MRO Magazine

How to properly safety-train new employees


April 13, 2010
By PEM Magazine

Over the last couple of columns, we established why having a competent workforce is important and defined how we start to establish worker competency by identifying selection criteria based on qualifications, such as education, training and prior experience. The importance of verifying a candidate’s credentials was also discussed as an important component of ensuring that a new employee is indeed qualified for the job.

Now that we’ve ensured this person meets minimum standards, we need to go about training that individual.

Some of you may ask: “If I’ve gone through all this trouble to ensure that my new employee meets minimum standards, then why do I have to train him? Shouldn’t he be adequately trained already?” While that may be true to a certain extent, what we need to remember is that the worker is still new. New to your company, new to your facility, new to the specific tools and equipment your company operates and new to your work procedures. This situation places your new employee at greater risk for injury or illness.

When I had my consulting practice, I had the opportunity to witness a multitude of different types of training practices. Some were quite complicated and some were very simple. Some were very effective and some had little effect at all. So what makes a good workplace training program?


Let’s start out by stating that having a worker simply read a safe work procedure or a work instruction does not constitute training. Merriam-Webster defines training as the process necessary “to teach so as to make fit, qualified, or proficient.” From this definition, we can infer that training requires some interaction between a trainer and a trainee.  By referencing the word “proficient,” the definition also implies the need for testing. Therefore, when we are talking about workplace training, we are really talking about the imparting of necessary skills or behaviors through instruction from a competent person to ensure the safe and efficient completion of a task.

One of the best workplace training programs I ever witnessed was being used in one of the most unlikely places I had ever expected to observe it: a fast-food restaurant.  Some time ago, I worked with a multinational fast-food restaurant to help them make some improvements to their health and safety management system. In order to secure the contract, I had to agree to be “hired,” go through their training program and work in the back of the house for two weeks. What I learned in those two weeks I took with me and have applied in all of my employment settings ever since.

This fast-food restaurant chain had an ingenious training system and they had it down to a science. They called it “Four Corner” training. They called it such because training for each and every task consisted of four simple steps. The first step involved the employee reading and viewing the training materials associated with the task procedure. Once the new hire completed this first step, he or she proceeded onto the next step: knowledge testing. If they are not successful in completing the quiz, their trainer would discuss the answers with them and then they had to go back to the beginning and go through the training materials until they could successfully pass the quiz with a score of no less than 90 percent.

Having successfully completed the knowledge component of the training, the trainee went on to the practical. The worker would go out onto the floor with the trainer and was shown how to complete the task safely, in accordance with the written job procedure. Once shown how to do the task, the worker then had to demonstrate to the trainer that he or she could complete the task safely and following the correct steps. The trainer had a performance observation checklist that guided him on what to look for. If the worker could not successfully demonstrate that he could complete the task, then the trainer would once again show the worker how to complete the task while providing key points on how to improve. This continued until the worker could satisfy all of the requirements on the checklist.

This four-step approach to training used by this company accomplished several things. First off, it established an environment of trust between worker and supervisor. This is critical if workers are to feel comfortable about reporting hazards and incidents. Secondly, it creates a firm foundation on which to develop competent workers and we know that competent workers are far less likely to become injured on the job. Finally, having the task training documented provides the employer with a valuable tool to demonstrate due diligence should it ever be required. Clearly, the training system was a win-win for both workers and management.

There are some situations in which workplace training is not as simple. What if your workforce comes from a different culture? What do you do? Clearly, there are no simple answers but there are some things that you can do. Those things will be discussed in my next column.

Fred Matthews, CRM, CRSP, is regional health and safety advisor (west) for Maxxam Analytics Inc. You can contact him by tel: (780) 468-3579 or email: