(Note: This article is based on the newly revised, 2016 version of ANSI Z490.1.)
Let’s continue our series of articles about ANSI Z490.1, the US national standard that lays out “Criteria for Accepted Practices in Safety, Health, and Environmental Training.”
In this post, we’ll look at Section 4 of the standard, which focuses on how to develop effective EHS training.
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And while you’re here, why not download our free Guide to Effective EHS Training?
Section 4: How to Develop Effective EHS Training
Section 4 is a big one, and it covers the need for a systematic method for developing EHS training and the steps within that method. That systematic method includes the following steps:
- Training needs assessment (also sometimes called training needs analysis)
- Learning objectives
- Training prerequisites
- Training design
- Training evaluation strategy
- Continuous improvement strategy
That’s a lot, so let’s get started.
First, Some Terms
In an earlier blog article about Z490.1, we mentioned they define some of the key terms they use.
We’re going to include a few of those definitions about training so it’s easy to keep them straight if you’re referring directly to the text of Z490.1 (source: Z490.1, Section 2.10)
- Training–“Any activity provided to trainees to gain, improve, or retain specified knowledge, skills, or abilities.”
- Training course–“Instructional materials designed to be delivered as a single unit of training.”
- Training event–“Delivery of a training course of portion thereof.”
- Training program–“An established system of managing, developing, delivering, evaluating, and documenting safety, health, and environmental training.”
Before You Start Developing EHS Training
So how do you decide that it’s time to create EHS training materials? And, once you’ve begun, what’s your method for doing it? At its most basic level, section 4 is intended to help you answer these questions.
It may not seem obvious, but your EHS training program will be much more effective if you always use the same method to:
- Determine if EHS training is the appropriate solution for a particular problem or issue and, if training IS the appropriate answer, to
- Walk through an orderly series of steps to develop that training
Let’s look at each of those two points a little more closely.
Training Needs Assessment
In this section, we’ll look at the first part of the EHS training development process: the training needs assessment.
We can break the needs assessment down into two smaller parts:
- Is EHS training the right solution?
- If so, gathering useful information to aid in training development.
Training Needs Assessment Part 1: Is EHS Training Needed? Will EHS Training Fix the Problem?
So you’ve got an EHS problem. Or what seems like a problem. Sounds like time for some training, right?
But let’s hold our horses here. When you’ve got a problem, it’s easy to assume that training is a universal band-aid that will fix it. But that’s not always true.
If you rush to provide training, you may end up wasting money on training development when training can’t solve the problem, or when there’s a better solution. And so you risk wrongly putting your resources into training development, ignoring a different aspect of the situation, and leaving a hazard in place.
For example, say a machine operator gets his hand cut while working on a machine. You can create training materials for machine operators, telling them to be careful of a dangerously exposed moving blade. Or, you can put a guard on the blade, control the hazard, and skip the training. In this instance, installing a guard on the sharp blade is the better solution, and so no training would be necessary.
That’s a simple example, and there are more reasons why EHS training may or may not be needed, but it gets you started in the right direction.
On the other hand, there are many times when training is the right answer. For example, you probably remember OSHA’s recent adoption of HazCom 2012 and GHS Alignment. Training was the right answer in this case for two reasons. First, because it was the right and safe thing to do. In OSHA’s own words, employees “Workers have the right to know what hazards are present in the workplace and how to protect themselves.” And second, because OSHA specifically said you had to do it. It was a regulatory compliance issue.
So yes, training is the right solution in a case like that.
Here are some things to consider at this phase:
- Can you change something in the work area instead of developing training?
- Are there obstacles in the workplace or work flow that contribute to the hazard? Can these be removed or reworked?
- Can you create and provide a job aid at the work area that will improve safety (like a checklist to follow) instead of providing training?
- Is there currently some form of incentive that allows the hazard to continue existing? For example, are workers running down the hall because they get a bonus for units produced per hour? Can that incentive be removed?
