Training promotes safer practices

A systematic review led by the Institute for Work & Health shows that training positively influences worker practices, making it an important part of multi-component health and safety programs.

Published: July 26, 2012

A systematic review of the effectiveness of occupational health and safety (OHS) training conducted by the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) was selected as the “editor’s pick” in a recent issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health (vol. 38, no. 3, pp. 193-208). That means readers can access the full journal article for free.

The review, covered in an earlier issue of At Work (Winter 2010), concluded that health and safety training promotes safer practices among workers and, as such, should be delivered by workplaces as part of a larger OHS program. On its own, however, training will not necessarily prevent injuries and illnesses.

This makes sense, says IWH Associate Scientist Dr. Lynda Robson, who led the review: Workplaces are complex systems. You can’t just change one part of a system and expect to have a large impact. Other components need to be working toward the same goal; in this case, preventing workplace injuries and illnesses.

Conducted in partnership with the American National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the systematic review assessed relevant studies of sufficient quality to determine the impact of training in four areas: knowledge, attitudes/beliefs, behaviours and health (the latter referring to the absence of workplace injuries, illnesses and early symptoms).

The review team found strong evidence that training is effective in changing behaviours or practices. There were not enough studies of sufficient quality to conclude that training affects knowledge or attitudes/beliefs. However, in the few studies that were included, the evidence points toward training being effective in both of these areas. With respect to health, the review team could not say OHS training has an effect. The studies were inconsistent in their findings about effectiveness, and the effects found were small.

The study confirms a message that has been emerging from other IWH systematic reviews: that multi-component programs are the key to effective prevention. As Robson puts it, You can educate people to sit properly in order to reduce musculoskeletal disorders, but if they’re sitting on a wooden stool or at a poorly designed workstation, there’s only so much the education can achieve. Hazard elimination and reduction must work hand in hand with training to fully protect workers’ health, she adds.

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