How to Evaluate the Effectiveness of Safety Training

May 14, 2019

Training is an important component of a mature, robust and effective occupational safety and health program. In fact, in a survey conducted by EHS Today, “Participation in Safety Training” was the third most frequently tracked leading indicator, behind near miss reporting and employee audits and observations.

Participation in safety training should be tracked through such metrics as the number of training hours provided, the percentage of new employees completing orientation, the percentage of workers completing required training and refresher training courses, and others.

But it’s also important to measure the effectiveness of the training provided. What’s the point of having a complete training program and a stellar attendance record by workers if people are not learning or changing behaviors?

How can organizations evaluate the effectiveness of training, and how do they drive and track learning? What are the best practices for learning, changing behaviors, and improving skills and competencies in the workplace?

By better evaluating the effectiveness of safety training, organizations can develop and implement better training tools and methods to keep workers safe on the job.

Fortunately, there is an established method to evaluate training that many organizations have turned to: The Kirkpatrick Four Levels™. The method is popular because of its focus on learning and behavior outcomes. The four levels of the method are:

  • Level 1: Reaction. To what degree participants react favorably to the learning event?
  • Level 2: Learning. To what degree participants acquire the intended knowledge, skills, and attitudes based on their participation in the learning event?
  • Level 3: Behavior. To what degree participants apply what they learned during training when they are back on the job?
  • Level 4: Results. To what degree targeted outcomes occur, as a result of the learning event(s) and subsequent reinforcement?

Those who instruct the Kirkpatrick method say that very few organizations progress beyond Level 2, i.e. they don’t have a process in place to evaluate if training is changing behaviors. Research on the Four Levels™ shows little correlation between levels 2 and 3. It may sound ironic, but an organization can offer excellent training and yet fail to produce behavioral changes without “deliberate and consistent reinforcement”, according to Sandy Almeida, a colleague of Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick.

What does all of this mean for workplace safety? First, safety professionals should provide coaching after the training has been completed to make sure that new knowledge translates into action. Second, managers and supervisors should conduct observations of workers after training to determine if job performance has improved as a result of the training, and if workers have improved attitudes towards hazard identification and risk mitigation.

Here are some key questions to ask if an organization is trying to evaluate the effectiveness of its safety training:

  • Did the training result in the intended outcomes, such as increased knowledge and better attitudes toward safety?
  • Have workers changed the behaviors targeted by the training?
  • What were the key parts of the training that led to the desired results?

Answering these questions can help organizations accurately evaluate the effectiveness of their training programs, develop better training, and measure the effects on safety and organizational objectives.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader