Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Training Conference Touts Worker Participation

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

Training Conference Touts Worker Participation

Article excerpt

Safely leaders see worker involvement as a valuable tool in improving safety training and performance.

Right now, I'm in the process of rewriting many of my 'training' programs to make them more educational, more interactive and more interesting," said Leanne Cobb, environmental and safety officer at the Chemet Corp. in Attleboro, Mass.

Cobb's approach to training mirrors much of the advice presented to safety and health professionals at the first National Conference on Workplace Safety and Health Training held Oct. 24-26 in St. Louis. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) sponsored the conference.

The way to improve safety and health, according to Cobb, is to get people to incorporate what they learn into their everyday thinking and behaviors and to increase worker involvement in all aspects of safety. At the St. Louis conference, business and labor leaders agreed that an effective way to reach this goal is to replace traditional "passive" models of worker training with an approach that includes the active participation of workers every step of the way.

Worker Training and the Changing Workplace

The growing importance of worker training due to the changing nature of the workplace was highlighted by keynote speaker Dr. Linda Rosenstock, director of NIOSH.

Against the backdrop of the competitive pressures and opportunities of the global marketplace, Rosenstock painted a picture of an aging work force that is changing jobs more frequently. Worker safety, she argued, is imperiled by the increasingly transient work force, because one-third to one-half of all lost time work illnesses and injuries occur in the first year on the job. Moreover, while injury frequency declines with age, fatal and severe injury rates actually increase for older workers.

Rosenstock also pointed to the dramatic increase in contingent workers, who make up between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. work force. In addition to the difficulty of training temporary or contract workers who have no regular long-term relationship with their employers, Rosenstock noted, almost half of such employees have no health insurance. Therefore, even a relatively minor injury or illness for such a worker could turn into a catastrophe.

Educational Strategies -- Peer Training

Evidence that worker participation in safety and health training really works, and how to bring it about, were the subjects of many of the conference's smaller breakout sessions.

In one of them Barbara Hilyer of the University of Alabama, discussed a union-company-university partnership that successfully implemented "peer training" in the paper industry. In this "train-the-trainer" approach, workers are involved from the start in developing the training program. Eventually, the workers do most of the training.

From the management point of view, the use of worker-trainers is appealing because it stretches limited funds, frees professional staff for other duties and builds in-house expertise.

Peer education also increases worker support for shared occupational safety and health goals. By selecting trainers who share the same work experience, the program underscores the message that workers' experience is valued and encourages them to be proactive in improving safety performance.

Hilyer listed six steps to develop a successful peer training program:

1. Identify training needs;

2. Determine the goal of each piece of training;

3. Write specific measurable objectives;

4. Develop learning materials and methods;

5. Conduct the training; and

6. Evaluate and improve the training.

Hilyer and other advocates of peer training at the conference insisted it is essential that hourly and salaried employees participate in all phases of the process. …

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