In this article, we’re going to walk you through six steps of evaluating different online safety training solutions–this includes online safety training courses, online safety management management systems (typically known as a learning management system or LMS), mobile apps and mobile safety training, and the safety training providers.
You can use this as a roadmap for moving through the purchasing process. Kind of like an online safety training buyer’s guide (we’ve got a free online safety training buyer’s guide checklist behind that link your eyes just passed up, plus we included it at the bottom of this article as well).
So if you know you want to make the investment in online safety training at work, and you just need some help figuring out which system to go with, here’s your one-stop-shopping guide.
Evaluating Online Safety Training: Six Things to Do or Consider
We’re going to walk you through six different phases of the online safety training evaluation process.
- Develop your company’s online safety training evaluation team
- Determine your company’s online safety training needs
- Know what “online safety training” is and some common types
- Evaluate online safety training courses
- Evaluate online safety training administration or management systems
- Evaluate online safety training providers
Let’s take a look at each of those now.
1. Create Your Internal Team to Evaluate Online Safety Training
Don’t go off and try to buy an online safety training solution on your own if you can avoid it. You’re less likely to get a solution that works well for everyone at your organization.
Instead, identify the different people at your workplace who might be stakeholders in any new online safety training that you evaluate and ultimately use at work. These include:
- Employees who will take the safety training (get an employee representative, for example, and think about special employee populations such as new hires in particular)
- Safety and health management (we’re assuming that’s you)
- Training (or learning & development) manager, if you have an official training department
- HR manager
- IT manager
- Production/Operations manager (if you might both use the training system…after all, safety is just part of operations)
- Quality manager (if you might both use the training system)
- Environmental manager (same as above)
- “Upper” management/C-suite (they pay the bills, etc.)
If you get a larger group together, and consider the needs, opinions, wants, and desires of everyone involved, you’ll wind up getting better buy in. You’ll also almost certainly wind up with a system that more closely meets all of your company’s needs. And you may even benefit from some cost-sharing and work-sharing.
2. Determine Your Company’s Online Safety Training Needs
Once you’ve got your internal team assembled, it’s time to figure out what exactly your company needs from your online safety training solution.
We’ll walk you through a few things to consider in the sections below.
Your Safety Training Requirements
What exactly do you need your online safety training solution to do?
Do you just need to have employees complete courses?
Or do you need more? How about things like this, for example:
- Must manage “online” and “real world/face-to-face” safety training
- Must create and store training records
- Must be able to import your own safety training materials in common formats–video, PDF, PowerPoint, self-created eLearning courses, etc.
- Must be able to collect and store digital versions of “sign-in sheets” for classroom-based safety training
- Must manage “expirations” for training that must be completed every 1, 2, of 3 years
Knowing what you want your online safety training solution to do before you begin shopping is essential if you want to get the right solution. Reading the rest of this article will help you determine more about what you need.
Your Company’s Technical Requirements
Is it an absolute necessity for your online safety training solution to be hosted on your company’s own computer servers? Or is it OK or even preferable if the online safety training provider hosts it on their own server or on the cloud?
Do you want your employees to complete their training on desktop computers? Or will they be using mobile devices, such as smartphones or tablets? Or both?
Do you have an Internet connection where the employees will complete the training? Or is there no Internet connection, meaning employees will have to complete training “offline” and the system will later have to sync the training records?
What other software applications might be necessary to utilize the online safety training solution? What web browser(s) does it work on? Do you need Adobe Acrobat or Microsoft Silverlight installed on computers? What kind of video player will work?
Do you need your online safety training solution to integrate with other software systems at work, such as your HRIS, CRM, or ERP?
As with your company’s training needs, it’s important to know your company’s technical requirements in advance as well. And as was true earlier, the remainder of this article will help you create a list of your technical requirements for your online safety training system.
How much money do you have available for this project? Some systems are quite inexpensive and affordable, while others are significantly more expensive. It pays (pun intended!) to know how deep your pockets are in advance.
And when are you prepared to spend? Some solutions may require a big up-front expense with little or no follow-up costs. Others will call for smaller, regular payments that continue over time.
A quick note about this, though. Remember that adopting an online safety training system will help you cut a lot of the costs related to your current safety training program. This includes the cost of creating training, leading instructor-led training, creating and storing training records, travel expenses associated with training, and more.
Future Growth/Needs for Online Safety Training
We’ve mentioned that it’s important for you to know what you want your online safety training solution to be able to do now.
But it’s also important to think about the future, and what you’ll want or need it to do then, too.
For example, you may have a small workforce now and maybe everyone completes the exact same safety training. And so a solution that manages that may be all you need now. But if you’re going to grow, and if people will begin working different job tasks, they’ll also have different safety training needs. And that same online safety training solution may no longer be so helpful.
Likewise, you may have workers at only one site today, but maybe in the future you’ll need a system that allows for multi-site, enterprise-level safety training.
Or maybe now you only plan on using online safety training that comes included in your solution, but in the future you’d like to be able to import, deliver, and track your own self-created safety training materials.
Or maybe now all online safety training will be completed on shared computers in the company office, but you can anticipate having workers complete their safety training on smartphones in the future.
You get the point. It’s important to consider future needs and get a solution that you can grow into over time. Don’t buy something that you’ll soon regret because it’s not powerful or flexible enough.
For more on this, check our article “43.5 Signs You’ll Outgrow Your LMS.”
3. Understand the 2 Common Types of Online Safety Training
We can break “online safety training solutions” down into two types. And in this section, we will, explaining each to you.
But before we do that, we really should explain the two basic things online safety training solutions can do.
Two Aspects of Online Safety Training
The idea of “online safety training” is really an umbrella term that can include two different aspects:
The First Aspect: The online safety training courses. This can include courses on safety topics such as Lockout-Tagout, Haz-Com, Confined Spaces, Trenching and Excavation, and so on.
The video below gives an exammple of what we mean by the online safety training courses.
The second aspect Some form of training management system to help administer and manage the online safety training (and maybe even classroom-based and field-based safety training, depending on the system). This involves things like making safety training assignments to different parts of the workforce, creating and storing records of training completion, importing, creating, and updating safety training materials, notifying employees of safety training assignments, generating reports on safety training, communicating with other software systems at your workplace (like your HRIS, ERP, or CRM), and more.
Not every online safety training solution will provide a management system like this. Or if they do, those systems may have different features. Plus, in some cases, such as pay-per-view or subscription-based safety training that streams online (like a movie you’d watch on Netflix or Amazon Prime), the learner maybe watching the safety training content embedded within a management system without ever really knowing it.
The video below gives an example of what we mean by a training management system (or a more robust, learning management system, also known as an LMS).
Now that you understand those two sides of the online safety training coin, let’s look at two common types of online safety training to see how they support each of those two aspects.
On-demand online safety training: pay-per-view or subscription basis
This option is similar to online movie or music services, such as Netflix or Pandora. All of these systems can differ, but the general idea is someone pays online, and after payment, one or more people can then go online to view and complete one or more safety training course.
In many cases, these systems provide just the ability to view courses and perhaps to print out a completion certificate.
However, there’s a spectrum of offerings, and some of these systems may also offer administrative powers that would allow safety training managers to make complex assignments, to view stored completion records online, to generate reports on training, and more.
See our article on Types of Online Safety Training for more details about this.
Online learning management systems (LMS):
Like the on-demand systems mentioned above, learning management systems offer viewing access to health and safety training courses.
However, by default they also offer at least some measure of safety training administration and management.
This may making assignments, creating and importing safety training materials, creating completion records, printing completion certificates, generating reports, managing classroom-style and field-based training, and more.
And just as the different on-demand solutions may include a range of different options (including the ability to administer training, more commonly associated with the training management system type), these safety training management systems may offer a range of powers too. Some are quite simple and stripped down, perhaps best described by the phase “safety tracker.” Others are more full-featured and robust, earning the name learning management system (LMS).
This is a changing, evolving market, and the categories above aren’t hard-and-fast rules, and the terms above are not even used universally. But they do help you get the idea of some options you may face once you start evaluating online safety training options.
Some Pros and Cons of the Two Common Types of Online Safety Training
Once you have given some thought to your company’s training needs, and understand the different types of online safety training, you can use the tables below to help narrow in on the kind of online safety training that’s best for you.
