The terms “safety education” and “safety training” are used interchangeably throughout many businesses and often have virtually the same meanings. However, there are key differences between them that may change how you use these terms in your workplace safety management program. Plus, being able to provide evidence of education, training, and competence could make all the difference during an OSHA inspection or investigation.
Safety education refers to the theoretical orientation and transfer of safety knowledge to the employee. Safety education prepares the employee to make correct decisions when faced with workplace hazards by exposing the learner to principles, facts, and events related to the risk.
Safety education typically takes place in a classroom setting but is not confined to this environment. Many businesses utilize settings such as computer labs and shift meetings to deliver safety education materials outside of a classroom. Additionally, the use of signs, posters, bulletins, memos, and brochures remind employees about the information periodically throughout their time at work. By varying the settings and methods of delivery, the probability of effectively educating people increases.
Safety training refers to the development and transfer of safety skills to the employee. It is typically based on practical application and involves job experience. Training is the hands-on counterpart to education and may be extremely effective for adult learners who learn-by-doing, as opposed to seeing or hearing the information, even when practical training is not required for compliance.
Examples of safety training in the workplace include:
Fire extinguisher use
CPR performance, AED use
Use, inspection and care of respiratory protective equipment
Use, inspection and care fall protection and fall arrest equipment
Hazardous material containment and clean-up
Safety competence refers to the ability of the employee to successfully carry out the learnings from safety education and training. Competence is typically a measurable evaluation, such as a written quiz or practical delivered at the end of a course or periodically between required courses or sessions. The purpose of measuring competence is to determine and address deficiencies. OSHA uses the term “Competent Person” throughout their standards and defines this type of employee as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them” [29 CFR 1926.32(f)]. Specific requirements exist in some standards, which must be met to be considered an OSHA Competent Person [OSHA.gov].