A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Occupational Health and Safety Training

By Robson, Lynda S.; Stephenson, Carol M. et al. | Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health, May 2012 | Go to article overview

A Systematic Review of the Effectiveness of Occupational Health and Safety Training


Robson, Lynda S., Stephenson, Carol M., Schulte, Paul A., Amick, Benjamin C., Irvin, Emma L., Eggerth, Donald E., Chan, StelIa, Bielecky, Amber R., Wang, Anna M., Heidotting, Terri L., Peters, Robert H., Clarke, Judith A., Cullen, Kimberley, Rotunda, Cathy J., Grubb, Paula L., Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment & Health


Objectives Training is regarded as an important component of occupational health and safety (OHS) programs. This paper primarily addresses whether OHS training has a beneficial effect on workers. The paper also examines whether higher engagement OHS training has a greater effect than lower engagement training.

Methods Ten bibliographic databases were searched for pre-post randomized trial studies published in journals between 1996 and November 2007. Training interventions were included if they were delivered to workers and were concerned with primary prevention of occupational illness or injury. The methodological quality of each relevant study was assessed and data was extracted. The impacts of OHS training in each study were summarized by calculating the standardized mean differences. The strength of the evidence on training's effectiveness was assessed for (i) knowledge, (ii) attitudes and beliefs, (ili) behaviors, and (iv) health using the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Guide to Community Preventive Services, a qualitative evidence synthesis method.

Results Twenty-two studies met the relevance criteria of the review. They involved a variety of study populations, occupational hazards, and types of training. Strong evidence was found for the effectiveness of training on worker OHS behaviors, but insufficient evidence was found of its effectiveness on health (ie, symptoms, injuries, illnesses).

Conclusions The review team recommends that workplaces continue to deliver OHS training to employees because training positively affects worker practices. However, large impacts of training on health cannot be expected based on research evidence.

Key terms education; evaluation; intervention; OHS; OHS training; prevention; primary prevention.

The burden of workplace injuries, illnesses, and fatalities on society is large (1,2). One common approach to mitigate such adverse outcomes is occupational health and safety (OHS) training. About 1 5% of the Canadian working population receives OHS training each year (3). Indeed, training is widely regarded as an important component of OHS programs (4-7). However, definitive information on the effectiveness of OHS training is still developing.

OHS training refers to planned efforts to facilitate the learning of OHS-specific competencies (8). Such training typically consists of instruction in hazard recognition and control, safe work practices, proper use of personal protective equipment, and emergency procedures and preventive actions. It may also guide workers on where to find additional information about potential hazards. Finally, OHS training can also empower workers and managers to become more active in making changes that enhance worksite protection (9). Training interventions sometimes include additional components besides instruction or practice, such as goal-setting, to enhance effectiveness. The distinction between training and education is not universally agreed upon. For some, in contrast to education, training must include a handson practice component. For this review, a broad definition of training has been adopted so that training with or without a hands-on practice component is included.

Early attempts to review the OHS training literature were hampered by a lack of evaluative information and there were concerns about its internal validity (10, 11). By the time of the Johnston et al review (12), a substantial number of studies with quasi-experimental designs (13) had accumulated. These studies evidenced that training increases knowledge and targeted OHS behaviors, but the review did not look separately at health-related outcomes (eg, injuries), instead pooling them with true behavior outcomes. A second review by Cohen & Colligan (9) similarly found that the majority of the 80 studies reviewed showed positive effects (not defined) on knowledge and behaviors, rather than mixed or no effects. Of the 80 studies, 42 had quasiexperimental or experimental designs. …

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