Remember that nothing written below is a hard-and-fast rule, and specific products within each type of online safety training may have fewer or more features than the average product of that type.
Here’s a quick breakdown of some of the benefits of each of the two types.
And here’s a quick analysis of some of the disadvantages or weaknesses of each of the two types.
4. Evaluating Your Online Safety Training Provider
Now that you’ve got a general idea of what you’re looking for, you’ll want to start evaluating different online safety training solutions, options, and providers. This includes three aspects–the online safety training provider, the online safety training courses, and the online safety training learning management system (if you choose that option). In reality, you may evaluate all three of these at the same time, but we’ll begin by talking about evaluating the online safety training provider.
When you choose to adopt an online safety training solution, you’re entering into a relationship with the safety training provider. Like many relationships, this can be satisfying or unsatisfying; beneficial or not beneficial; productive or unproductive. As a result, you’ll want to evaluate the online safety training provider on the issues listed below. Begin evaluating the provider with the very first form you fill out, email you write, or telephone call you place.
How long did it take them to get back to your initial inquiry? This gives you an idea of how your future communications will go as well.
In addition, ask them how quickly they respond to things like customer support requests.
What are their office hours? What days do they work on? What time zone are they located in? What happens on weekends and evenings?
None of these things may be mission-critical, but it’s good to give some thought to them in advance.
Easy to work with:
How did working with them go? When they said they’d get back to you, did they? When they said they’d send something to you, did they? When they scheduled a demo for you, did they follow through at the agreed-upon date and time?
Do you like them?
You don’t have to ADORE them and want to hang out socially, but it’s helpful if you like them and a bad sign if they just plain rub you wrong.
Diverse staff of training and technical professionals:
It takes a lot of people with highly specialized knowledge to create effective safety training materials.
What kind of staff does the online safety training provider have? Do they have safety experts? Instructional designers? Technical writers? Graphic designers? Software programmers? Web gurus?
Demo of online safety training solution:
We’ve got two tips for you here.
First, don’t partner with a company that won’t let you demo their online safety training solution
Training to help you use their online safety training solution:
Some online safety training solutions are very simple. Type in your name, give some payment information, click play, and view. Others are more complex.
In general, systems that do less will be easier to use. And systems that do more, and grant you greater freedom and power, will be more complex (but be careful that they’re not too complex–we’ll talk about this later).
As you’re considering different online safety training options, be sure to measure how complex it may be. If it IS on the more complex side, see what kind of training the provider offers to get you up to speed as quickly and painlessly as possible.
In addition to understanding how the system works, the online safety training provider may have tips for the best ways to implement and use it at your workplace. Ask in advance about this.
It is also helpful if the online safety training provider offers an online knowledge base or similar customer portal that you can use to quickly find answers to questions you have. Check to see if they have one.
Once you’ve chosen a provider and are using your online safety training system, there may be times when you need to contact the company for customer support. Ask in advance if they offer the service, and what it entails? Will you have a dedicated project manager? Will you speak to a person? Will it be via phone or email? How long does it take to get a response? Is there a cost associated with customer support? If so, how much?
Referrals from their customers:
Ask the provider if you can get referrals from their previous and existing customers.
Even better, see if you can get in touch with and communicate with one directly.
Also, give more emphasis to feedback from customers in your industry, and/or at a business that’s the same size as your own.
Stability of provider:
How long has the company been around? How large is their customer base? How deep are their pockets?
You don’t want to partner with an online safety training provider only to have them go under shortly after you begin.
Pricing and pricing options:
How much does it cost and what are the different pricing options? How does payment work and how often does it occur?
Does the online safety training provider offer access to a user community where you can share tips and experiences with other companies using their products? This can be helpful.
Does the provider offer a blog with helpful tips on safety, safety training, training, learning and development, and other related topics?
5. Evaluating the Online Safety Training Courses
Next, let’s turn our attention to evaluating the online safety training courses themselves–the training materials on health and safety topics such as Hazard Communication, Lockout-Tagout, Forklift Safety, and similar training needs.
Below we’ve got a list of things to consider when evaluating the courses an online safety training provider offers.
Safety and health topics covered:
Does the provider offer online safety training courses for all of your company’s health and safety training needs?
Do they have additional courses in case your needs change in the future?
Accuracy of safety and health information:
Is the safety information in the courses accurate, safe, and helpful?
Instructional design of online safety training courses:
Are the courses put together following best practices of instructional design to create engaging, compelling, effective safety and health training?
Does everyone in your workforce speak English as a first language? If not, you may want to consider what multi-language training options the online safety training provider offers.
Can you get each course in a variety of different languages? How exactly does that work?
Development of new online health and safety courses:
How often does the company make new courses available? How do they alert customers of new course avail abilities and how can customers access them? How many new courses will the company create this year? How many do they create in a typical year? What are the new courses scheduled for release in the next few months?
Frequency of updates of existing health and safety courses:
How often does the online safety training provider update its existing courses? How many does it update each year? What are some reasons that they update courses? What is their process for updating courses? How are customers notified about updated courses? What were some of the courses that were updated in this past year?
Options for off-the-shelf and custom online safety training courses:
If so, what’s the process for that and how much does it cost?
Online courses on topics other than safety and health:
Does the online training provider offer titles on topics other than health and safety?
For example, do they offer general manufacturing training courses? These can be useful if you’ll be using this system in combination with Operations or Production.
Or what if you have special health and safety training needs, such as mining safety training for MSHA compliance?
Or what if you’re in a unique industry, such as paper manufacturing?
Proven results with companies like yours:
Ask if other companies that are like yours (industry, size, similar workforce, etc.) have used the safety training provider’s training courses and what their experience was. Ideally, see if you can contact some of these other companies and get their opinions directly.
6. Evaluating an Online Safety Training Learning Management System (LMS)
During your evaluation, you may choose to go with an “on-demand” online safety training system—the pay-per-view or subscription options we described earlier in this article. If that’s’ the case, you won’t need to evaluate the safety training management system, also commonly called a learning management system (LMS).
On the other hand, if you wanted to use an LMS to take advantage of all the features of training management and administration that one provides, you definitely will want to include that in your evaluation process.
We’ve given you ten different general areas to consider during your evaluation. They include:
- Usability/user experience
- Workforce organization
- Content import, creation, and updating
- Management of classroom-style training and field-based training
- Training assignment options
- Online training delivery options
- Credit for completed training
- Security roles and levels for administrators
- Additional considerations
Each item listed above is addressed in a section below.
Studies show that companies quit using their LMS, or switch from one LMS to another, because of difficult user experience more than for any other reason.
As a result, it’s important to evaluate the LMS to ensure it’s easy to learn how to use it. Also consider if it is easy to perform the kind of tasks people will use it for frequently. These include:
- Logging in
- Viewing list of assigned training
- Launching and completing a course
- Importing and creating content
- Making assignments
- Giving credit for completed training
- Running reports
Be sure to consider this from two perspectives. First, from the perspective of employees who will use the LMS to complete their safety training. And second, from the perspective of administrators who will perform the administrative tasks involved in managing the program.
It’s important to learn about the tools the LMS provides that allow you to organize your company’s workers into an organizational hierarchy and custom groups.
This will allow you to make training assignments that are specific to the safety training needs of workers at different sites, or in different work areas, or with different jobs.
It’s also important because it allows administrators to run reports on workers in different units, such as sites, departments, jobs, and custom groups.
And finally, it can be used in combination with security roles to provide administrators access to training information about workers in one department but not other departments.
Content import, creation, and updating (versioning)
Next, evaluate the type of safety training materials the LMS allows you to:
- Import into the LMS
- Create in the LMS
- Update to create a new version
Check to see what the LMS allows you to do and doesn’t. But also remember to check how easy these tasks are.