- Is there currently some form of punishment that causes workers to work unsafely or to work in the presence of a hazard? For example, does taking the time to perform a JHA make it impossible for the employee to reach his/her weekly goals, and thereby lead to disciplinary action?
Training Needs Analysis, Part 2: If EHS Training Is Needed, Gather More Information
If it turns out that EHS training is a good solution, you can move on part 2 of the training needs assessment, when you gather some information that will help you design and develop the training.
Information to gather at this point includes:
- What the trainees should know or be able to do after the training is complete
- Characteristics of the trainees, including:
- Previous/existing knowledge
- Preferred learning methods
- Work schedules
- Interest in the training topic/reasons for interest
- Site-specific information to include in training
- Review of any existing job analyses
- Applicable regulatory requirements
- Relevant industry standards
You can gather this information in a number of ways, including:
- Reviewing job descriptions from HR
- Reviewing Job Hazard Analyses documents from the Safety Department
- Interviewing employees and/or having them complete surveys
- Observing employees in the field
- Interviewing supervisors and/or having them complete surveys
- Reviewing data for injuries, illnesses, and near-misses
- Consulting regulations from OSHA, EPA, MSHA, and similar agencies
Need a quick way to find which OSHA regulations apply to you?
EHS Training Development, Step 1: Create Learning Objectives
Once you’ve performed your training needs assessment, it’s time to develop your learning objectives.
A learning objective is something the employee should know or be able to do when the training is complete. It’s the point of providing the training–because you want the employee to know or do something. It’s what the French would call the training’s “raison d’etre,” or reason for being. Of course, we’re not in France, so that’s not so important, but you get the point 🙂
Your course should have one or more learning objectives.
Many people begin creating training materials before they create learning objectives. Or, they never create learning objectives. The problem with this is you’re likely to create meandering, content-heavy, “flabby,” and irrelevant training materials that don’t solve your problem. If you’ve heard of “information dumps” or “spray-and-pray” training, this is the most likely cause. So don’t be that trainer creator–create learning objectives, and create them before you create the training.
Characteristics of Well-Written Learning Objectives: ABCD and SMART
If you’re new to learning objectives, it’s helpful to know two acronyms:
These are short-hand ways or referring to methods to create a good learning objective.
Let’s look at each.
The ABCD Method of Creating Learning Objectives
First, your learning objective should have four parts–A, B, C, and D. These parts are:
- Actor: Every learning objective should state something that your employees should be able to do after the training. Your employees, the people who take and complete the training, are the “actor” of your learning objective. Sometimes, your objective may refer to the “actor” in general terms such as “the learner” or “you.” Other times, you may identify the actor by his or her job role, such as “the customer service representative” or “the press operator.” Regardless, remember that each learning objective states something that the actor must be able to do after the training. This is the “WHO?” of your objective. Don’t fall into the trap of writing learning objectives that simply explain the content of the training. Your learning objectives must state what your employees who will take the training must become able to do.
- Behavior: Every learning objective should state something that the actor (the employee) must do—a behavior of some sort. This behavior may be something as simple as stating a definition or it may be something more “physical,” such as performing an action. But it must be some form of observable behavior, not something unobservable like “know,” “understand,” or “appreciate.” This is the “WHAT?” of your objective.
- Condition: Many times, your learner will have to perform the learning objective’s behavior within a set of given conditions. For example, you might say “given a list of words, circle the ones that are part of a given machine,” or “given a wrench, tighten this bolt,” or “given a schematic diagram, correctly identify the machines in a work area.” In the examples above, the parts in italics are the conditions. This is the “HOW?” of your objective.
- Degree: This part of the learning objective explains the criteria for performing the task well enough. Examples here include “in less than ten minutes,” or “with 90% accuracy,” or “90 times an hour.” This is the “HOW WELL?” of your objective. In Z490.1, they call this “criteria for determining that the learning objective has been achieved,” which means the same thing, but we’re going to use “Degree” because ABCD is easier to remember than ABCC.
Notes: You don’t always have to write the name of your actor in your learning objectives (meaning, use the words “you” or “employees” within the objective). But, you should always remember that you’re writing an objective that an ‘actor’–your employees–must be able to perform. Also, you may find you don’t need a condition or a degree for every learning objective, but it’s a good idea to always ask if you need them when you’re writing each learning objective. The important thing is to make sure you’re very clear and leave no room for confusion or misunderstanding.
Click here for more about ABCD learning objectives.
Writing SMART Learning Objectives
Next, your learning objectives should be SMART. What does that mean? It means your learning objectives should be:
- Specific: Use clear, direct language to tell the employee exactly what he or she should learn and what he or she should be able to do after the training. Don’t be vague, unclear, or misleading.
- Measurable: The point of setting a learning objective is to determine if the employee can meet, perform, or satisfy it. And you can only do that if the objective is something that you can measure. That means, first, that it must be an action that you can observe. This is why you must avoid the common mistake of using words like “know” or “understand,” which are not actions that can be objectively observed, in learning objectives. And second, write the objective so that any observer could watch the employee’s performance and agree if he or she satisfied the objective or not. Don’t create a learning objective that can only be satisfied by your own unique, personal understanding of the objective, for example.
- Achievable: Your learning objective must be something your employees have a chance of completing/satisfying. They must have enough pre-existing knowledge, time, and similar resources. For example, you wouldn’t create a learning objective that asks an elementary school child to construct a rocket in an hour–it’s just not achievable. While checking your objectives at this level, make sure your learning objective isn’t too easy, either. We’ll touch on this issue again later when we discuss pre-requisites for the training you’re creating.
- Relevant: The objective should be something the employee sees the value in learning. Don’t teach material that’s not important or won’t be used. Remember that your training should matter to your employees–they should understand why it’s important to them.
- Timely and time-based: First, make sure your objective is something your employee will have to use in a timely fashion–like later today, tomorrow, or next week instead of next year. Second, explain if there are time-constraints on the employee’s performance. For example, in many cases, they should be able to complete the objective “at the end of this training.” And finally, the employee may need to perform the action described by the objective within a given amount of time–for example, “to change the oil within 10 minutes.”
Click here for more information about SMART learning objectives.
Two Common Methods of Creating Learning Objectives
There are two common methods for creating learning objectives: Bloom’s Taxonomies and Performance-Based Learning Objectives.
Bloom’s Learning Taxonomies
You can use Bloom’s Learning Taxonomies to help you pick the correct “behavior” word within your learning objective.
Click here to read more about Bloom’s three learning taxonomies and/or click here to read a nice summary of how to use this approach together with the ABCD and SMART methods in this guide to writing learning objectives.
Performance-Based Learning Objectives
Writing a performance-based learning objective is pretty similar to the method we’ve described already. For example, the “behavior” in an ABCD learning objective is the “performance” in a performance-based learning objective.
If you want to know more, we’ve got two options for you:
- This short explanation of performance-based learning objectives
- This book review of Robert Mager’s classic book Preparing Instructional Objectives (where this idea began)
Sometime after you’ve created your learning objectives, and either before or very early in the process of designing and developing EHS training, you’re going to have to consider any necessary prerequisites for the training you’re developing.
What background, experience, knowledge, skills, and abilities will employees need before they begin your training so that they can perform well and have a fair shot at satisfying your learning objectives?
Determine a list of the course prerequisites, and come up with a way of notifying workers of the prerequisites, and helping workers attain those prerequisites if necessary.
EHS Training Course Design
Once you’ve got your learning objectives in order (and given some thought to the prerequisites, as explained above), it’s time to design and develop your course.
In this phase, you’ll consider:
- The training delivery method
- The training content
- Instructional materials for the employees
- The trainer’s guide
- The location of the training event
- The training schedule
- The qualifications of the trainer
Let’s see what each of these are about.
Training Delivery Method (The “Format” or “Type” of Training)
So you’re going to develop some EHS training.
How will your employees experience it? Will they attend an instructor-led classroom training session? Will they watch a video? Will they read a PDF or a PowerPoint presentation? Will they do some hands-on exercises in the field? Will they complete an e-learning course?
As you see, there are quite a few options, including:
- Instructor-led training in a classroom setting
- Online e-learning courses
- Videos delivered online
- On-the-job, in-the-field training
- Peer mentoring
- Group discussions
- Case studies
- Safety exercises performed in a classroom setting
- Safety demonstrations
- Group interactive safety training activities
In general terms, each of these types of training delivery methods has some strengths and weaknesses. And so for each training need, you should try to select the right delivery method (or mix of delivery methods–we’ll get back to that point shortly).
Selecting the Training Delivery Method: Results from Employee Analysis
When selecting the most appropriate delivery method, one thing to think of is the stuff you learned about the employees (your training population) during the training needs assessment.
Is there a type of training that they prefer more than others? If so, you may want to try to use that.
Do some employees have trouble reading? If so, written training materials may not be a good choice.
Are the employees spread out throughout multiple different locations? If so, e-learning that can be delivered online (or a webinar) may be a good option.
Run through your training needs assessment at this point and look for any clues that suggest one training delivery method may be more helpful than others.
Selecting the Training Delivery Method, Consideration 2: Appropriate to Learning Objective
The next thing to consider when selecting the training delivery method, according to Z490.1, is how well the method matches the learning objective that the workers will have to satisfy.
You may find that some types of training delivery are more appropriate for specific learning objectives.
For example, if an employee has to learn to “state” a definition or “list” some things, written materials, a video, or a simple e-learning course may be the right training delivery method.
On the other hand, if an employee has to learn a complicated procedure, some hands-on field-based training may be a better option.
Selecting the Training Delivery Method, Consideration 3: Adequate Feedback
A last thing to consider when selecting the training delivery method, according to Z490.1, is if the method will provide “adequate feedback mechanism for trainee questions and concerns to ensure comprehension of content” (source: Section 4.4.1)
Let’s take a closer look at two of the words in that sentence:
What does “feedback” mean?
In the context of EHS training delivered to your employees, feedback can mean a number of things. These can include:
- Q&A sessions during instructor-led training
- Group discussions
- Feedback from an instructor while the employee performs simulated hands-on exercises
- Feedback from a knowledgeable trainer, mentor, or supervisor during OJT training
- Electronic feedback to questions presented and answered in a traditional e-learning course (typically multiple-choice or true/false questions)
- More sophisticated, interactive feedback in role-playing or simulation e-learning courses
- An anonymous comments drop-box posted in a public place
- The ability to write and send follow-up emails to an instructor when training is over (and receive a reply)
What does “adequate” mean?
Next, let’s look at “adequate.” It standards to reason that some courses will require a LOT of opportunity for feedback, and others won’t call for much feedback at all.
For example, your workers will probably have a lot of questions and concerns about a significant change to a safety regulation like the HazCom 2012/GHS example we offered earlier. You might want to develop some form of instructor-led training that allows for a lot of feedback in this case.
Likewise, if you’re implementing a new job procedure, the employee will probably benefit from a lot of feedback as well. But maybe in this case, some form of hands-on and/or on-the-job training with a supervisor providing real-time feedback would be best.
Of course, you may not need so much feedback in other cases. If you’re simply saying that smoking cigarettes is now allowed only outdoors in designated smoking areas and explaining why, maybe a written document distributed to the workers, followed by a simple “Any questions?” is all that’s necessary.
Selecting the Appropriate Training Delivery Method, Consideration 4: Blended Learning Solutions
A final thing to keep in mind when selecting a training delivery method is that a “blended learning solution” that makes use of more than one method maybe just what you need. Blended learning solutions use more than one type of training delivery for a given training need-for example, you could assign an e-learning module, hold a follow-up instructor-led training to answer any questions and provide other feedback, and then distribute written documents as reminders or post-training references.
Training Content (The Ideas You Need to Get Across)
Of course, one very important thing to think about while developing training material in the information you’re trying to get across. In particular, where will you get that information?
