Q18. Why is training an important part of a safety management system?

Training can be defined as: "activities designed to facilitate the learning and development of new and existing skills, and to improve the performance of specific tasks or roles".

The provision of training within an organisation's safety management system (SMS) is important because:

• It meets an employer's legal duty to protect the health and safety of its employees.

• It helps to identify and reduce hazards in the workplace.

• It helps to reduce the risk of workplace accidents and, therefore, reduces the cost of workplace accidents.

• It assists in developing a health and safety culture within the organisation.

• It reduces the likelihood of negligence claims, where the issue of competence may be brought up in legal actions against the organisation.

Although training has an important role to play in improving the levels of occupational safety and health (OSH) performance, it will only be effective as part of a holistic SMS. For example, if through the risk assessment process you identify that you need to have training for workers for entry into confined spaces and then carry out that accredited training, but do not support it with a permit-to-work system, documented isolation procedures, the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE), no supervision or emergency planning, has the risk of confined space entry work been reduced as low as reasonably practicable? Clearly, 'No'. But adding these other safety management elements mentioned above to appropriate training increases confidence that your organisation has a robust system to manage the risk effectively.

Of course, training is not only beneficial to the organisation but also can have significant benefits to individuals, including:

• Improved confidence and morale in carrying out work tasks.

• Reduction in the probability of an accident or incident involving the individual.

• Providing accredited qualifications to workers improves their worth to the organisation and may result in improved pay and conditions.

• Improving the skill set of workers.

• A better understanding of both the employer's and individuals' responsibilities in the workplace for health and safety.

Q19. How do we define competence?

The word 'competence' has been defined variously as: "the application of skills and knowledge to effective practice expectations in the workplace";[1]"a person's ability to perform to a satisfactory level in the workplace, including the person's ability to transfer and apply skills and knowledge to new situations, and to achieve agreed outcomes";[2]and "education, work experience and training, or a combination of these".

The use of a general definition of competence as stated above is probably sufficient for most low-risk workplaces. However, if employees or contractors of your organisation undertake any specialist or nonstandard work activities, you should consider developing your own definition of competence (within job descriptions, for example) for roles where there are:

• No defined competencies in an industry sector or within the law.

• General defined competencies specified by representative or other professional bodies.

• General defined competencies specified within an industry sector but not defined in law.

• Specific requirements defined in law.

You must assess the roles and responsibilities that exist within your organisation and identify how to achieve compliance, first with the law and then with your own defined safety management system (SMS).

Once established, these requirements must be documented within your SMS in job descriptions, communicated to those people to whom they apply and the necessary resources made available to fulfill the competency requirement.

  • [1] UK Training and Development Agency for Schools (2008). Glossary
  • [2] Worksafe Australia. Occupational Health and Safety and Competency Based Training - Some Questions Answered
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