Has Covid changed health and safety training forever?

Has Covid changed health and safety training forever?

A raft of recent surveys and commentaries have fanned the flames of a debate on the future of workplace learning.

The pandemic has unquestionably transformed the learning and development landscape, giving organisations a taste, albeit out of necessity, of a world in which people learn online rather than face to face in the same room as their tutor.

Virtual classrooms and online learning were not invented this past year. They’re nothing new in the world of training and development, but the extraordinary circumstances of 2020 and 2021 have brought about a re-think.

The well-versed trade-offs between virtual, online and face to face are now being discussed with fresh insight in human resources departments and leadership meetings across the Middle East and beyond.

Remote digital learning

Once the cheap fallback, digital learning solutions are now widely regarded as a highly resilient means to up-skill and engage with a workforce. And as importantly, learning delivered remotely will be the best solution for many businesses now moving towards hybrid working.

“the pandemic has unquestionably transformed the learning and development landscape”

Brian Kropp, Vice-President of research and advisory company Gartner, said: “Our research finds that 32% of organisations are replacing full-time employees with contingent workers as a cost-saving measure.” The firm’s researchers also found “48% of employees will likely work remotely at least part of the time after COVID-19 versus 30% before the pandemic”.

So yes, in the future, maintaining a digitally ready workforce that can adapt to a changing landscape will be a priority for HR and L&D teams. And of those training solutions being considered for this brave new world, none are more important than the choices made for health and safety.

Retaining face-to-face communication

The pandemic hasn’t removed the duty of care employers have to their people. Remote working isn’t a case of out of sight, out of mind – as HSME readers know only too well – and responsible leaders know this too.

IOSH-approved training centre MOBIUS Training and Consultancy Limited, had a mixed reaction from its clients when online alternatives were offered as the pandemic restrictions hit travel plans. Some preferred to wait until the constraints were eased to enable them to have face-to-face courses while others fully embraced the new online experience, says MOBIUS Director Donna Gordon.

Donna says, “There’s no doubt about it, face-to-face learning has many advantages. It’s more of a shared experience and you can share and compare notes with your classmates. You have the conversation with your classmates and tutor in real-time. And those conversations are typically more fulfilling because you can see the body language and you’re making eye contact.

“Face-to-face communication is considered the best form of communication for many good reasons, and this extends into the learning environment. And arguably, with health and safety, where the stakes are so high, face-to-face training should be the choice wherever possible.

“But on the flip side, we live in the real world and it’s a very different world now. First, the pandemic has given companies a better idea of the opportunities with virtual classroom and online learning. Second, Covid-19 has transformed our world of work forever. We will see more businesses embrace hybrid working, and this means more remote working and a workforce spread far and wide.

“So yes, there’s no getting away from it, digital solutions are very much here to stay in learning and development, and that includes health and safety.”

Virtual disadvantages

Ahmed Tahir Chohaun is a HSE and emergency response training specialist working in the Middle East and Asia Pacific region, including Dubai, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

He says, “The positive thing about face-to-face training is that you can interact with the students. As a trainer you can read the physical body language to see if they’re learning and understanding.

“With virtual training you’re unable to focus on just one person. If cameras are off, you don’t know if the student is paying attention or doing another task. When I deliver virtual training, I find different ways to engage and interact with people during sessions.”

Ahmed highlighted the use by some organisations of virtual reality and interactive videos, which can be played like a video game to train workers. It can be a costly method and the VR training industry is still developing, he says.

But Ahmed believes companies are now starting to shape a future landscape of health and safety training that will see more choice with more tech solutions.

He says, “The good thing about virtual training is that it can bring people together from all over the world. It’s true, speaking to people face to face is the best learning curve and it allows people to interact, focus and engage more in the training. With virtual training however, you don’t have the added travel, which is good from a safety and environment point of view, but it also increases profitability by not having to cover the cost of travel.”

Emerging technologies

Some of the learning and development technology Ahmed is seeing emerge is almost the stuff of sci-fi movies.

“I recently attended a webinar where they were talking about the future of training,” says Ahmed. “There was an expert researcher talking about virtual reality training and how they have combined VR with ergonomics to create a hologram of a famous artist, who looks and sounds the same as in real life.