OSH training

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Klaus Kuhl (Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH), Carsten Brück (Kooperationsstelle Hamburg IFE GmbH)


This article presents an overview of occupational safety and health (OSH) training. It will differentiate between terms such as qualification, instructions, empowerment and training. The responsibilities of the employers will be described along with the legal requirements and the importance of OSH training. Syllabus development and various trainings methods will be explained. Finally, there is a discussion of the assessment methods, and the impact of the different types will be compared, showing that self-directed practice oriented learning yields the best results. A few good practice cases will be presented.


OSH training aims at improving the capability, capacity, and performance of staff, leading to safe and health-oriented behaviour, often linked directly to specific tasks. This is achieved by the acquisition of knowledge, skills, and competencies (adapted from [1]). The term is mostly used in connection with companies or vocational institutes. Education in contrast refers much more generally to the ‘process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills, customs and values from one generation to another’ [2].

Other terms that are sometimes used synonymously include: instruction, qualification, and empowerment. They have however, slightly different meanings:

  • Instruction refers to the methodological communication of skills, knowledge and experience that are necessary for the completion of a specific task. This may also include behaviour and responsibility. Instruction is a rather short-term event when compared to training.
  • Qualification refers to the 'competencies' that are expected in any given job role.
  • Empowerment refers to increasing the spiritual, political, social, educational, gender or economic strength of individuals and communities in order to enable them to solve problems on their own [3].

Legal situation

The legal requirements are, in the first instance, laid down in the EU ‘OSH Framework’ Directive 89/391 (see also Legislation), adopted in 1989 under ‘General obligations on employers’ [4]: ‘Within the context of his responsibilities, the employer shall take the measures necessary for the safety and health protection of workers, including prevention of occupational risks and provision of information and training, as well as provision of the necessary organization and means.’

The directive further specifies forms and contents of the ‘Training of workers’:

  1. The employer shall ensure that each worker receives adequate safety and health training, in particular in the form of information and instructions specific to his workstation or job:
    • on recruitment,
    • in the event of a transfer or a change of job,
    • in the event of the introduction of new work equipment or a change in equipment,
    • in the event of the introduction of any new technology.
    • The training shall be:
      • adapted to take account of new or changed risks, and
      • repeated periodically if necessary.
  2. The employer shall ensure that workers from outside undertakings and/ or establishments engaged in work in his undertaking and/ or establishment have in fact received appropriate instructions regarding health and safety risks during their activities in his undertaking and/ or establishment.
  3. Workers' representatives with a specific role in protecting the safety and health of workers shall be entitled to appropriate training.

Training is not only something the employer has to provide but also something the worker has to take seriously. The directive states under ‘Workers’ obligations’:

  1. It shall be the responsibility of each worker to take care as far as possible of his own safety and health and that of other persons affected by his acts or omissions at work in accordance with his training and the instructions given by his employer.

The directive establishes what is usually referred to as the hierarchy of control measures. It lists ‘General principles of prevention’ and stresses the need for ‘giving appropriate instructions to the workers’. Training is sometimes seen as a sub-level within the hierarchy. However, most experts see training as complementary to all types of control measures. They argue that measures for elimination, technical and organisational measures, as well as and personal prevention measures, must be explained, discussed and tested (see also: Hierarchy of prevention and control measures).

The directive specifies, that ‘employers shall consult workers and/or their representatives and allow them to take part in discussions on all questions relating to safety and health at work (see also: Occupational safety and health management systems and workers’ participation, Methods and effects of worker participation).’ And, specifically, that ‘Workers or workers' representatives with specific responsibility for the safety and health of workers shall take part in a balanced way, in accordance with national laws and/or practices, or shall be consulted in advance and in good time by the employer with regard to:

(a) any measure which may substantially affect safety and health; […] (e) the planning and organization of the training …’

These requirements are further specified under various other health and safety directives on specific topics, such as the manual handling directive and the OSH directive on young workers. The latter requires employers to pay particular attention to the level of training and instruction given to young people. Young people are prohibited from work involving the risk of accidents which it may be assumed cannot be recognised or avoided by young persons owing to their insufficient attention to safety or lack of experience or training [5].