When we talk about importing training materials into the LMS, we mean materials you made, materials you can link to on the Internet, or materials you had made for you. These can include the following types (plus more, no doubt):
- Word documents
- PowerPoint Presentations
- Video files (in common formats)
- Links to web pages on the Internet
- Links to files in your SharePoint
- Links to files on your computer network
- eLearning courses (in common formats such as SCORM, AICC, and/or xAPI)
Also, some learning management systems allow you to create training materials directly inside the LMS. These can include:
- Online quizzes
- Safety and operational checklists
- eLearning courses (or similar)
Finally, when training has to be updated, you may find it helpful to simply update existing content within the LMS instead of deleting old content and importing new content in its place. That’s because you can still run a report on one activity (that’s been updated) instead of having to run a report on two, three, or more activities. Here are some things to check:
- Can you update training materials already in the LMS
- Which types of training materials can you update?
- Does the LMS keep track of the different versions?
- Does the LMS store older versions for later reference?
- Does the LMS keep track of which employees completed which versions?
- Does the LMS give options about getting new versions to employees?
Management of classroom-style and field-based training
Although the focus of this article is online safety training, we feel strongly that all safety training programs should include more than just training that employees compete online. Instead, effective safety training programs should make use of blended learning solutions that mix-and-match different types of safety training. Our friends at the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) agree, as their ANSI Z490.1 standard makes clear.
One of the great things about an LMS is that it should help you manage and administer training that occurs in a classroom and field-based training in addition to training employees complete online. That lets you administer your entire blended safety training solution with one system. Nice!
Here are some things to consider along these lines:
- Does the system support classroom-style instructor-led training? If so, how?
- Does the system support field-based training? If so, how?
- Can you assign classroom training and field-based training? How is the employee notified? How is the employee given credit for completing this type of training?
- Can you set up a class with more than one instance of the same session?
- Can you set up classes with more than one session?
- Does the LMS include features for instructor management? If so, what?
- Does the LMS include features for scheduling and managing physical classrooms?
- Does the LMS include features for storing the sign-in sheets employees sign when they attend classroom training? How does this work?
- Can you “attach” a document or presentation to an assigned class so that employees can download the attached document before or after attending the classroom session?
Training assignment options
Of course, you’ll want to investigate the options you’ll have when you assign safety training to employees. Be sure to check out:
- Can you assign training to different, specific groups of employees?
- Can you “bundle” safety training activities into different safety curricula (such as curricula relevant for new workers, or for working at a particular site, for working in a given job role, or for performing specific tasks)?
- Can you apply due dates to safety training assignments?
- Does the system provide tools for managing training that must be repeated recurrently (such as every year, two years, or three years), meaning employees can complete training and then that training completion can “expire”?
- Can the system automatically assign relevant training to new workers and/or to workers who have changed sites, work areas, job titles, and job tasks?
- In addition to assigned safety training, can the employees access safety training materials for self-guided reference? How does this work?
Online training delivery
What kind of options does the system provide for online delivery of training? In particular, can the system deliver training:
- To desktop computers?
- To mobile devices such as tablets and phones (and is the system optimized to perform well on small mobile devices—remember that user experience is very important for LMS users)?
- Even when a computer or mobile device is “offline” with no current Internet connection? And if so, how does this work?
Crediting for completed safety training
You’ll also want to investigate how employees get credit for completing training, what information is included on those training records, and how they’re stored.
Here are some things to look into:
- What information is stored on a record of completed training (examples: time, date, employee name, safety training activity)
- Is there a process for the learner to acknowledge that they have seen/read/understood a document or other type of training activity?
- How does the system automatically give credit for completed training for all types of training activities?
- How can system administrators manually give employees credit for completing training, such as in the field or in a classroom?
- Is it possible to capture and store an employees’ signature collected in the field confirming training completion?
- Can the system automatically credit employees for completing classroom-style training if they swipe a card key or key fob?
- Does the system include a way to check off employees for safely performing the different steps of a safe work practice/standard operating procedure?
- How does the system manage cases when an employee completes the same training activity multiple times?
Earlier we mentioned that poorly designed user experience is one of the top reasons people “leave” their LMS and go with another one.
Reporting is also big cause of frustration and dropping of an LMS. So pay special attention to the reporting options an LMS provides.
Here are some things to check:
- Are reports easy to run?
- Does the system come with a good selection of pre-configured reports?
- Does the system allow you the ability to configure/design your own reports?
- Do the reports include easy-to-understand graphs, charts, and visual displays?
- Can you generate a report and email it to another coworker?
