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People in hardhats inspecting plans

New report highlights the importance of context in health & safety interventions

Understanding context is a vital ingredient needed to ensure success when designing health and safety interventions – yet the uniqueness of our working environment is often overlooked.

Workload (the pace and nature of work pressure), perceived risk, workforce engagement, and cultural differences will all contribute significantly to how a particular intervention works. A new report ‘Designing safety interventions for specific contexts’ commissioned by global safety charity Lloyd’s Register Foundation, explores how context is considered in health and safety interventions including training – the most common intervention.

Authors and principal investigators of the report, Colin Pilbeam from Cranfield University and Nektarios Karanikas from Queensland University of Technology completed a comprehensive rapid evidence assessment which included reviewing 73 peer-reviewed journals published between 2011 and 2021 and screening nationally and international recognised training materials. Interviews were conducted with experienced trainers and industry stakeholders to determine if context was considered and how it related to outcomes.

Colin said: “There is a clear requirement to minimise harm and maximise worker well-being in the workplace, a change that can be driven by the implementation of context-appropriate safety interventions. Around 500 million people are adversely affected by work each year and one explanation for this may lie in the way safety interventions are designed.

“The study looked at whether and how researchers and organisations consider contextual factors in safety interventions as we know that misalignment between interventions and context increases the possibility of failure with adverse consequences.”

The report makes eleven recommendations for further work needed in this area including analysis of non-academic safety intervention publications, such as industry and government reports to gain a more complete picture of whether and how context influences safety interventions and the development of competence of OSH professionals in organisational change management.

H&S training providers interviewed as part of the research confirmed their belief that appropriate consideration of context would increase the effectiveness of interventions.

“It was clear that few courses consider the influence of context on the interventions being trained or describe a framework whereby such contextualisation could occur. For example, interventions are often ‘borrowed’ from other organisations and are not adjusted to meet the specific needs of the new environment. This, coupled with the observation of a widespread failure of organisations to review the impact of their safety training in a continuous fashion and update and improve its implementation, suggests that there is a need for organisational level adjustments,” added Colin.

The report makes five further recommendations to improve the training of workplace health and safety including the development of guidelines that indicate key success factors for safety training effectiveness, and how these can be achieved.

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