The directives have been adopted into the national legislation of the member states.

Why it is important to provide OSH training

Under the safety system required by the Framework Directive training is envisaged as an important part of a hierarchy of prevention measures which has elimination of risks and prevention of risks at source as the priorities.

Risks should be avoided or – in case this is not possible – reduced to a minimum, as they may cause suffering to people, losses for companies and damage to economies (see also: OHS management and risk governance). Therefore, both common sense and legislation require that employers assess the risks for their staff and implement related preventive or control measures. Yet the establishment of the risks and the subsequent design of preventive measures is a complex and continuous task (see also: OSH research, Learning from incidents and accidents. The application of these measures is a similar challenge, as will be shown by the following examples in Table 1:

Table 1: Preventive measures and challenges for the affected workers

Type Measure Challenges
Elimination of hazards Waffle irons in a baking line were cleaned during down time with highly alkaline agents. As a new measure, waffle irons are cleaned automatically by a solid-state laser, while the line is still moving. Workers need to know how to determine the proper cleanliness and what to do in case of malfunction.
Reduction and separation of hazards by technical measures A new type of welding machine is bought in order to reduce welding fumes. The machine comes with an adapted exhaust system. Workers need to know how to operate the new machine and how to handle the exhaust system (e.g. how to place the funnel and readjust it as the welding progresses).
Reduction and separation of hazards by organisational measures A new work procedure is established in order to minimise interruptions. Workers have to try out the new procedures and amend where necessary.
Reduction and separation of hazards by staff measures Maintenance workers take reduced amounts of cleaning agent and have to use new safety masks. Workers need to try out new cleaning techniques to make up for the reduced amounts and they need to know how to put on the mask properly and when to exchange it.
Behaviour based safety Peer observation. Workers need to know how to constructively criticise colleagues and to seriously consider proposals.

Source: Overview by the authors [6]

Table 1 shows that preventive measures will be rendered less effective or even impossible to implement if they are not accompanied by the training of workers who have to apply these measures or those who are otherwise involved [7].

Health and safety benefits when workers are involved, as has been shown in several studies. A short review can be found in the EU-OSHA case study report ‘Worker participation’ [8]. The involvement or the participation should start at the risk assessment stage, because workers and their representatives have the detailed knowledge and experience of how the job is done and how it affects them [9]. Involvement in the development of preventive measures also benefits health and safety, but will also improve training, as workers will be more motivated to discuss and apply the measures. The combination of training and measures will be more effective than just one factor (see also: Participation).

Setting up successful training schemes needs careful planning. All those involved in the process need training themselves to get a clear picture of their roles, to know the requirements, and to develop the necessary skills and competencies such as how to consult and involve workers. Training should be provided to all staff, including the management and supervisors.

Content of OSH training

Needs assessment

Training should first of all start with a needs assessment [10], identifying the problems to be addressed:

  • Accidents and work related diseases that occur in the company
  • Problems that can be anticipated
  • Legal requirements.

Methods for the needs assessment could be: documentation review, specific analyses, interviews and observation, surveys [10].

Possible solutions

A careful preparation of the training units has to consider the solutions to the identified problems, e.g.:

  • Prevent cuts by purchasing safety knives
  • Prevent manipulations of machine guards by a ‘safe behaviour’ campaign.

External consultation may be needed in special cases.

Setting objectives

Training objectives or goals establish the results that the training should achieve. Examples of specific training objectives could be [10]:

  • The workers know how to use the safety knives.
  • The management knows and understands the preconditions for introducing a behaviour-based safety campaign.

Training objectives should be as specific as possible, in order to enhance the evaluation. The selection of content and methods also benefits from clear objectives.

Selection of content

Depending on the objectives, the selection of the content has to describe as precisely as possible the information that must be presented to the group.

  • Statistics on cuts, analysis of a typical cut accident, description of the safety knife, company rules, etc.
  • Preconditions of a ‘safe behaviour’ campaign: positive example of the management, no-blame culture, etc.

The selection also needs to consider the age, cultural background and experience of the staff.


The final, equally important issue is how to present the selected content, because this has a big influence on how the presented material is memorised and put into practice.

