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How to Ensure Retention of Safety Training, from Onboarding and Beyond

by | Feb 23, 2024 | Compliance-lca, Essential, Lab Industry Advisor, Lab Safety-lca

In order for lab safety training to be effective and lasting, it must be engaging and become part of the lab’s culture.

The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) mandates safety training throughout many of their regulations that affect the laboratory. Often, those regulations state that this training should occur “at the time of initial assignment” and “at least annually thereafter.” That means that safety training is important; it must begin when the new employee walks in the door for the first time, and it should be repeated regularly. Many organizations rely on computer-based training (CBT) courses because they are easy to give, no person has to be there to teach the information, and consistent and standardized information is provided. Unfortunately, CBTs also prevent instant learner feedback or questions, and they fail to teach psychomotor (hands-on) skills and affective objectives (learning focused on values and beliefs). In order for lab safety training to be effective and lasting, it must be something that is engaging, and ongoing safety awareness must become a part of the lab’s culture.

Methods for assessing the lab’s safety culture and training effectiveness

To ensure that the current methods of safety training are effective, it is necessary to determine the overall safety culture in the laboratory. There are specific ways to do this, and an experienced safety professional will be able to do it more quickly than others. However, a good assessment can be made by anyone using tools such as the laboratory’s information, its safety data, and a few other resources. Here are four key methods that can help:

1. Use “Safety Eyes”

One method used to quickly assess a lab’s culture is the use of “Safety Eyes,” the ability to notice safety issues in the department quickly. This skill can be honed over time with practice, by looking for issues in one area of focus, like fire safety or chemical handling. Look at signage that is posted, look for the proper use of engineering controls and personal protective equipment, and watch for safe work practices. Using “Safety Eyes” to notice issues can help make a determination about the effectiveness of laboratory safety training.

2. Perform a safety audit

Performing a safety audit is another approach to ascertaining the lab’s safety training efficacy. Whether you utilize a known published audit format or create your own, a detailed audit can help to uncover knowledge and process issues that safety training may have missed or that may need further reinforcement. Using a scored audit can also be a helpful tool that allows you to track improvement over time, especially if you are making adjustments to your safety training program.

3. Review laboratory data

Another way to evaluate the lab safety training program is by reviewing available laboratory data. First, assess the total number of injuries and exposures that have occurred in the laboratory over a period of time. A rising incident rate may indicate poor training and retention of proper safety procedures. Next, analyze other lab accidents (such as biohazard or chemical spills) that were reported but did not cause employee injuries. Lastly, examine the laboratory safety committee meeting minutes. Explore what safety issues were discussed and which items created repeat issues or patterns.

There is also some underutilized data that can be obtained from the laboratory or facility quality department. A root cause or common cause analysis is a study of an event (or series of events) with the express purpose of finding a universal core issue. Laboratory incidents that generate a root cause investigation are not always about lab safety, but some may be. These safety root causes can be used to update lab safety training practices. In fact, the accumulation of all these types of laboratory data can be a powerful set of tools to modify lab safety training and focus it where it is needed.

4. Raise awareness of safety issues

Raising safety awareness on particular issues can be a form of ongoing safety training. The information used to decipher safety issues can also be used to strengthen lab safety if used properly. Safety data becomes useless if it is ignored or if there is no follow-up once an incident occurs. The follow-up for lab staff regarding injury data or an event root cause means sharing the data. Review specific lab injuries or spills with employees when these events occur. This means sharing the information with all shifts, including anyone else who could be involved in a similar incident. Sometimes there is hesitation to share information in smaller workplaces because staff might be able to identify the incident participant or participants. In some cases, it might be easy to share the incidents without including every detail, but more importantly, labs need to be working toward a culture where they can openly talk about such incidents, even when specific people are identified. Transparency in safety is vital, and it means employees readily report incidents rather than sweeping them under the rug. Sharing the incident and ways in which it could have been prevented is crucial to continuing safety education and improving the overall culture.

Focusing the lab safety training program

Each of the aforementioned safety data points can be pulled together to create a picture for the safety professional that can be used to help focus the lab’s safety training program. For example, a laboratory safety audit may show just a few noted issues, and visually, the lab appears to be clean and organized. A review of the departmental records reveals no reported employee exposures or injuries. However, when safety training files are studied, it is discovered there was no fire or electrical safety training for staff in the past three years.  

This is a fairly easy example, but the training action plan for this lab will include a priority for completing that missed safety education. Provide fire extinguisher and evacuation training and conduct drills to verify cognitive and behavioral understanding. Follow up with a regular review of employee safety training records and inclusion of this training for all new employees. By using this pattern of discovery through available data and the analysis of the lab, action plans for improving the retention of safety training can become an ongoing improvement process.

Safety training in the laboratory starts right at the beginning of employment, but it should never end for the employee until the day they leave. That means using initial training that is customized for the audience and continuing with safety awareness for all staff by using visual cues, conducting drills, and interpreting ongoing safety data to continually modify and update your safety training so that staff retains it and uses it to remain safe throughout their time in the laboratory and beyond.

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