No matter what kind of industry your company is in, the environmental compliance challenges it faces or the number of workers it has, effective training must be at the center of your EHS program. Many environmental incidents and violations can be prevented with the right training. And, when all else fails, providing appropriate training should enable your company to minimize the risk of liability for any violations that do occur. In fact, if the company can prove that it provides effective training, it may even avoid liability altogether.
But training takes more of a commitment than some companies realize. Simply training workers isn’t enough to keep your company in compliance with environmental laws. The law requires companies to document the training they provide; it also requires them to verify that such training was effective. In other words, simply being able to prove that the company provided the appropriate training won’t ensure compliance unless the company can also show that it made an effort to ensure that workers understood their training. After all, if workers didn’t understand what they were taught, what value does that training have?
Why is verification of training’s effectiveness so important? And how do you do it? This story will answer these questions. We’ll also give you four strategies that you can use to make sure your company’s workers understand their training. And there’s a Model Quiz on page X that you can adapt and use to verify that the WHMIS aspect of your training program is working.
WHAT THE LAW SAYS
The obligation to provide EHS training to workers is contained in a number of different environmental and OHS laws. For example, TDGA laws require training in transporting dangerous substances and WHMIS laws require training in handling various chemicals and cleaning up spills. The laws typically include two kinds of training requirements:
- A general requirement that says employers must ensure that workers are adequately trained; and
- More detailed requirements meant to ensure that workers understand and are prepared to deal with any environmental hazards they may confront on the job.
These requirements vary based on the kind of substance, process or site involved. For example, under Ontario WHMIS laws, employers must “ensure that a hazardous material is not used, handled or stored at a workplace” unless workers understand how to identify the material, the hazards associated with it and how to protect themselves against those hazards.
What the Law Means
In the U.S., the OHSA laws specifically require employers to take steps to verify that workers understand the training and instructions they receive. But Canadian EHS laws don’t usually spell out this requirement. However, that obligation still exists. In practice, Canadian regulators, prosecutors and judges have interpreted the laws as requiring employers to provide not only training, but also effective training. Effective training involves more than going through the motions. In other words, simply holding tool box talks and handing out environmental and safety manuals doesn’t cut it. The company must also ensure that the message is getting through to workers for the training to be considered effective. Thus, the duty to verify the effectiveness of training is an inferred obligation under the EHS laws.
Many Canadian companies that think they’re providing adequate training and instruction get hit with environmental and other violations because they don’t take steps to verify that workers are absorbing and applying what they’ve been taught. Although the following example involves safety training, the same principles apply to environmental training.
Example: Two workers—one experienced and one a trainee—were manufacturing resin for an Ontario company when a reactor they were using started to spew white particulate. The experienced worker realized that the particulate was toxic, shouted out a warning, ran out of the building and escaped harm. But the trainee didn’t recognize the danger and stayed behind. Workers found him near the ruptured tank with chemical burns over most of his body. He died later that day.
The company was charged with failing to provide information, instruction and supervision to the worker on loading the reactor as required by Ontario OHS law. The company had given the trainee instructions and a “production batch sheet” listing the proper resin ingredients and instructions on how to mix them. Among other things, it instructed him to add only fresh water to the reactor. But the trainee had also received contradictory oral instructions about the kind of water to use. And the trainee, in fact, added recycled water to the reactor.
Safety investigators found that nobody had bothered to verify that the trainee knew what he was supposed to do before he started working. They also concluded that the company had failed to verify his understanding that particulate from the reactor was toxic and highly dangerous. Had the effectiveness of his training been verified, the company might have identified the gaps in his knowledge or understanding and corrected them—and the tragedy might never have happened. The company pleaded guilty and was fined $120,000 [R. v. Mancuso Chemicals Ltd.].