Table 2: Teaching methods chart

Teaching methods Strengths Limitations Objectives achieved
Lecture Presents factual material in direct and logical manner. Contains experiences which inspire.

Stimulates thinking to open a discussion.
For large audiences.

Experts may not always be good teachers.

Audience is passive. Learning difficult to gauge.
Needs clear introduction and summary.

Worksheets and questionnaires Allow people to think for themselves without being influenced by others in discussion.

Individual thoughts can then be shared in small or large groups.

Can be used only for short period of time. Handout requires preparation time. Requires literacy. Knowledge Attitudes/emotions
Brainstorming Listening exercise that allows creative thinking for new ideas. Encourages full participation because all ideas equally recorded. Can become unfocused.

Needs to be limited to 10 to 15 minutes.

Knowledge Attitudes/emotions
Planning deck Can be used to quickly catalogue information. Allows students to learn a procedure by ordering its component parts. Group planning experience. Requires planning and creation of multiple planning decks. Knowledge
Risk mapping Group can create visual map of hazards, controls, and plans for action.

Useful as follow-up tool.

Requires workers from same or similar workplace.

May require outside research.


Skills/social action

Audiovisual materials (films, slide shows, etc.) Entertaining way of teaching content and raising issues.

Keeps audience’s attention.
Effective for large groups.

Too many issues often presented at one time.
Too passive if not combined with discussion.
Audiovisuals as triggers Develops analytic skills.
Allows for exploration of solutions.
Discussion may not have full participation. Social action
Case studies as triggers Develops analytic and problem-solving skills.

Allows for exploration of solutions.
Allows students to apply new knowledge and skills.

People may not see relevance to own situation.

Cases and tasks for small groups must be clearly defined to be effective.

Social action
Role playing session (trigger) Introduces problem-situation dramatically.

Develops analytic skills.
Provides opportunity for people to assume roles of others.
Allows for exploration of solutions.

People may be too self-conscious.

Not appropriate for large groups.

Social action
Report back session Allows for large group discussion of role plays, case studies, and small group exercise. Gives people a chance to reflect on experience. Can be repetitive if each small group says the same thing. Instructors need to prepare focused questions to avoid repetitiveness. Social action skills
Prioritising and planning activity Ensures participation by students. Provides experience in analysing and prioritising problems. Allows for active discussion and debate. Requires a large wall or blackboard for posting. Posting activity should proceed at a lively pace to be effective. Social action
Hands-on practice Provides classroom practise of learned behaviour. Requires sufficient time, appropriate physical space, and equipment. Behaviours

Source: Baker & Wallerstein [11].

Teaching methods have to be selected according to the objectives, the selected content, and the language, literacy levels and experience of the target group. As a general rule, it can be assumed that the learning effect will improve with more active participation from the group. Asking a challenging question and urging the participants to solve it in self-directing group work will have the best effect. The trainer steps back into the role of a resource person and gives input in order to empower the participants to solve the problem on their own. But the method is quite time consuming and thus not always applicable. Examples:

  • Analysing accidents, near misses, work related diseases (possibly including use of video cameras) (see also: Learning from incidents and accidents)
  • Improving the work conditions by using the PIMEX system
  • Improving work processes in order to reduce stress
  • Identifying ways and means to improve safe behaviour
  • Developing a concept on how to induct apprentices. This task could be given to a group of older apprentices

An evaluation and follow-up of the training is necessary to establish whether the objectives have been met, and to get ideas for the future improvements of the training units. Such an evaluation can be in the form of a test (also in a ‘hidden’ form), participant feedback (oral or using a questionnaire), and observations of a co-trainer. Participants also get an idea where improvement may be needed.

Assessment, impact on health and safety

The most important question remains: has the training contributed to a reduction in numbers and severity of accidents and cases of work related diseases? Baker & Wallerstein point to some methodological problems [11]: ‘Evaluations that look at workplace outcomes, particularly injury and illness incidence rates, can be deceptive. For example, management safety promotion efforts often include incentives for keeping accident rates low (e.g. by offering a prize to the crew with the least accidents in a year). These promotional efforts result in under-reporting of accidents and often do not represent actual safety and health conditions on the job. Conversely, empowerment-oriented training encourages workers to recognise and report safety and health problems and may result, at first, in an increase in reported injuries and illnesses, even when safety and health conditions are actually improving.’

