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Assessing Occupational Safety and Health Training – A Literature Review

June 1998
DHHS (NIOSH) Publication Number 98-145

More than 100 Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards for hazard control in the workplace contain requirements for training aimed at reducing risk factors for injury or disease; others limit certain jobs to persons deemed competent by virtue of special training. A literature review was undertaken to assess the merits of such training rules to achieve this objective and to sort out factors of consequence. The review focused heavily on published reports, primarily drawn from the period 1980 through 1996, wherein training was used as an intervention effort to reduce risk of work-related injury and disease. Eighty (80) such reports were found and gave overwhelming evidence to show the merits of training in increasing worker knowledge of job hazards, and in effecting safer work practices and other positive actions in a wide array of worksites. Reports from select surveys and investigations of worker injuries and workplace fatalities were also accessed with many implicating lack of training as a contributing factor to the mishaps. In still other studies, workplace training devoted to first aid instruction showed linkage to reduced worker injury rates, suggesting that even this kind of training has benefits to job safety overall.

A critical analysis of the above findings found certain qualifications in viewing training impacts and successes with regard to current workplace standards. For example, most of the reported training intervention studies did not address OSHA training rules per se, and knowledge gain and safe behavior measures were used in many evaluations as opposed to actual injury/disease indicators. Also, in some instances, the training was coupled with other forms of intervention to make attribution difficult. Training deficits noted in some surveys of work injury cases lacked for confirmation and no information was available on the quality of the instruction if given at all.

Despite the above reservations and uncertainties, training’s role as a necessary element in developing and maintaining effective hazard control activities remained firmly supported by the available literature. What did emerge from this review and analysis was an appreciation of meaningful training procedures and the recognition of factors both within and beyond the training process that could greatly affect its impact. In this regard, the OSHA voluntary training guidelines were described along with illustrations from the reports to show how the various steps contained within them can be met in realistic ways and have merit in framing an effective program. In addition, factors both within and beyond the training process were assessed for their effects on training outcomes based on data found in the reviewed literature. Variables such as size of training group, length/frequency of training, manner of instruction, and trainer credentials were each shown to be significant determinants to the training process. Equally important were extra-training factors such as goal setting, feedback and motivational incentives along with managerial actions to promote the transfer of learning to the jobsite.

Based on the literature review, follow-on efforts to address outstanding issues and needs regarding effective occupational safety and health training were noted.