- Can you export a report in common formats such as Excel and PDF?
- Can you set up the system to automatically generate reports on a regular basis (such as weekly or monthly) and deliver the report with fresh data via email to yourself and/or coworkers?
- Does the system allow you to run “historical” reports so you can see not just if an employee has completed a safety training activity today, but if the employee had completed that training at a specific time in the past?
Security roles/administrative access
Learning management systems (LMSs) can be set up so that you can grant a great deal of administrative powers to one user (or a set of users) and a smaller amount of administrative powers to a different user (or a different set of users).
This can be tremendously valuable, especially if you have multiple people who will act as administrators.
Things to consider include:
- Does the system come with pre-configured security roles? If so, what are they and do they do what you want them to do?
- Can a security role be configured so it includes both (a) a set of administrative powers and (b) a part of your workforce over which those powers can be used?
- Are the security roles easy to assign and later unassign?
- Can you configure your own custom security roles? If so, what exactly does this mean/how does it work?
- Can one person be assigned to multiple security roles?
It’s not easy to think of everything a single company would want to know about a learning management system for online safety training. It’s more difficult to create a list of things most or all companies would want to know.
Still, we believe the list of items above is a great start to guide your search.
That said, we know there will be other items that may also be important to your company as you evaluate learning management systems for online safety training. The list below attempts to keep moving you in a positive direction:
- Language issues—can the LMS interface be displayed in different languages for different users?
- Hosting—can the LMS be installed on your own network server(s), hosted on the provider’s server(s), and/or hosted on “the cloud”
- What are the technical requirements your company should be aware of?
- What other software applications will your company need?
- What other, complementary software applications might your company want to consider (such as eLearning authoring tools like Lectora, Captivate, and Articulate)?
- How reliable is the system and what is its historical “uptime”?
- How does the company manage downtimes/crashes?
- How secure is the system?
- Is the system scalable so it can grow as your company and/or safety training needs grow?
- Is the system compatible with mobile devices for training completion and crediting?
- Does the system include eCommerce functionality?
- Does the system have “extended enterprise capabilities” for providing training to contractors, customers, vendors, and suppliers in addition to your employees?
- Can the system integrate with and communicate with the other software systems at your work (such as CRM, HRIS, ERP, etc.)?
- Have businesses like yours had success and satisfying experiences while using this system? Can you speak with them directly?
- How often does the training provider update the LMS with new features? How are customers notified of these features, and how do they get access to these features? What type of support do customers get in knowing how and why to use these features?
- Is it possible to get custom features added to the LMS should you want that? How does that process work?
- Can your company’s branding be added to LMS (logo, custom landing page, custom URL, etc.)?
What did we miss? What’s still on your mind? Let us know in the comments section below and we’ll update this section accordingly.
Wrapping It Up: Evaluating Online Safety Training Solutions
As you can see, there’s quite a bit to do and to consider when you’re thinking of adding online safety training to your current safety training program.
If you’re entirely new to online safety training, it can be quite an intimidating task. Hopefully we’ve giving you a good foot forward on your journey.
If we can leave you with one final bit of advice drawn from experience, don’t simply create a checklist of features and ask different providers if they have them or can do them. Why’s that, you ask? Because many companies can honestly and sincerely say “yes” they have that feature when it may or may not do what you think it does. Likewise, they can honestly say that “yes” their solution does this or does that, but it may not do the thing the way you’re thinking it does. In short, companies take your checklist, say they have all the features and can perform all the functions you’re asking about (all honestly, mind you), and then sell you an online safety training solution that doesn’t do what you think it would or what you want it to do.
To avoid this problem, making sure you develop a good, talking relationship with the online safety training provider you’re considering partnering with. Have them walk you through their solution to show you not only what features it has and what it can perform, but how it all works. And make sure they let you investigate it on your own.
Congratulations! You’ve made it to the end of this article! Hope you found it helpful. Before you leave, download the free guide below. It summarizes and expands on this article, and does it in a handy checklist style.
Online Safety Training Buyer’s Guide Checklist
Learn how to evaluate the different online safety training solutions that exist to find one that best fits your company’s needs with our FREE informative guide and checklist.