They continue to note that ‘as safety and health training programmes have begun to adopt empowerment and popular education goals and methods, evaluation protocols have been broadened to include assessment of worker actions back at the worksite as well as actual worksite changes. Social action objectives require long-term evaluation that assesses changes on both the individual level and on the environmental and organisation level, and the interaction between individual and environmental change. Follow-up is critical for this long-term evaluation. Follow-up phone calls, surveys or even new sessions may be used not only to assess change, but also to support the students/workers in applying their new knowledge, skills, inspiration or social action resulting from training.’

Burke and colleagues conducted a study in the USA [12] to determine the relative effectiveness of different methods of OSH training. Ninety-five quasi-experimental studies (n=20991) were included in the analysis. Three types of intervention methods were distinguished on the basis of learners’ participation in the training process: least engaging (lecture, pamphlets, videos), moderately engaging (programmed instruction, feedback interventions), and most engaging (training in behavioural modelling, hands-on training). As training methods became more engaging (i.e. requiring trainees’ active participation), workers demonstrated greater knowledge acquisition, and reductions were seen in accidents, illnesses, and injuries. They concluded: Training involving behavioural modelling, a substantial amount of practice, and dialogue is generally more effective than other methods of safety and health training. The present findings challenge the current emphasis on more passive computer-based and distance training methods within the public health workforce.

The European Network Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health, ENETOSH, contracted an empirical study in order to establish what competencies are required of an instructor or trainer in safety and health. The study was carried out to assess the validity of (and further develop) the competence standard that was set up in 2007. The standard allows selecting suitable trainers, developing harmonised high level training content, and setting up a certification system [13]. The standard consists of the following four parts: i. Training the trainer, ii. Basics of safety and health, iii. Workplace health promotion, iv. OSH management. It has been translated into 10 languages and can be downloaded from the ENETOSH website at www.enetosh.net.

The EU-OSHA identified a number of success factors [14], amongst others:

  • Motivation and commitment of senior staff and management to OSH, which can include their presence at training sessions;
  • Providing workplace training in the context of an effective overall safety management system to prevent workplace risks. Training alone is not effective in reducing risks;
  • Using peers, including more experienced young workers, and older, experienced workers as mentors. This provides a positive experience for new and more senior colleagues alike;
  • Using active, participatory learning methods, e.g. where young people learn to recognise hazards and examine and solve real work problems, in real workplaces, where possible;
  • Feeding the results of such studies back into the real workplace risk assessment and prevention process. This makes the exercise meaningful for youngsters and is of value to employers;
  • Training supervisors, mentors and trainers in their role and in OSH;
  • Making OSH training and skills development an integral part of lifelong training and development. By law, OSH should not only be a ‘one-off’ training at the start of work.

Mainstreaming OSH into education This article is focused on workplace training. To develop a workplace safety culture it is recommended that risk education starts at school, with relevant learning objectives embedded throughout the school curriculum and at all stages of education [15].


OSH training is an important complementary measure for all OSH activities. In order to become more effective, objectives, content and methods should be constantly reviewed. In order to make safe behaviour ‘second nature’, it should become an integral part of lifelong learning, starting with risk education in schools.