According to the ANSI standard (see 4.4.2), you should use credible sources, including:
- Current literature
- Recognized scientific principles
- The judgement of subject matter experts (SMEs)
- Regulatory requirements
- Site-specific issues
- Your employees as a learning population (what they already know, etc.)
Once you’ve identified your training audience, your training delivery method, and your learning objectives, it’s time to sit down and begin creating those training materials.
These can include any number of things, including:
- A trainer’s guide for the instructor (more on this soon)
- A trainee’s manual or student book for your employees
- Any additional handouts for employees
- Audiovisual materials you’ll display to employees during the training
- Hands-on exercises you’ll have employees perform during the training
- Evaluation tools (quizzes, tests, questionnaires, role-playing scenarios, procedure demonstrations, etc.)
There’s a lot to be said about the best ways to create training materials that are truly effective, and we’ll go into more detail on this point again later in this series. But here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Create training materials that focus on nothing but your learning objectives
- Create training materials that make use of and appeal to adult learning principles
- Consider creating training that includes the following 9 events of instruction (developed by famous learning theorist Eric Gagne)
- Remember to consider a blended learning solution
- Use simple, conversational language
- Consider using training that includes effective visual training materials (here are 25 great tips for creating training visuals that work)
- Create training assessments that truly determine if your employees can satisfy the learning objectives (again, more on this later)
- Create a strategy now, during training development, of how you will evaluate the training effectiveness
- Identify and measure relevant pre-training KPIs for evaluation
- Create a strategy now for continuous improvement of your EHS training
- Consider working with safety training development professionals
Tip: If you want to check out one short, easy-to-read book that’s full of great tips for creating effective training materials, you could do worse than Design for How People Learn by Julie Dirksen–we recommend this one highly.
Create a trainer’s guide (for instructor-led or on-the-job training)
If your training will include some form of interpersonal instruction, whether it’s formal instructor-led training in a classroom setting or on-the-job training, you should create a trainer’s guide.
According to the standard (see E4.4.4), this guide should include:
- An outline
- The learning objectives
- Any necessary prerequisites
- Scheduled instruction time
- Training aids and handouts
- Directions for running any demonstrations or activities that will occur during the training
- Requirements for the training environment
- Emergency evacuation procedures and route, and the post-evacuation meeting area location (hey, we’re safety people, right?)
- Tools for evaluating the learning of the employees
- A list of reference materials
- The date on which the training guide was published
- A revision date, if applicable
Select and ensure an appropriate training environment
You should also be sure that the training can be conducted in an environment that is:
- Appropriate for the delivery method chosen
It may be obvious that you should train employees in a safe environment, but it’s worth noting nonetheless. For example, if you’re going to teach the HazCom 2012 chemical labeling requirements, don’t bring hazardous chemicals into the training room when empty bottles will work just as well.
And, once you’ve chosen your delivery method, make sure your training environment matches. If you’re going to do instructor-led training, you’ll probably want to book a quiet, out-of-the-way conference room instead of leading the training in the middle of the production floor. If you want to do some on-the-job training, that conference room won’t work so well. And if you want to deliver online e-learning courses, you’ll want to make sure the trainees have access to a computer in a quite environment with proper computer ergonomics.
Tip: There are a number of good books and websites that can you help you select and set up the training environment. The Association for Talent Development’s website is a good place to start looking.
Create a Training Schedule That Allocates Time Necessary to Complete Training
Once you’ve got the training materials developed and know the number of trainers necessary to train your trainees, you can begin allocating time for the training.
Provide an appropriate amount of time based on:
- The amount of material to cover
- The complexity of the material
- The learning objectives your employees must satisfy
- Regulatory or compliance factors
Your schedule should include an:
- Estimated duration for the entire training session
- Estimated duration for each individual topic within the training session
- Time to address questions and concerns, and provide feedback
Determine Criteria for the Trainer(s)
Come up with a list of the minimum criteria a person must meet to be qualified to lead a training on the topic. This will help you identify appropriate trainers for the particular topic and help ensure the right trainer facilitates each training.
