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Meeting the needs of HR and safety

By Glyn Jones

Both departments must work together to educate workers

Company departments are often thought of as being in silos. This unfortunately creates isolation and unnecessary duplication in many efforts, including training. The relationship between the safety group and the human resources (HR) department is extremely important in developing employee knowledge, skills and abilities.

Organizations need to break down the barriers and avoid isolation by ensuring training assessment and development needs are a shared effort by HR and safety.

Education, training and career development are all traditionally part of HR’s responsibility. It is common that HR maintains a matrix of training and career development for all employees. It is also true all new employees spend some time with HR when they first join the company, even if it is just to sign up for payroll.

On the other hand, the safety group may drive a program of training around confined space, respiratory protection, joint workplace health and safety committee and WHMIS, to name a few. Imagine the multiplier effect if these two groups got together and assessed training needs and co-operatively developed an employee education, training and competency development and assessment process. A co-operative effort would likely result in reduced risk, greater corporate efficiency and improved safety performance.

The traditional HR driver for training development and implementation is new hire orientation and the need for ongoing career development. A seasonal hiring spree or significant changes in workforce numbers should be a driver to examine what you have been doing with respect to new hire training and creates an opportunity to make change for the better.

A noted change in employee demographics may also provide the need for a new training program. As the demographic mix of the workforce changes there is a need to look carefully at the modes and methods of training offered. The expectations of the veterans, baby boomers, gen-X and millenials are different. 

The safety drivers for training include keeping up with changes in occupational health and safety regulations. A serious incident or a rash of no-loss incidents may indicate a need to review work process or procedure and this drives the need for training. A pattern of similar deficiencies noted during workplace inspections may also be indicative of a training deficiency.

Production problems or quality issues would be similarly linked to a training improvement opportunity. Further, these production and quality issues are leading indicators of a faulty work process that may put workers at risk of injury.

Finally, technological change continues to accelerate and drive change in every workplace. Technology is changing how we work and the machines we use at work. With each major upgrade in equipment or technology there is an opportunity to reset the training standards.

The starting point of this corporate process improvement is an integrated training needs assessment. This serves as a diagnostic tool for determining what training needs to take place. So many companies offer a program of training without ever having completed a needs assessment.

The starting point is a survey to determine what is being done by HR and the safety group and what gaps exist. This survey gathers data to determine what training needs to be developed to help individuals and the organization accomplish their goals and objectives.

The basic steps in a training needs assessment process follow the common plan-do-check-act or Shewhart cycle.

Plan: Undertake the needs assessment, collect the data, engage the stakeholder group and begin the analysis. A report of findings will be the result of this activity.

Do: Design the new program and its objectives and measures of success, develop the content and implement the program (consider using a prototype test to create a fast feedback loop before fully rolling out the program).

Check: Evaluate the outcomes and compare them to the objectives. Survey the learner, the supervisors and the management team to obtain their feedback.

Act: Review the feedback and any other data collected, start the process again by re-engaging the stakeholders and re-evaluating their needs.

Often the most difficult part of the whole process is assessing the training needs. One of the most common tools used for this is an employee needs assessment questionnaire. This may be used in conjunction with employee interviews. Often a compilation of information gathered from employee performance appraisals, employee exit interviews and employee complaints or grievances can provide some valuable insight.

Incident reports, inspection reports, quality reports and audit findings will also provide valuable data. Managers and supervisors can offer insight and also engage in specific job observation as a means of collecting valuable “real-time” data. Finally, and often most valuable, is the use of a focus group of a collection of managers and supervisors brought together to brainstorm a new training, education and competency development process.

These survey tools provide the data needed to complete an analysis. The analysis of the survey data can be performed jointly by the management team and supervisors who are able to observe their staff and make recommendations for training based on performance issues or gaps between performance and objectives.

This analysis should also be performed on an organization-wide level by HR and the safety group who can survey the organization to further identify needs.

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Glyn Jones

Glyn Jones is a partner at EHS Partnerships in Calgary. He is a consulting occupational health and safety professional with 30 years of experience. He also provides program design and instructional support to the University of New Brunswick’s OHS certificate and diploma programs. You can follow him on You can follow him on Twitter at @glynjones_ehsp or he can be reached at
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