  1. Goldstein, I.L., ‘Training in work organisations’, Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 31, 1986, pp. 229-272. Available at: http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.ps.31.020180.001305.
  2. Arnove, R.F., Education, Encyclopædia Britannica Online, 2012. Retrieved 20 May 2012, from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/179408/education.
  3. Wikipedia – The Free Encyclopaedia, Empowerment (2012). Retrieved 20 May 2012, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empowerment.
  4. EU – European Union, Council Directive of 12 June 1989 on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health of workers at work (89/391/EEC), consolidated version as per 3/2008. Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=CELEX:01989L0391-20081211:EN:NOT.
  5. EU – European Union, Council Directive of 22 June 1994 on the protection of young people at work (94/33/EC). Available at: http://europa.eu/legislation_summaries/employment_and_social_policy/health_hygiene_safety_at_work/c11205_en.htm.
  6. Kuhl, K., Brück, C., Examples on preventive measures and challenges for affected workers, Kooperationsstelle IFE, 2012, unpublished.
  7. Hecker, S., ‘Education and training. Introduction and overview’, in ILO (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, ILO, Geneve, 2003. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/safework_bookshelf/english/.
  8. EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker participation, case study report, Bilbao, in press.
  9. EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Worker Participation in Occupational Safety and Health – A Practical Guide, Bilbao 2012. Available at: http://www.healthy-workplaces.eu/campaign_guide_en.pdf.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Atherley, G., Robertson, D., ‘Education and training. Principals of training’, in ILO (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, ILO, Geneva, 2003. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/safework_bookshelf/english/.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Baker, R., Wallerstein, N., ‘Education and training. Worker education and training’, in ILO (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, ILO, Geneva, 2003. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/safework_bookshelf/english/.
  12. Burke, M.J., Sarpy, S.A., Smith-Crowe, K., Chan-Serafin, S., Salvador, R.O., Islam, G., ‘Relative Effectiveness of Worker Safety and Health Training Methods’, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 96, No. 2, 2006, pp. 315-324, Available at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/full/10.2105/AJPH.2004.059840.
  13. DGUV - Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e.V. (German statutory accident insurance associations), Standards in education and training for safety and health at work – European perspectives, promising developments and examples of good practice –, IAG Report 4, 2011e. Available at: http://www.enetosh.net/files/186/iag_standard_en.pdf.
  14. EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Preventing risks to young workers: policy, programmes and workplace practices, prevention report, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2009. Available at: http://www.google.com/url?q=http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/reports/TE3008760ENC&sa=U&ei=44htT8bRO42ZOqfV3d4F&ved=0CAQQFjAA&client=internal-uds-cse&usg=AFQjCNEvFByrojaBYfiqsLiJAJHoCOpmvQ.
  15. EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, OSH in the school curriculum: requirements and activities in the EU Member States, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2009. Available at: http://osha.europa.eu/en/publications/reports/TE3008521ENC/view.

Links for further reading

Patrick, J., Training: Research and practice, Academic Press, London, 1992.

ILO (Ed.), Encyclopaedia of Occupational Health and Safety, 2003. Available at: http://www.ilo.org/safework_bookshelf/english/.

EU OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming OSH into Education (no publishing date available). Retrieved 19 March 2012, from: http://osha.europa.eu/en/topics/osheducation.

EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, Mainstreaming occupational safety and health into education — Good practice in school and vocational education, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg, 2004. Available at: http://osha.europa.eu/publications/reports/313.

Lippin T.M., Eckman A., Calkin K.R., McQuiston T.H., ‘Empowerment-based health and safety training: evidence of workplace change from four industrial sectors’, Am J Ind Med., Vol. 38, 2000, pp. 697–706.

HSE – Health and Safety Executive, Health and safety training – What you need to know (2001). Retrieved 5 January 2012, from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg345.pdf.

ENETOSH – European Network Education and Training in Occupational Safety and Health, ENETOSH Standard - What competencies does an instructor or trainer in safety and health need? Retrieved 28 May 2012, from: http://www.enetosh.net/webcom/show_page.php/_c-134/_nr-5/_lkm-140/i.html.

Schulte, P.A., Stephenson, C.M., Okun, A.H., Palassis, J., Biddle, E., ’Integrating Occupational Safety and Health Information Into Vocational and Technical Education and Other Workforce Preparation Programs’, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 95, No. 3, March 2005. Available at: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2004.047241.

Schulte, P.A., Stephenson, C.M., Okun, A.H., Palassis, J., Cost of Integrating Occupational Safety and Health Information into Vocational and Technical Education and Other Types of Workforce Preparation, Presentation for International Symposium of the ISSA International, Section on Education in the Field of Prevention of Accidents, Quebec City, Canada, October 6 – 9, 2003.. Available at: http://www.esst-inrs.fr/quebec/actes/schulte.doc.


Klaus Kuhl, Sirpa Lusa