Safety Training Programs

There are some fundamental components required to establishing training in support of a safety program (see Flowchart). The program should follow policies that support organizational goals, or why we train in the first place. Training requirements must be established to determine if there is a legitimate reason for training and who needs the training. Responsibility for providing the training needs to be determined and promulgated.

Training program selection is an aspect that requires thought in order to have a program that best serves the specific department, its circumstances, and its functions. After these decisions have been made, it is time to select the trainer. It is very important to document the program and create procedures to document the training following session completion.

Why Train

There are many reasons for general employee training. An American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) report links investment in employee training with firms' total stockholder return. The study demonstrates the connection between a company's positive commitment to workplace learning and an improved bottom line. Today's success stories are about people who are constantly learning new skills and/or enhancing current ones, benefiting the employee, employer, and the organization in general.

The reason for safety training on campus is reflected in the Mission of the University Safety Committee (USC), the University's Safety Policy, and the USC Mission Statement. The documents establish the standard for a safety culture that reflects each department's commitment to safety and the concept of a safe and healthy environment as a core value. The implementation of such a philosophy requires the involvement of all individuals on campus. An attitude must be cultivated that considers safety part of every procedure and activity rather than separate and performed because the supervisor requires it.

From a safety standpoint, there are some compelling arguments for a well-educated workforce, beyond the obvious liabilities inherent to compliance. There are fewer lost workdays due to injuries and illnesses in a safety aware workplace. The organization sees a risk reduction from tragedies like disabling injuries or death. Supervisors spend less time dealing with the aftermath of accidents, such as investigations, reports, and paperwork. More time is spent on production because less time is spent on enforcement and discipline. Everyone enjoys improved morale and a sense of accomplishment, leading to higher productivity and more enthusiasm for getting the job done right.

Training Requirements

The first question from most departments starting a training program is, "What training is required?" The simplest and most accurate answer is, "It depends." Relevant training is determined from a combination of the hazards associated with the specific workplace, the tasks or activities performed, and general training for all employees. Any of these approaches can be used as a starting point for determining individual requirements. One of the most important issues is who belongs to the organization and what do they do. With that information, an individualized training program can be projected.

Accounting for personnel comprising a department is an administrative task, one that can be completed using existing information, such as the payroll database. Supervisors can use job descriptions as an administrative way to establish what personnel do, however job descriptions often leave out critical functions in the official statement. What an employee does may best be answered by a collaboration of the employee and supervisor listing appropriate tasks and functions from a real life perspective.

The EH&S Department provides several options to assist departments in determining required training. Publications are available on the open market that help identify training requirements and information:

  • UNR EH&S Safety Training Matrix
  • Categorized requirements for University personnel (by Position Control Number)
  • Reference publications delineating requirements
    Safety Training Basics – Handbook for Safety Training Program Development

    CFR Training Requirements – 4th Edition

    OSHA Standards & Training Guidelines – A BLR Report
  • A self-assessment survey

Of course, other resources include commercial packages and references. These resources are available from most of the more popular safety businesses. The companies provide the information in various formats and at different prices.

Responsibility for Training

The University, University Safety Committee, Vice Presidents, Deans, Directors, Department Chairs and Managers all share some responsibility for training. They are responsible for providing resources and establishing a culture where training is expected, desired, and transparently integrated into the normal workflow. The role of Environmental Health & Safety is to provide support in the form of training resources. Managers should remember that training is essential to employee development and optimum production.

The supervisor is responsible for everything an employee does or doesn’t do, including issues of safety. Safety training is primarily the supervisor’s responsibility because the supervisor is the only person with direct supervision over all employee activities. This means the supervisor may be held liable, possibly criminally liable, when an improperly trained employee is hurt.

Though the supervisor has liability for the employee’s actions, the employee must accept principal responsibility for his or her own safety. As a condition of employment, the employee must follow all safety policies and work practices established in the workplace. Procedures or circumstances recognized by the employee as a possible hazard must be corrected and/or reported to the supervisor. Most important, an injury, illness, or death will impact the employee involved far more than anyone else.

In the end, the preponderance of responsibility for training rests with both the supervisor and the employee. The two should work as a team, the supervisor developing a training program with input and concurrence from the worker. It is important that the supervisor keep affected employees involved in the process, reminding them that they have the most at stake.

Training Program Selection

There are many ways to administer a safety training program. Select a strategy that considers the type of training needed, the personnel to be trained, compatibility with operating procedures, and the resources available. The training should be a part of the employee development program and transparent to normal work efforts. In other words, it should be considered part of normal workflow, rather than separate and additional. Ensure all training is relevant and necessary; distinguishing between “must have,” “should have,” and “would be good to have” training.

Many people only consider group classroom instruction when deciding on a strategy for employee performance improvement. However, other forms of relating information can have distinctive advantages over the classroom environment. These alternative learning strategies include job aids, on-the-job training, and distance learning. Several programs are feasible for most departments in terms of resources. A "blended" or mixed approach when selecting training methods is usually considered the most effective. More information can be found at the "Program Selection" link.

Select the Trainer

Decide who will deliver the training, or select the trainer(s), as part of the program development strategy. The supervisor is often the best person to train employees because she or he has performance expectations for employees, especially when the supervisor has done the same work in the past. Being the trainer ensures that expectations are understood and required skills are mastered to the supervisor’s satisfaction. Supervisors may want to assign training duties to employees who are resident experts on certain subjects, as they often do an excellent job of sharing their expertise. Of course, the supervisor may want an outside trainer for specialty topics or new procedures. It is important to remember that training is more than telling someone what you know. A formally trained instructor can know less about a work environment or subject than a resident expert and improve worker performance more than the non-trainer is able. The results are due to the use of training techniques that can be learned from train-the-trainer instruction. Formal instructor training is highly recommended for supervisors who want to perform at least a moderate share of the training responsibilities for the department


Documentation is a big part of a training program. Besides a management tool, documentation is an essential, and arguably the most important, component of compliance. There is an adage in the legal world, "If it isn't written, it didn't happen." Documentation of the training program and training completed is the best defense, and your objective explanation, if an incident were to occur and liability becomes an issue. A written plan is the beginning of a successful safety program. Whether the plan is simple or comprehensive, it ensures a cohesive effort and understanding of the value assigned the program. The document is paramount in the issue of accountability. It is instrumental in establishing direction, authority, policies, procedures, and a sense of ownership for the department members. The training strategy and program description should be included as a major section of the plan. Establish a reliable system to document training.

Tracking the training effort helps to answer many management questions, such as whether the training is effective, is performance improving? How much time goes into training and should it be increased or decreased? Are employees following an improvement plan, developing the proper skills and attitudes? Has everyone had or is scheduled to have all required training? Should an in house session be presented on a topic that would improve the work environment and benefit most employees? There are many formats and methods to document training. A system can be developed from scratch or acquired as part of a commercial training package. A system can be very simple and recorded manually as a log of individual attendance. The system can be complex and automated, using computer programs to anticipate requirements, plot individual training programs, track class opportunities, perform automated registration, log attendance, etc. The simpler a method is, the more likely training will be properly recorded. On the other hand, the more complex the system is, the more useful it can be as a management tool for worker and productivity improvement.