Safety Training – The Basic Principles


EHS Consultant


Safety training is one element of the safety management system that aims to reinforce and improve the work and safety performance of personnel in a structured and formalised way and together with relevant experience will help to make sure that the necessary competency levels for employees is met. The administration of training is often within the remit of an organisations human resource department whilst the specific safety, vocational and emergency training requirements of the organisation will be dictated by the scope of work activities.

As a minimum, organisational arrangements for training should consider:

  • Any identified training satisfies legal compliance and company policy requirements.
  • Suitable training should be provided for both positions and roles.
  • Ensure that training courses and content is subject to periodic review.
  • Ensure that senior management provides sufficient resources to provide safety training.
  • Training should cover vocational, safety and emergency activities.

“In responding to an emergency situation, we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we sink to the level of our training”

A quick note on the difference between positions and roles. A position is the job a person carries out on a day-to-day basis such as a welder or office manager. A role is a specialist task assigned to a person under certain circumstances which they undertake. For example an office manager might have the role of fire warden in an emergency, checking offices are empty and taking a roll-call.


Types of Safety Training

The types of training that are relevant cover vocational, induction and emergency training. Vocational training relates to the trade or skill of a person for them to undertake their work activities. Induction training focuses upon site or job specific safety instruction and information for new employees or others who may not be familiar with an operation or work site. Emergency training relates to the duties, roles and responsibilities of personnel that they undertake in an emergency which may also include specific emergency roles.


Safety inductions

The safety induction or orientation process has a key role to play as it is often the first safety training activity that personnel are exposed to and so is normally tailored to new employees, contractors and other third parties such as visitors. The format and content for an induction will depend upon the risk profile and complexity of the workplace and precautions and controls to manage that risk. There may be the option to have several layers of induction; the primary induction might be a general familiarisation of the site explaining general and emergency arrangements and a secondary induction might go into more detail at a particular facility within the site or for a particular work process. Online induction training is ideal to impart primary induction to give employees, contractors and temps. In all cases, the safety induction process should be documented and be periodically assessed.


Emergency drills and exercises

Training should provide a person with a basic skillset to understand what to do in a certain situation and nowhere is this more important than in responding to emergencies. In the real world, emergency situations frequently have the potential to go off-piste and to unfold in a manner which may deviate from our expectations and we also need to remember that “In responding to an emergency situation, we don’t rise to the level of our expectations, we sink to the level of our training”. Both commercial and non-commercial organisations use drills and exercises to fine-tune their responses to emergencies, including the military. They recognise the truism that the more realistic a drill or exercise is, the more benefit there is to those taking part. However, it should not be forgotten that drills and exercises are training activities and personnel should not be placed into unnecessary danger because of them.

When developing drills and exercises, consider the following:

  • Comply with the minimum legal requirement that applies to the organisations activities in terms of emergency drills and emergency plans and ensure the requirement is documented in the safety management system.
  • The decision to undertake unannounced drills must take into consideration the context of the operation. For example, in the military there would be an expectation of unannounced drills at any time, whereas there would not be that same expectation in a retirement home or maternity hospital.
  • Roles need to be defined for emergency situations.
  • Focus on the core skills required of everyone at every drill.
  • Build low hazard uncertainty into emergency drills – for example:
    • switch between the use of primary and secondary escape/evacuation routes;
    • block or restrict access to commonly used exits, stairways and egress points;
    • change the timing of drills so that they are not totally predictable.
  • Ensure that drills do not educate people to put themselves into danger in a real emergency. For example, do not require people to re-enter an area to retrieve emergency equipment.
  • The basic requirements for drills and exercises must be clear for all of those involved and not just those with key roles to play. For example, are there specific minimum personal protective equipment requirements when mustering, etc.
  • Undertake minuted drill debriefs for safety critical personnel to discuss both positive and negative observations.
  • Do not accept that workers can turn up to drills late or do not attend at all. This type of behavior is not acceptable and should not be seen as such.
  • Learn lessons from deficiencies noted during drills and take action to correct these.  The safety management system remedial action plan should be used to record and track these.

Also bear in mind that:

  • Drills can become routine and uninteresting, especially for those drills that take place frequently or are repetitious.
  • The quality and content of drills and exercises can vary significantly depending upon the attitude and motivations of the key people involved.
  • Drills and exercises are training activities and personnel should not be placed into unnecessary danger because of them.

One issue that is often overlooked is the sometimes homogeneous composition of personnel at large facilities especially at those which encourage long careers for their employees. The same cultural, educational and social references can become embedded within an organisation which limits the opportunity to drive change or adopt to new methodologies, techniques and approaches to emergency management. Realise that the only certainty is that change occurs. One approach to counter this mentality is to embed a major internal/external review of existing emergency arrangements against industry/national/international best practice into the safety management system review cycle. This can be a useful gap analysis exercise to re-calibrate how an organisation thinks about emergency management.


Training certification

Many industries now have minimum defined training requirements and courses are often certified by industry associations. Using accredited providers to deliver attended and online courses has a number of advantages:

  • Training course providers are assessed and approved by an accreditation body, implying that minimum standard criteria have been met and that the specific certified course content is uniform, regardless of which provider is chosen.
  • Updates to course content often reflect the latest information, knowledge and research that are available.
  • Successful candidates receive industry recognised qualifications after course completion.

The variety and scope of certified online courses, both approved and non-approved courses is developing rapidly as new technologies provide ever wider audiences with access to what would previously been attended class room sessions.

The fact that some online courses can now be tested by online examination in many cases is a significant development; it’s massively convenient and often has a much lower cost, avoiding travel, hotels and associated expenses when sending employees to attend a physical classroom. Online training has its limitations of course. You can’t train online to drive a car and get a license or fight a fire but where the content can be delivered, it should be considered as a training option where appropriate.


Bad day at WIPP…

Since it is hoped that emergency situations will be rare, the use of drills and exercises is one of the few ways to try and ensure preparedness when an emergency event occurs. At the underground Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) storage facility which included nuclear waste in New Mexico on 5th, February 2014, a fire in a salt truck deep underground would test their emergency response systems to the maximum…and be found severely wanting.

Communication problems and unclear announcements contributed to confusion throughout the mine. The Board determined that there was a lack of effective drills and training, there was complexity of the alarm and communication system, and there were additional burdens placed on the FSM [Facility Shift Manager] due to the lack of a structured Incident Command System.” *

To get some idea of precisely how ill-prepared they were for an underground fire, the following investigation findings are also illuminating.

Fully integrated exercises involving all of WIPP’s assets have not been conducted. Some qualified FSMs [Facility Shift Manager] had not received Incident Command System training, even though they are expected to perform in that capacity during an emergency. Additionally, there is no position-specific training for the various EOC [Emergency Operations Centre] roles and responsibilities. The Facility Operations training week had been discontinued.” *

The Operator that responded to the fire did not receive hands-on training in the use of a portable fire extinguisher…However, recent training provided as an updated portion of General Employee Training (GET), as well as the Underground Fire Response procedure, stressed the use of a portable extinguisher for incipient fire response.” *



Safety training is one of the most important elements for the effective management of risk. Every time a new employee crosses the work threshold or a contractor arrives on site to work at height on a roof, the risk profile of the organisation increases. Holistic safety training, including the evaluation of third party training is a powerful tool to identify workplace risk and to develop the skillsets of employees to deal with it. The real world is a harsh taskmaster and accident investigations are not the forum to discover that safety training could have or should have been better.

* – U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management Accident Investigation Report – Underground Salt Haul Truck Fire at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant February 5, 2014.

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