Only one in five new workers receives safety training

Only one in five Canadians reports receiving safety training in their first year of a new job, according to a study from the Institute for Work & Health (IWH). And young workers  and those in jobs with higher physical demands – which are both associated with higher injury rates – are no more likely to receive training than other workers.

Given that many provinces have health and safety legislation that requires employers to provide information to their employees on how to work safely, these findings raise questions.

The results are reported in a new study, “How many employees receive safety training during their first year of a new job?” which appeared in the February issue of the journal Injury Prevention. The study was authored by IWH Associate Scientist Dr. Peter Smith, and President and Senior Scientist Dr. Cameron Mustard.

Our findings mean that somewhere between 75-80 per cent of workers don’t receive information on how to do their jobs safely, says Smith. That might not be a problem if you’re in an office environment – although it could be. But it’s definitely a problem in industries where there are a high number of hazards.

As Smith explains, this study came out of a survey conducted by Statistics Canada called the Workplace and Employee Survey (WES). The IWH study used information from three waves of the survey. Information on safety training was gathered from a total of 59,519 respondents who participated in the 1999, 2001 and 2003 surveys. Of these, 5,671 respondents were workers who had been with their employer for less than a year.

Usually in occupational health and safety research, researchers only have access to workplaces that allow you to come in and ask questions, so you  are not sure if the workplace represents other workplaces, says Smith. But in this survey, Statistics Canada managed to reach about 95 per cent of  eligible workplaces.

The study turned up several interesting results. For example, training rates were lowest in the province of Quebec. While on average 21 per cent of respondents across the country reported receiving training, in Quebec, only 5.5 per cent of males and 12.2 per cent of females said they had been trained. One explanation for Quebec's rate might be that workers receive safety training outside the workplace, and the survey inquired about workplace-based training.

Manitoba had the highest rates, where overall 34 per cent of respondents reported receiving training. In Ontario, the rate was 28 per cent.

Workers at companies that offered family support benefits or other benefit programs were also more likely to receive training. However, generally there was a lack of trends in the findings, says Smith. We didn’t find any trends by major industry, occupation, age or even gender, he says. 

But as Smith pointed out, the reasons behind these findings need to be examined further. We don’t know the reason why the rate of training is so low. Is it because employers don’t perceive there are any benefits?

Smith notes that it's still not clear what constitutes the best type of safety training to prevent injury. We know people need training, but we don’t really have any guidelines as to what type and how much training, he says. The research into the effectiveness of training and workplace interventions is developing and becoming more rigorous.

In fact, other IWH scientists are completing a systematic review on studies that look at the effectiveness of training and education programs.  The current findings indicate that having legislation alone isn’t effective, he says. Our numbers show that legislation does not compel an employer to provide training to employees.

Source: At Work, Issue 48, Spring 2007: Institute for Work & Health, Toronto