The study from the Institute of Work and Health is concerning to me as someone who has spent his life in the practice of occupational health and safety.  It tells me that we still have much work to do to ensure that leaders and workers connect their knowledge and skills to health and safety hazards in the workplace and techniques designed to control those very hazards. We need to close the gap in our safety and health knowledge and skill deficit.  We need to ensure that workers are trained and trained well to protect themselves at work.

Why is safety training so important?  

The answer comes from the grim reality of workplace tragedy… approximately 1000 Canadians die from workplace causes and almost 800,000 workers report that they have been injured or become ill from work each year.  These losses affect individuals and organizations.  They impact our families, communities and our economy.   An investment in health and safety training maximizes the benefit of work to workers and organizations and minimizes the risk of injury, illness and loss.

The intent of safety training is to create competent workers who can perform their tasks safely and effectively, with minimal supervision.  Training for competence requires expertise and discipline; it doesn’t happen with the wave of a hand.  Training design and delivery must be guided by an expert hand, with a view for the outcomes to be achieved.  Training is not an episode with a beginning, middle and an end….it is a narrative that continues in the workplace through reflection, practice and evaluation.  A skilled and knowledgeable trainer combined with effective training design, workplace follow-up and evaluation will maximize return on investment.

The normal consumer warnings continue to apply in the realm of health and safety training – “buyer beware” and “you get what you pay for”. 

How are we creating safer working environments?

Two relatively recent initiatives will impact health and safety training in Ontario and in the rest of Canada.  The Government of Ontario has instituted new base level requirements for health and safety training for workers and supervisors.  In my opinion, this is a valuable initiative as it sets the stage for a common shared understanding of health and safety expectations and actions.  In Canada, a new Occupational Health and Safety Training standard, CSA Z1001-13, invests in the rigour of the safety training process.  The new standard creates a road map for quality safety training engagements for employers and training delivery organizations.

The normal consumer warnings continue to apply in the realm of health and safety training – “buyer beware” and “you get what you pay for”.  You will need to do your homework to identify the change that you want to observe, how you’ll know it when you see it and how you will support the training in the workplace post-training.  Take the necessary time up front to evaluate your needs and select a provider who has the ability to deliver the content and competence you want.  

Canada’s occupational safety, health and environmental practitioners are committed to building safe and sustainable organizations for Canadians.  We have important work ahead of us.  I’m confident that together we will close the gap to ensure that all new and existing workers are effectively trained to work safely.

Andrew Cooper
President, Canadian Society of Safety Engineers