Online programs can be a cost-effective way to provide safety and ergonomics training to employees at multiple locations or working a variety of shifts, but employers should be prepared to combine such programs with in-person training.
“I think it can be great to supplement what's going on, but don't expect (online training) to be an answer in and of itself,” said Rani Lueder, Austin, Texas-based principal at Humanics Ergonomics Inc.
“I've always seen a blended approach be the best option,” said Dan McNeill, manager of education development for the American Society of Safety Engineers in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Experts in safety and ergonomics training say online tools can help reach out to employees at various job sites, home-based workers and traveling employees. Such tools can be beneficial for mid-market employers as well as large and small employers, experts say.
There are several online safety training courses offered for a fee or for free, both of which offer advantages to employers. While paid programs can be customized to an individual employer's needs, free programs are readily accessible for employers trying to limit their costs.
“If you have an instructed course, depending on what the (teacher's) mood is like, you might get a different version of the course each time,” Mr. McNeill said. “But with online, it's always consistent. That's always a big plus.”
The Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, the state's monopoly workers comp insurer, provides nearly 100 online safety training courses through its website at no charge.
Bruce Zeller, senior manager of education and outreach for the department's Division of Occupational Safety and Health, said the courses are part of safety outreach that the department does for businesses throughout the state.
“No employer wants to have workers injured on the job for a number of reasons, and having this training helps over the long haul,” Mr. Zeller said. “It keeps their workers comp costs lower and it keeps their employees healthier.”
The most popular courses through the Washington agency have been a module on ergonomics, which had more than 14,000 page views in the past 12 months, and a course on bloodborne pathogens, which had 6,400 page views in the past year, Mr. Zeller said.
“People who need it can access it at a time when it's convenient for them,” Mr. Zeller said. “A lot of businesses have peak times during the day, and it's just not convenient to attend a classroom training.”
Travelers Cos. Inc. offers a program that provides safety and ergonomics training online to any Travelers customer.
Nim Traeger, St. Paul, Minnesota-based vice president of casualty services risk control, said Risk Control On-Demand has been used by hundreds of employers so far since the insurer launched the program a year ago.
The interface allows Travelers to provide customized consultations on a variety of topics based on specific client needs, Ms. Traeger said. In one instance, Travelers provided online safety training to supervisors in six locations for one company using Risk Control On-Demand.
In another case, Travelers asked an employer to take video of a warehouse where employees kept experiencing muscle strains and sprains while lifting boxes. Through the program, a Travelers ergonomist reviewed the video on-line with the customer and pointed out ways to reduce workplace injuries.
“We offered some solutions, the customer incorporated those solutions and the exposure's better managed,” Ms. Traeger said.
When weighing online safety training programs, employers should consider whether free programs can provide information that is specific for their employees, experts say.
For instance, workers with a limited ability to speak English may have a difficult time using e-learning safety programs in English, negating the benefits of such training, the ASSE's Mr. McNeill said.
“Make sure you take a look at who your audience is going to be, what their learning needs are and what the time frame is as far as when some kind of training intervention needs to be implemented by,” Mr. McNeill said. “By doing all of those things, you'll kind of get a feel for whether or not e-learning is an option.”
Humanics Ergonomics' Ms. Lueder agreed that online programs provide benefits only if they have messages that workers can apply at their job sites.
“If (a program is) saying this is how to adjust your back rest, but the employee's chair ... rests don't adjust, it's just gong to make them frustrated,” she said.
When a customized safety program is desired, Mr. McNeill said employers can look for companies that tailor training modules to a specific company. In addition, he said such companies often sell off-the-shelf software that can be modified somewhat to fit a company's specific needs.