OSHA and OHS laws specifically require companies to provide safety training to workers and supervisors. But they don’t say anything about training you, the company’s safety director. So persuading senior management to pony up the dollars to train you can be tricky. After all, aren’t you already supposed to be the safety expert?
Of course, that view is short-sighted. Training helps safety directors improve not only a company’s safety performance but also its compliance effort. You can find support for this correlation in a 2001 study published in the Journal of Safety Research. Here’s a look at the study and how to use it to get management to pay to provide training for you.
The Backdrop: California OSHA Law
The study focuses on small and medium companies located in southern California. Of course, California is one of several states that has chosen to bypass the federal OSHA system in favor of more stringent state requirements. In 1991, California passed a law (SB 198) that required companies to not only report and investigate workplace incidents but also actively promote health and disease prevention in the workplace. For example, companies with 10 or more workers had to establish, implement and maintain a worksite injury and illness prevention program (IIPP). SB 198 spelled out the required components of an effective IIPP, including:
- Identification and evaluation of workplace hazards;
- Worker training on both general and job-specific safe work practices;
- Communication between employers and workers on health and safety matters; and
- Investigation of occupational illnesses and injuries.
But for much of the first decade after SB 198’s enactment, there was little information about its effectiveness. In fact, government officials in California noted low rates of compliance with the law by small- and medium-sized businesses and recognized the need for effective strategies to improve compliance.
The Cal Irvine Study
In response, researchers from the University of California at Irvine developed a model training program to enhance compliance with SB 198 among small and medium companies, i.e., those with fewer than 500 workers, located in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. 151 companies participated in the study, with 80 participating in the training and 71 serving as a control group, which got the training only at the end of the study. (Several companies were later eliminated from the study for various reasons.) Most of the participating safety directors of participating companies had had little formal training in corporate safety programs. In addition, a large number of them had multiple responsibilities in addition to workplace health and safety, such as facilities management and payroll.
The idea was to create a “train the trainer” program to instruct safety directors about SB 198 requirements and offer injury reduction strategies. The researchers’ theory was that companies whose safety directors participated in the training would improve their compliance with SB 198 and overall worker health and safety, and reduce their health-related costs. Unlike many safety training programs, the focus wasn’t on workers but on the company itself as an organization, with the goal of improving overall regulatory compliance. For that reason, participating safety directors had to complete a pre-training survey about their companies’ OHS policies, programs and outcomes to establish a baseline.
The training program drew from the fields of:
- Social ecology, which addresses intrapersonal factors that affect individuals’ health behaviour and environmental determinants of behaviour and well-being;
- Occupational health and safety; and
- Worksite health promotion.
Sessions included lectures on the eight major elements of SB 198 using the acronym REACH OUT, role-playing exercises, group discussions and a skit showing the correct and incorrect procedures for investigating a workplace incident.
Safety directors received training on both active and passive strategies. For example, they were taught the importance of workers’ safety and health practices, such as regular use of PPE and proper lifting techniques, as well as enhancements to the environment, such as proper lighting and safety signage. They were also taught how to evaluate unsafe conditions, such as slippery floors or malfunctioning equipment, and to work within their companies’ organizational structures by implementing policies and procedures on topics such as investigation of safety incidents and discipline.
Participants were surveyed by telephone 3 months after the training. They were also asked to complete detailed questionnaires 4 and 12 months after training was complete. The surveys included questions on:
- The company’s characteristics, such as number of workers and number and type of OHS programs;
- Safety director’s characteristics, such as knowledge of SB 198, scope of safety-related duties and amount of time spent on SB 198-related duties each week; and
- Levels of corporate compliance with SB 198.
The Study’s Results
The researchers analyzed the study’s results in several areas:
Usefulness of the training. Of the 61 trained safety directors ultimately included in the study, 31 found the training to be very useful, while 28 reported that it was either useful or somewhat useful.
Knowledge of SB 198 requirements. Safety directors were tested both before and after the training on their knowledge of SB 198’s requirements. These tests indicated that participating safety directors demonstrated greater gains in knowledge of these requirements than those in non-participating companies.
Impact on compliance. In addition, 36% of the participants said they’d made efforts to improve their companies’ SB 198 compliance within four months of the training. Some of their efforts included:
- Developing a written injury and illness prevention program;
- Posting health and safety information in the workplace; and
- Creating a corporate health and safety committee.
These efforts led to increased corporate compliance with the SB 198 requirements—both within 4 months of training and 12 months later.
The findings of this study are important because they indicate that a training program for safety coordinators on specific OSHA/OHS compliance requirements can benefit companies by:
- Increasing safety directors’ knowledge of those requirements;
- Prompting positive efforts by participating safety directors to improve corporate compliance with the requirements; and
- Improving levels of corporate compliance.
You might think that the corporate benefits of improving your knowledge of the OSHA/OHS requirements for your jurisdiction would be obvious to senior management. After all, the more you know about these requirements, the better you’ll be able to ensure that the company complies with them. But if management isn’t convinced, you should be able to use this study to prove that investing in safety director training benefits not only you but also the company.
Source: “Enhancing Corporate Compliance with Worksite Safety and Health Legislation,” Stokols, McMahan, Clitheroe Jr. and Wells, Journal of Safety Research, 32 (2001) 441-463.