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EHS Training: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How to Do It Right

Toby Graham /

What is EHS training?

Why does workplace safety training matter?

How do you do training right?

As you’ve probably guessed from the title, we’re going to answer those questions and more in this article. If you’re new to workplace safety training, unsure what training OSHA requires, want to optimize worker training at your organization, or all of the above, you’ve come to the right place.

What Is EHS?

EHS stands for environment, health, and safety. We’re talking about how to keep people safe while they do their jobs. EHS encompasses everything from accident prevention and incident response to the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), safety data sheet (SDS) management, Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) reporting, and more.

That sounds like it should be a no-brainer. No one wants to get hurt, get sick, or die. No employer wants to pay the enormous financial costs in the wake of an accident. And no one wants to deal with OSHA, which oversees workplace safety at the federal and state levels.

And yet injuries and illnesses happen, OSHA gets involved, and organizations pay the price. In 2018 and 2019, the federal agency and its 22 State Plans conducted over 100,000 inspections and found numerous violations and safety hazards. Throughout industries, states, and organizations, incidents continue to happen and workers face life-threatening conditions daily.

What gives? Well, as it turns out, EHS isn’t a no-brainer, but… a big-brainer? A yes-brainer? It’s complicated and getting more complicated by the day. It certainly doesn’t happen automatically.

…Which is why EHS training exists.

What Is EHS Training?

EHS training is how you educate your employees on how to do their jobs safely, effectively, and in accordance with OSHA’s rules, guidelines, and standards. Call it workplace safety training, health and safety training, safety compliance training, or simply safety training. It’s everything your employees need to know about avoiding falls, chemical spills, cuts and amputations, respiratory diseases, eye injuries, and other hazards in the workplace.

You need to provide basic safety training to all employees, as well as specialized training to certain groups of employees depending on their job functions. For instance, a forklift operator should be trained on general safety procedures as well as on forklift use and maintenance.

An employee’s location matters, too. Workers in California or New York have different training requirements than workers in Iowa or Arkansas do.

In addition to training during onboarding, it’s important to provide refresher training periodically (e.g. once a year) and updated training whenever rules change or new technologies are introduced into the workplace.

Why Does EHS Training Matter?

EHS training matters for two reasons:

1. It’s an essential component of workforce safety. People need to know how to do their jobs safely before they start working. They also need to know what to do if an incident or accident happens. That forklift driver needs to learn how to operate a forklift before getting behind the wheel, as well as what steps to take and what forms to fill out in the event of a collision. The same is true for something like a chemical spill—workers need to know how to identify the spill, clean it up, close off the area, and communicate the hazard to co-workers. Without safety training, employees put themselves and others at risk.

2. OSHA requires it. Your organization has a legal obligation to train your workers on various safety topics. You need to be able to certify that people have been trained and produce evidence of their training if OSHA comes to visit. You also need to ensure workers remain up-to-date on regulatory changes. For example, if OSHA publishes a new rule about the use of facemasks to prevent the spread of viral infection, your workers need to know what the rule spells out—what kind of mask they should use, how they should wear it, and when they need to wear it.

Why Do Employers Struggle with Safety Training?

This is all fairly obvious—okay, very obvious. Most employers out there understand the importance of training. Nonetheless, they struggle to do it right, for several reasons:

  • Training is rarely a priority. Organizations know they have to do it, but finding the time for it can be a challenge.
  • Training courses are often dull and unengaging. Learners and instructors just want to get through it as quickly as possible.
  • Many learning solutions don’t deliver. They’re clunky, out-of-date, and frustrating to use.
  • Important information doesn’t “stick,” particularly during a crisis. People panic and forget what they learned a year ago.

Substandard training isn’t just a time- and energy-suck; it’s a massive risk to your people and business. If you can’t prove that your employees are well-informed and trained to do their jobs safely, you could be exposing them to deadly risks and putting your business on the line.

Plus, effective training is more than a safety imperative. It’s how top-performing organizations maximize worker morale, productivity, and retention. You need to train your employees the right way if you want to keep them around and working at their best.

Before we dive into how to do training the right way, let’s take a look at the training landscape and explore what kinds of solutions are out there, and what topics safety training tends to cover.

What Safety Training Solutions Are Available?

There are numerous kinds of training solutions and platforms available for employers. The most common tool companies rely on called a learning management system, or “LMS” for short.

Even if you’re not familiar with the acronym, you’ve almost certainly used a learning management system. LMS solutions are everywhere. Typically, they’re web-based or installed software applications that distribute lessons to employees. Course styles range from simple blocks of text to video presentations, multiple choice quizzes, interactive games, role-play activities, and more.

Some organizations decline to use LMSes and offer training completely in-person instead. The learning environment resembles a typical classroom setup—an instructor stands at the head of a class of learners and delivers lectures, answers questions, and administers tests.

For medium-sized and large organizations, neither of these kinds of solutions is ideal. In-person classroom training is slow, rudimentary, and time- and resource-intensive. Many LMSes, meanwhile, are stuck in the past—they’re saddled with poor user interfaces, full of grainy images and videos that look like they were shot in 1985, and may not cover the technologies and realities of 2020.

On top of these limitations, in-person training and typical LMS solutions frequently fail in terms of ensuring compliance. People learn about general safety policies and procedures, but are lost when it comes to OSHA-required recording and reporting. There’s no automated way to certify training, analyze data, or produce information during an audit or inspection. Learning and compliance are kept in completely separate buckets or siloes, so to speak.

