The role of HR in health and safety training
A technical background isn’t always necessary
Aug 9, 2017
There is a role for HR professionals and learning and development (L&D) practitioners in designing, developing and delivering health and safety training in organizations. Shutterstock
By Brian Kreissl
A few years ago, I wrote a post about the role of the human resources function in relation to occupational health and safety. While health and safety really is everyone’s business, it can be a fairly technical discipline — particularly in highly safety-sensitive environments where technical, engineering, scientific or medical expertise is often required.
That also applies when dealing with specific hazards of a scientific or technical nature such as electricity, extreme heat or cold, chemicals, gases, explosives, vibration, noise, working at heights or confined spaces. Because some of these hazards are very industry-specific, awareness, prevention and training often require technical or vocational knowledge, as well as an understanding of the science behind them and the special equipment used to control and prevent accidents and illnesses from occurring.
Training employees on safe work practices and the proper use of tools and equipment is therefore best left to experts in these cases. The average HR practitioner may not have the necessary industry background or technical skills to facilitate training in highly specialized areas.
A role for HR professionals
Nevertheless, I still believe there is a role for HR professionals and learning and development (L&D) practitioners in designing, developing and delivering health and safety training in organizations. This can be done alone or in partnership with experts.
However, not all OH&S training is necessarily highly technical or specialized in nature, and it is possible for trainers to acquire the technical skills and competencies in some areas even if they didn’t start out being all that technical in the first place.
Several courses, certificate programs and professional designations are available and can be completed within a relatively short period of time (as opposed to completing an entire degree program which can take years). Such education may be worthwhile obtaining for HR or L&D practitioners who find themselves delivering OH&S training programs on a regular basis.
While some OH&S practitioners believe health and safety can be co-opted by HR professionals who aren’t hands-on or technical enough or who are a little too closely aligned with senior management, the truth is there is a lot of overlap between HR and OH&S. Occupational health and safety often falls under the umbrella of HR and, like it or not, OH&S is often considered to be part of the HR profession’s body of knowledge.
While I’m not suggesting most HR practitioners could ever replace a qualified safety engineer, occupational health nurse, ergonomist, chemist or occupational therapist, HR and L&D practitioners can and should provide OH&S training relating to certain topics. These include legal compliance, basic OH&S awareness, orientation and onboarding, employee wellness, workplace violence and harassment, employment policies and procedures and the roles of the various workplace parties.
Health and safety awareness training
Back in 2014, the Ontario government introduced the Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training Regulation, which mandated that employers provide basic OH&S awareness training to all workers. Such training must include the rights and duties of workers and supervisors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the roles of health and safety committees or safety representatives, the Ministry of Labour and the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB).
The training must also cover the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), occupational illness and the hazards that are specific to that industry and organization. While training on specific hazards must be customized for each organization, the compliance side of the training is something we can assist with.
Thomson Reuters offers Participant’s Workbooks and Instructor’s Lesson Plans designed to help meet employers’ obligation to provide mandatory health and safety awareness training. There are two different versions of each of these books: One to accompany the Pocket Ontario OH&S and one to accompany the larger format Consolidated Edition with tabs.
We also have Study-Guides designed to accompany our Handi-Guides in Alberta and British Columbia. In fact, we have quite a few resources to help OH&S, HR and L&D practitioners deliver training, and we will shortly be publishing some new and revised training publications.
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Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.