4 STRATEGIES TO VERIFY TRAINING’S EFFECTIVENESS
Just providing training and walking away isn’t good enough. To satisfy EHS training requirements, you must make an active effort to verify that workers “got it” and retained the lessons you taught them. Simply asking workers whether they understood what you told them doesn’t ensure that they actually understood what you said and can apply it to their work. Many times, workers will tell you that they understood what you said even if they didn’t, either because they don’t want to seem dumb or because they want to be done with training. So your training verification efforts must actually engage workers and force them to apply the information they were taught. These efforts must also be ongoing—that is, you need to test, reinforce and, if necessary, retrain. Bottom line: You must continually engage the worker to gauge his ability to retain and apply learning to the workplace.
Unfortunately, the EHS laws don’t spell out a magic formula or set of steps that you can take to meet this standard. However, based on the cases, government guidelines and expert recommendations, there are at least four strategies that you can use to evaluate, verify and enhance the effectiveness of your EHS training efforts:
Strategy #1: Post-Training Quizzes
The most recommended strategy is to quiz workers after training sessions to test whether they understood the key points. Workers who don’t score a certain percentage should get additional training or be required to retake the session. But make sure the quiz questions are effective. Rather than simply regurgitating information, the questions should be designed to get workers to apply the information they were just taught to real-life workplace situations that they’re likely to encounter. You should also repeat the quiz a few weeks or months later to ensure that workers actually retained what they were taught.
The Model Quiz on page X is an example of a quiz that will help you verify that the WHMIS portion of your training program is working. This quiz was adapted from a WHMIS training quiz prepared by the University of Victoria for certain staff. There’s an answer key at the bottom of the page that you can use to check your workers’ answers (remove the key before you give them the quiz). As with any model tool, you’ll need to adapt the quiz depending on your industry and the kind of operations your company performs.
Strategy #2: Participant Demonstrations
After a training session, require workers to apply the training during a demonstration. For example, after you train workers on the right way to dispose of empty containers of different hazardous substances, give them mock containers with labels listing certain hazardous substances and ask them to show you how they’d dispose of the containers. With a demonstration, workers can’t hide what they did and didn’t absorb. Moreover, actual performance of the technique is a strong teaching device. Performing a procedure shows the worker how to do it better than anything else—and reinforces what you’ve told him to do.
Strategy #3: Post-Training Evaluations
You may think that training sessions are effectively communicating the necessary information to workers but workers may see them very differently. So give workers an opportunity to evaluate their training. Workers’ feedback can give you important insight into the effectiveness of the training. For example, you may learn that workers thought the session covered too much ground. Thus, you may be better served by breaking the topic into several sessions. Or you may find that workers learned more from visual demonstrations of rules or procedures than from mere verbal descriptions of what they’re supposed to do.
There are many ways to get worker feedback on training, including:
- Questionnaires or evaluation forms;
- Focus groups; and
- Informal chats.
Strategy #4: Post-Training Observations
The only way to know for sure if training is effective is to observe what the workers do when they go back to work. For example, if you just trained workers on the proper use of PPE when working with certain hazardous substances and three days later you see workers wearing the appropriate protective equipment when handling such substances, they clearly remembered something from their training. And if you see them doing the same thing three months later, it’s a good sign that your PPE training was effective. Of course, if you notice that they’re not wearing the right PPE, it means either that they didn’t understand their training or are deliberately ignoring it. Either way, you know you have a problem that you need to address.
Violation of training requirements is a leading cause of not only environmental incidents but also liability. Companies that don’t bother to train their workers deserve the penalties they receive. But in many cases, the company that gets prosecuted and fined for improper training did have an EHS training program. The reason the company got into trouble is that it concentrated on delivering information and overlooked the importance of verifying that the workers understood and applied that information. Had the company verified the effectiveness of its training, it would have likely avoided liability. More importantly, the incident that led to the violation might never have happened at all.
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R. v. Mancuso Chemicals, Ltd., Ontario Govt. News Release, April 4, 2005Email This Post