When multiple systems are cobbled together, things tend to fall through the cracks. The only option for an organization looking to ensure total coverage and thorough compliance is an integrated training and EHS management system. In other words, you need a single platform for everything—compliance, incident management, corrective actions, recordkeeping, reporting, and training.

What Topics Does Safety Training Need to Cover?

Regardless of how it’s delivered, EHS training needs to cover certain topics. OSHA requires every “general industry” employer to educate the workforce about the following (PDF):

  • exit routes and emergency planning
  • powered platforms, manlifts, and vehicle-mounted work platforms
  • occupational health and environmental control
  • hazardous materials
  • personal protective equipment
  • general environmental controls
  • medical services and first aid
  • fire protection
  • materials handling and storage
  • machinery and machine guarding
  • welding, cutting, and brazing
  • electrical safety-related work practices
  • commercial diving operations
  • toxic and hazardous substances

This is just a brief and incomplete overview of what safety training employers need to deliver to employees. Many of these topics have subtopics, along with specialized requirements and considerations for certain types of employees. Other industries, including maritime, construction, and agriculture, have different training requirements under OSHA. Regulators at the state and municipal level may obligate employers to provide additional training.

Meanwhile, other agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), require their own training, such as training on hazardous waste management and working with ventilation and air conditioning systems.

On top of all that, there are a number of necessary human resources and security training topics that involve employee health and safety: workplace violence prevention, harassment prevention, customer data protection, and so on.

And those are just the fundamentals. Many employers need to go further and provide voluntary, industry-specific training that isn’t legally compulsory, per se, but essentially mandatory for doing business.

As you can imagine, many human instructors and LMS solutions fall short in covering everything.

How Do You Do Training Right?

So, how do you deliver training that covers everything your employees need to know, meets various regulatory requirements, maximizes learner retention, and ensures compliance? And how do you do all that without spending a fortune?

As a recognized leader in health and safety training, we have plenty of knowledge to share on the subject. We’ve written the book about this stuff—literally.

Here’s a super-condensed crash course on better workforce safety training:

1. Know your audience. 

Take time to understand the individual learner—or learners—that are taking the training and adjust your content accordingly:

  • Determine your employees’ education and reading levels.
  • Gauge how much experience your employees have on the training topic.
  • Consider what motivates your employees. Are they driven by winning/dominating, socialization/networking, achieving, or exploring/collecting?
  • Take into account cultural considerations including whether you should offer the training in multiple languages.
  • Offer a wide variety of content that addresses the different learning modalities including audio, visual, and kinesthetic methods.

Read more.

2. Use real-world examples.

Incorporate real-world examples into your training materials to improve retention, drive engagement, and provide opportunities for employees to practice scenarios. Stories are powerful vehicles for learning. Wrap lessons within the frame of scenarios that are detailed and relevant to your audience. Let learners connect to the stories and understand the impact of their decisions on realistic people and events.

Read more.

3. Assess prior knowledge.

Ask questions throughout your training to empower learners, drive engagement, challenge novice learners, and acknowledge prior experience:

  • Incorporate a variety of questions and scenarios into your content that range in difficulty from beginner to advanced.
  • Ask questions that relate to your audience’s different learning motivators of winning/ dominating, socialization/networking, achieving, or exploring/collecting.
  • Frame questions through audio, visual, and kinesthetic based formats.

Read more.

4. Promote behavioral change through repetition.

You can’t teach something once and expect people to “get it.” But you also can’t just repeat the same thing over and over. Set a training schedule with different activities, deliver training in different formats (videos, audio narratives, live performances, role-plays, journaling), and reinforce concepts by applying them to tangible details of the job:

  • Create diverse learning experiences to reinforce key takeaways in slightly different ways—while leveraging the same content and/or topics.
  • Establish a routine and schedule to continue to review and reinforce training topics.
  • Be aware of training and/or certification expiration dates and be sure to educate employees during the period between renewals.
  • Create different learning activities and deliver training in unique ways.
  • Conduct discussions about training to reinforce key takeaways.

Read more.

Ensure Safety and Improve Productivity with Award-Winning Training By KPA

KPA offers award-winning training courses designed to help employees improve their performance on the job. Scenario-based learning modules educate learners on the laws and regulations that apply to their jobs. Our courses feature high-level interactivity and video-based content designed to hold learners’ interest and keep them engaged.

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KPA training is…

  • available online
  • available on-site, led by our Risk Management Consultants,
  • designed to help employees improve their performance on the job and improve compliance,
    and
  • based on real-world stories and examples.

KPA’s training team has developed an extensive library of EHS, HR, and F&I training courses to meet your needs.

Here’s a sample of the courses we offer:

  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • Anti-Harassment Training
  • Back Injury Prevention
  • Customer Information Security
  • DOT Hazardous Materials Training
  • Emergency Response
  • Privacy Notices
  • Ethics in the Workplace
  • Federal Hazardous Waste Management
  • Hazard Communication
  • AC 609: Working with MVAC Systems
  • Heat Illness Prevention
  • IRS Section 8300: Cash Transaction Reporting
  • Safe Driving
  • Reputation Management and Complaint Resolution
  • Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention
  • Red Flags Rule
  • Abusive Workplace Conduct Prevention
  • Workplace Violence Prevention (including active shooter response)

Spanish Content

Many of our HR and Safety courses are available in Spanish, making it easy for you to keep your Spanish-speaking workforce trained and up-to-date, and maximize compliance throughout your organization.

On-Demand Course Availability

Course development supports best practices in the field, using the ADDIE model of instructional design—the standard guideline for building effective online training.

Learn more.

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