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Why we need to fundamentally rethink health and safety training

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Do we need to abolish health and safety training in its current form if we want to effectively manage risk? It’s a provocative question, but I believe fundamental flaws in the way safety training is typically configured mean there is often little or no implementation on the job of the skills taught.


A key finding of adult learning research is if we believe training will be useful then we are far more motivated both to learn and apply what we are taught. In other words – we are hard-wired to ask ‘is this stuff going to be any use to me when I get back to work?’

However, in my experience, in health and safety training too much time is taken up by knowledge-based theory that is of only background relevance. Stuff about policies and legal responsibilities is done to death – but how does this help learners improve their on-the-job performance? When the course does get around to the skills-based ‘let’s have a go stuff’, it’s in a classroom that does not relate to the learners’ actual workplace.  

When the individuals get back to their everyday role very little of this is of any use to them.

The symptoms of these underlying faults are, I am sure, familiar to many – a perception that health and safety training is boring. Trainees respond with apathy and hostility and managers are not supportive of the aims. This is a huge problem – if we cannot facilitate effective on-the-job implementation of required skills then risk will not be effectively managed.

So how do we fix this problem? To stimulate debate I have set up a discussion thread on the British Safety Council’s LinkedIn group, which contains a short video exploring these points in more detail.

My view is yes, we most certainly do need to abolish a lot of health and safety training as it is currently configured – so please get involved and share your views.

Ian Pemberton is managing director of Human Focus

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