Health & Safety Training

Health & Safety training: risk assessments determine training needs

(RoSPA’s Occupational Safety & Health Journal coverage, March 2015 issue, pg 25, click here to view printed article)

RoSPA. The RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, January 2015

Employers have a duty to provide the training necessary to ensure the health and safety of their employees. Louise Hosking looks at what this involves.

_DSC2114 (Small)Everyone will require some level of health & safety training in order to undertake their work safely. Employers should look for ways to provide clear information in a manner staff will be able to understand and use in order to work safely.

Section 2(2)c of the Health & Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) states that an employer has duties to provide such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees. For low risk businesses, this may include a staff induction covering evacuation procedures to be followed in the event of an emergency, or information on how to access first aid should this be required.

For more complex activities, some training will be legally defined. For example, for the use of certain work equipment such as chainsaws or forklifts. Workers who could come into contact with asbestos containing materials, eg. plumbers and electricians, must receive asbestos awareness training to give workers and supervisors the information they need to avoid work that may disturb asbestos during any normal work which could disturb the fabric of a building, or other item which might contain asbestos”. Refresher training should be given as necessary, to help ensure knowledge of asbestos awareness is maintained.

HSWA refers very explicitly to information, instruction and training. Formal classroom training is not always required though, and it is not always the best way to actually change behaviour.

Formal, accredited qualifications are important for certain roles, but individuals may still require coaching to ensure they are able to apply what they have learnt in practice. This applies equally to senior executives who have attended directors health & safety awareness training as it does to shopfloor employees. Trainees may have learned the theory regarding their role and H&S responsibilities, but do they understand how to implement the next steps?

Training should accommodate the individual. Workers who cannot read well, for example, will be more suited to on-the-job training with a buddy or mentor showing them how to work safely. Similarly, individuals who do not speak English as a first language should be buddied with a translator and pictorial representations used. Young, inexperienced staff will require closer mentoring. 

Identifying training needs

Training needs should be defined by person or role. Risk assessments will identify which, if any, specific competencies are required (it is a good idea to make a list of these as the risk assessments are being created or reviewed). There is a host of guidance by topic area on the HSE website to assist with both completing risk assessments and identifying specific training needs.

Soft skills training should not be overlooked. Sometimes it is necessary to improve communication and team working in order to achieve high standards of safe working.

Training needs will also be identified during performance appraisals or following an incident. Individuals may highlight a gap in their knowledge which they are personally aware of. Different training needs will also become apparent when there is a change in the organisation, when new equipment is introduced, or if under 18s are employed.

Identifying training needs involves honesty and openness between managers and staff to avoid training being undertaken as a tickbox exercise.

Once training needs have been identified, progress can easily be tracked on a training matrix. List roles or individuals down one axis and the training they require across the other. Complete the matrix with the date training has been achieved and highlight overdue training in red.


Once the training needs analysis has been completed, it will become clear if there are some formal courses an external training provider is best placed to deliver. Examples of this include first aid training, IPAF training for the use of powered access equipment, or PASMA training for use of tower scaffolds. There is also NEBOSH certificate level training or equivalent, often for employees in operational management positions.

However, much training can be delivered in-house. In particular, providing guidance on company procedures, relaying findings from risk assessments or safe systems of working.

There are significant benefits to undertaking internal training and it need not require a dedicated trainer or safety manager. Identifying employees with a passion or interest in a particular topic will enable businesses to deliver certain training around day-to-day operations. These so called ‘super users’ who train and coach others in a particular area will develop a deep understanding of their topic, which will reflect positively on their personal development, and trainees are often more willing to discuss problems or ask questions of one of their peers.

All too often, health and safety is seen as the role of someone else – the health and safety manager, officer or competent person. In reality, effective safety management across a business can only be achieved with everyone playing their part and by everyone taking personal responsibility. Identifying willing individuals (super users) who can promote specific topics adds variety and spreads the training load.

It is important the trainer or ‘super user’ is comfortable in taking on the role, and that they are sufficiently skilled and competent. Their enthusiasm and willingness to work proactively with colleagues will be key to achieving success. They will require time to research their topic and may require guidance or support from the safety manager or competent person. They will not necessarily require specific ‘trainer training’ but this may be considered as part of their personal development (there are topic specific ‘train the trainer’ courses available).


All training should follow a clear framework:

  • Aims & Objectives: What do you expect the trainee to achieve after the training?
  • Key points: A brief outline of significant areas to be covered. This will include how to undertake tasks safely and the consequences of not doing so.
  • Assessment: There should be a means of verifying the trainee understands and has the ability to implement the training provided. This does not have to be a formal test, but could involve the trainer asking questions or observing the trainee undertaking a task for which they have received training.
  • Record: Evidence the training has been completed must be retained.
  • Feedback: Trainees must be given the opportunity to provide feedback on any training they have received.
  • Review: There should be a method in place to review whether the training programme is delivering its aims and objectives for the organisation. This can be achieved via checks, audits, inspections, consultation with staff or by reviewing incident rates.

Be different

Whilst there should be a clear framework and structure to training, ‘super users’ should be afforded the freedom to work with company material or other guidance in their own style and a manner which best relates to their colleagues.

It may be more appropriate, for example, for the ‘super user’ to work alongside their colleagues. For example, showing a colleague how to monitor and record water temperatures as part of a building’s legionella control programme. Whilst they are moving around the building together, the ‘super user’ can talk about legionella, what it is, how it can cause harm and why monitoring is critical to control. They can ask questions of the trainee to see if they have understood the information provided, and look at how they undertake the task in question. This still fulfils the training framework, but without a classroom or PowerPoint in sight. Employees undertaking hands-on roles are more likely to change their behaviour following this approach.

Encouraging ‘super users’ to look for fun or unusual ways to impart knowledge is more likely to happen if they are given the freedom to deliver training in a manner which they feel their colleagues will relate to. For example, a pub-quiz style team question and answer session with different themes can be a good
way to remind people of the contents of the health & safety policy.

The ‘super user’, working under the direction of the health & safety manager or competent person, can, in time, take more responsibility for their area and feedback suggestions or adapt arrangements or safe systems, improving overall safety performance within the organisation.

Toolbox talks

Toolbox talks are a way to impart information on a specific topic in a short, punchy manner. Historically, these have been used in the construction industry to give weekly briefings to operatives on site in order to reinforce site rules. (There are some examples of toolbox talks for the construction industry on the HSE website.)

Toolbox talks should be no longer than 20 minutes and should act as a brief reminder of information. Despite the name, visual, interactive information will always be preferable to just talk.

These short briefings can be used to remind everyone of the standards expected, and can be tagged to the end of meetings as, say, a safety thought for the week or month. Having a schedule of toolbox talks planned across a project or year, with different topics chosen and volunteers to ‘perform’ each one, is a good idea.

Whichever type of training you choose, remember, information, instruction and training will provide staff with the theory, but if, for example, equipment is unsafe to use or poorly designed, no amount of training will reduce the risk to a sufficiently low level. Also, training in isolation can never replace good business management.

*Louise Hosking is managing director of Hosking Associates, and a chartered safety & health practitioner