Study shows way to make health and safety training for office workers more effective

January 28, 2014 (Toronto, Ontario)—Health and safety training for office workers is substantially more effective when follow-up sessions help them confidently apply their newly learned skills, and teach supervisors how to support them in doing so.

This is the finding of an Institute for Work & Health (IWH) study that assessed in-person versus online training to address hazards associated with computer work, as well as the effect of “enhanced” training on both methods of delivery.

Despite the importance of training as a tool to change worker health and safety practices, there has been little research into what kind of training is most effective, says IWH Senior Scientist Dr. Ben Amick, who led the study. Our study shows that both in-person and online training improve worker practices and postures. However, both methods are significantly more effective when followed up by enhanced training.

Enhanced training, Amick explains, is designed to reinforce the knowledge and skills of workers and supervisors, and to increase their self-efficacy; i.e. their confidence in their own ability to successfully identify problems and implement solutions.

Amick presented his findings today in Toronto, at a seminar held at the Institute.

The in-the-field study was conducted in five multi-site organizations over a 12-month period. Workers participated in one of five office ergonomics training alternatives: in-person training only, online training only, in-person plus enhanced training, online plus enhanced training, or none of these (the control group).

The in-person training was a 90-minute session led by a trainer in a classroom setting. The online training consisted of nine 10-minute computer-based modules completed at participants’ desks. Both delivered the same evidence-based and standard-compliant content in about the same amount of time.

The enhanced training was delivered three to six months after the in-person or online training. It included three 30-minute sessions for workers and one 60-minute session for managers and supervisors, all delivered in person.

The sessions for workers coached them in how to partner to identify and address the ergonomic hazards of office workstations (called “ergo-buddy assessments”). The session for supervisors informed them how the ergo-buddy system works, the importance of being a role model and how to build a healthy computing culture.

Over time, those who received the enhanced ergonomics training on top of either the in-person or online training had significantly higher self-efficacy, significantly lower postural risk, and significantly greater likelihood of having properly configured and adjusted workstations, says Amick.

According to Amick, the key training message emerging from this study is this: The same health and safety content can be delivered either in person or online, and both will improve worker practices to about the same degree. Adding in-person sessions to increase the self-efficacy of workers and supervisors, and to coach them in how to support each other, will significantly increase the effectiveness of both methods of training delivery.

About the Institute for Work & Health

IWH is an independent, not-for-profit research organization that conducts and mobilizes research to support policy-makers, employers and workers in creating healthy, safe and inclusive work environments. The Institute provides practical and relevant findings and evidence-based products on the inter-relationships between work and health from worker, workplace and systems perspectives.

Media contacts

Cindy Moser 
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Institute for Work & Health
416-927-2027, ext. 2183
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Uyen Vu
Communications Manager
Institute for Work & Health
613-979-7742 (cell)