudes, such as those around mental health and trainee choice, but entirely new and emerging technologies.
Montreal’s CM Labs, which specializes in the development of simulation-based training, finds themselves at the forefront of this shift.
Over the past two decades, CM Labs have developed simulator training technology for the construction, forestry, and port industries that not only teaches trainees how to navigate high stress or potentially dangerous scenarios in the workplace, but allows them to make mistakes while doing so, without any material — or human — costs.
“There’s really a sense that simulation is a technology whose time has come,” said David Clark, CM Labs’ senior product marketing manager.
The growing skilled labour shortage, along with the arrival of more tech-savvy generations into the workforce, are the two primary factors behind the current spotlight on this solution, he said.
A safe investment
With significant changes across the field of occupational safety education, adaptation and access may be issues of concern, especially for workplaces feeling the financial pinch of the pandemic.
One resource helping employers navigate these changes can be noted at the provincial level, through Ontario’s Small Business Health and Safety Training Program.
The province revealed in July that through this program, they are investing $10.5 million dollars over the next three years in an effort to make safety training freely accessible for over 60,000 small businesses across the province.
Through the program, health and safety representatives from small businesses can enrol in an e-learning course on industry-specific safety protocols, with the program covering registration costs and compensating representatives with up to $150 for their time away from work.
The accessibility granted by such programs is certainly beneficial in spreading safety habits across workplaces, but Lewis Smith, manager of national projects at the Canada Safety Council in Ottawa, believes that these types of legislative initiatives also have a positive impact by showcasing workplace safety as something worth investing in and taking seriously.
“Safety is a field in which proactivity and investment are needed, but also one which is too often prioritized less due to a lack of immediately visible revenues,” he said. “Free courses, such as this one, eliminate a perceived barrier to entry, and allow for more widespread uptake.”
Jack Burton is a freelance writer in Toronto.