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Developing a Successful Health and Safety Training Program

Daily work in research laboratories poses constant risks to our health and safety.

Vince McLeod, CIH

Vince McLeod is an American Board of Industrial Hygiene-certified industrial hygienist and the senior industrial hygienist with Ascend Environmental + Health Hygiene LLC in Winter Garden, Florida. He has more...

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Have you ever had to attend an after-lunch training session? Or, even worse, had to give a presentation to a room full of cell phone users and nodding heads? Well, read on for tips on how to develop training that will keep your attendees interested and focused.

We all can agree that laboratory research facilities contain more than their fair share of hazards. A wide array of hazards is usually present given the typical assortment of chemical laboratories, instrument rooms, chemical storage, waste handling and busy receiving/loading docks. Every workday our employees must deal with these hazards while hopefully avoiding accidents and injuries. As you must admit, well-trained employees do a much better job at this than average or untrained workers. So, let us take a look at evaluating and improving your training programs.

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Daily work in research laboratories poses constant risks to our health and safety. These take the form of chemical safety, ergonomics, fire safety, hazard communication, housekeeping, material handling and personal protective equipment. These potential hazards and the training needed to combat them have not gone unnoticed, as more than 100 OSHA standards for the control of hazards in the workplace contain requirements for training in order to reduce potential for injury. During the period between 1980 and 1996, 80 reports were reviewed where training was used to reduce the risk of work-related injury.1 This NIOSH review found vast evidence supporting the value of training in increasing worker knowledge of job hazards and effecting safer work practices. On the other hand, they found a lack of training was a contributing factor in worker injuries and workplace fatalities, further reinforcing the review’s findings. A quick read of this publication should stimulate you into taking the time to assess your current training programs.

As they say, “Start with the end in mind” whether you are developing a new training program or evaluating an existing one. By this, we mean you should have a clear idea of what you hope to achieve. Training experts refer to this as defining your performance objectives. To begin, ask these three important questions:

  1. Can your employees recognize and identify the hazards in the workplace?
  2. Can your employees recognize how these hazards result in personal injury, property damage, or both?
  3. Can your employees describe and apply appropriate safe work procedures and practices to cope with these hazards?

In order to answer the above questions, we recommend starting with your facility’s safety record. Hopefully, an accident/injury reporting system is in place where you can pull all recent accident and injury reports and trace them to their source area. If not, start one now! Remember to include reports of near misses and close calls. A careful review of your accident/injury data should help you identify areas of your facility, particular job tasks, or positions needing training. Using these data, you can prioritize training topics and target your audience.

In developing your safety training program, the next step is to examine your current training model using the OSHA draft model training guidelines. These seven steps will guide you through the entire process from development to delivery, and then circle back to the top for evaluating and improving your training programs. The seven guidelines are summarized here:2

  1. Determine whether training is needed. Are engineering or physical controls needed? Should the work process be changed or is it really a question of increasing employees’ knowledge of safe work practices?

  2. Identify training needs. Examine the facility’s health and safety records. Go over your job hazard analyses. Solicit worker or supervisor perceptions and suggestions to identify what training is needed and where improvements can be made. Do not forget to include applicable federal and state requirements.

  3. Identify goals and objectives. Clearly state what the training is intended to achieve, and develop explicit, observable evidence that it has been met. In other words, a specific objective is much better than a vague goal.

  4. Develop learning activities. Good instruction that targets well-defined objectives should include mental and/ or physical skills required to meet the specified needs. Use of actions and situations that simulate actual conditions are very effective. In addition, allow employees to demonstrate that they have assimilated the desired knowledge through specific activities.

  5. Conduct the training. The teaching format should invite worker participation and provide hands-on exercises to promote active learning. Use of the many means of motivating and maintaining student interest is encouraged. Emphasizing the benefits and relating the training to current skill levels and experiences are among the best methods.

  6. Evaluate program effectiveness. Determine whether the training has accomplished objectives for each training session. Use of student/trainee opinions and feedback, as well as supervisor observations and workplace improvements, are recognized as effective for this purpose.

  7. Improve the program. Revise aspects of the training based on evaluations from the previous step. Offer periodic retraining. Determine course deficiencies and identify needed revisions by repeating all steps of the training model.

The role of training in developing and maintaining effective hazard avoidance is borne out in the reams of literature and safety training studies performed. The question is not whether safety and health training can reduce risks from workplace hazards, but rather how to maximize these training effects. Following the OSHA draft model training guidelines will put you on a path of building an excellent occupational safety and health training program. Working through the seven guidelines and emphasizing the last two, evaluating the effectiveness and improving the programs, will reward you with reduced injuries and a better educated and motivated workforce. For those needing shortcuts, OSHA has developed sample programs for many areas that you might want to check out.3


1. Assessing Occupational Safety and Health Training. National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cincinnati, OH. NIOSH publication 98-145, 1998.

2. Draft Model Training Program for Hazard Communication. US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington, DC.

3. Sample Safety and Health Programs. US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Washington, DC.