Criteria might include:
- Subject matter expertise
- Training delivery skills
- Specific regulatory requirements
While you’re at it, come up with a desired ratio of trainers-to-trainees. You can use this later when you are scheduling trainers and trainees for the training session(s).
Design a strategy for evaluating the training
While you’re designing and creating the training materials, you’ll want to take time to develop strategies for evaluating:
- The training materials themselves
- How well employees learned from the training
Let’s look at each.
Evaluating the Training Materials
Once you’ve created those EHS training materials and “set them loose in the wild,” you’ll want to monitor them and evaluate them to see how well they perform.
The standard method for doing this is to use the Kirkpatrick Four-Level Evaluation, in which you evaluate your training at the following levels:
- Learner/employee reaction: a post-training survey
- Learner/employee learning: a post-training assessment/test
- Learner/employee on-the-job behavior: later observation to see if the employees are applying the training on the job
- Business results: how the training and changed employee on-the-job behaviors affects business goals
It’s important to create a plan for doing this now, including identifying relevant KPIs and measuring them before training.
Evaluating Employee Learning from Training
Developing materials to teach your employees essential safety information is important. But it’s just as important to develop some form of assessment to determine if your employees learned anything (this is level 2 of the four-level Kirkpatrick method mentioned above). And by that, we mean “can the employees satisfy the learning objectives after the training is over?”
Don’t fall into the trap of providing training but never determining if your learners “get it.”
Your method of evaluation will depend on a number of things, including:
- The training delivery method
- Your learning objectives
You might want to read this for more about testing after training.
Interesting tip: Many training creators begin by creating the learning objectives, then the training evaluation/assessment, and only then move on to create the training materials. The idea of doing this is that it helps to keep things focused on the learning objectives.
Develop criteria for determining when employees have completed the training satisfactorily
When you’re creating that training evaluation, remember to determine what it means to “pass.”
Obviously, that answer should be largely answered by your learning objectives, since they state what the employee should be able to do after the training is over.
But this issue may include some additional variables. For example, if you want your learners to be able to do something, do they have to do it every time, or 95 times out of 100 (this would be addressed in the “degree” of your ABCD learning objective). Or, if you want the employee to “know” something, how do they demonstrate that–by repeating it to you once, or by scoring 80% or greater in a written test?
Either way, the standard states that criteria for valid training completion criteria should (see 4.6.1 for this):
- Be created before the training occurs
- Be applied in same consistent manner for all training sessions
- Indicate test score or similar qualitative measure of success
- Include standards for minimum attendance and participation
Your completion criteria may also include an alternative procedure that can be followed by an employee who fails to satisfy the primary completion criteria. This may mean completing a full retraining, getting some remedial help, or other similar actions.
Make plans for continuous training improvement
Once you’ve rolled out a training program, you’ve got to periodically review it to ensure it’s up to date and effective. And you’ve got to revise it when necessary.
Remember to make plans for how you’ll do it now, while you’re developing the training.
As for as keeping it up to date, you’ll need to keep tabs of all the stuff you’d expect: injury/illness/near-miss reports, revised JHAs, regulatory changes, new procedures, and more.
As for evaluating the effectiveness of the training program, two places to start are:
- The assessments taken and completed by your employees in the training–are the employees passing or failing?
- Post-training evaluations and surveys handed out to employees (making these anonymous may improve the feedback you get)
If you want to expand on that, consider using Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation.
Conclusion: How to Develop Effective EHS Training
That’s our review of ANSI Z490.1 Section 4, Training Development. Hope you liked it.
Do you have tips for any of these steps? What’s effective at your work place? What have you tried that didn’t work?
The Rest of ANSI Z490.1
Here are links that lead to the rest of the articles in this series:
- ANSI Z490.1 Introduction
- Sections 1, 2, and 3 (scope/purpose/application, definitions, and training program administration/management)
- Section 4 (developing EHS training)
- Section 5 (EHS trainers and training environments)
- Section 6 (evaluating EHS training)
- Section 7 (EHS training documentation and recordkeeping)
We also invite you to download the free Guide to Effective EHS Training below.