​Training in Health & Safety

Safety instructions answer the question: what do my employees need to know in order to work safely?

What training and instruction do we need to work safely? How do we organize the instructions?

The third part of the series of articles on the four basic elements of occupational safety and health deals with the answers to these questions.

Please find the other posts in this series here:
Part 1: Occupational safety and health organization
Part 2: Safe working conditions
Part 4: Emergency preparedness

​Why training and instruction?

In the last two parts of this series, we looked at how you can create working conditions that are safe to work in. Today, we add a critical element for implementation: teaching employees how to use these working conditions to actually work safely.

An example: we all had to learn to eat with a knife and fork first. In most cases, it was the parents who taught us and practiced with us. They showed us. They explained it to us. They may have led our hand at times. They observed whether we were doing it well and intervened to correct us. They made clear announcements when something didn’t work at all – for example, when we waved our fork in front of father’s nose.

This example has all in: how we learned, under guidance, to handle these not entirely harmless tools. Without hurting ourselves, but still achieving the desired result, namely to become full. To take into account the norms of behavior in force, to respect the rules of decency.

Switch sides: As a parent, you want your child to learn to eat properly with a knife and fork. What do you do? You show your child how to do it. You guide them. You practice until it works and observe your child. If necessary, you intervene to correct the situation.

​Training is a part of the whole

In training courses and instructions, you convey the theoretical parts of what you want to bring close to your employees. Whereby, training courses can very well contain practical parts.

Training and instruction are therefore an important element in teaching your employees how to work properly and safely.

Now the question arises: what is the difference between training and instruction?

​What is training and instruction?

Instructions are binding for the recipient: in the instruction, you convey to your employees what you expect of them and how you expect them to do it. In other words, you give instructions to your employees.

To put it bluntly, in order to make the difference clear, a training is, in contrast, a mere transfer of information.

Perhaps the difference will become clearer with examples. But maybe the difference is not so important.

​What training and instruction is required?

This is a result of your risk assessment and the legal requirements.
Yes, I know: your most harmless thought now is: thank you for this not at all helpful answer.

In Germany, some of this results from laws or accident prevention regulations. For example, the rather vague requirement from the Occupational Health and Safety Act (Section 12 (1)):

The employer must provide employees with sufficient and appropriate training on occupational safety and health during their working hours.


At least it is clear that the employer has to instruct.

However, it goes more concretely. The Hazardous Substances Ordinance requires in § 14 paragraph 2:

The employer must ensure that employees are given verbal instruction on all hazards that arise and the corresponding protective measures on the basis of the operating instructions in accordance with paragraph 1.

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gefstoffv_2010/__14.html – sorry, German only

This requirement from the Hazardous Substances Ordinance is a great example. Not only because oral instruction is required here in the only relevant regulation – this is not specified in any other regulation.

But because it is required here that you have to instruct on the basis of the operating instructions. And there is the decisive hint how to find out which instructions are necessary: There should be instruction for every instruction.

​How do I determine the need for instruction?

​Step 1: What instructions are there in your company?

These can be operating instructions for hazardous substances or for tools and machines. These can be process descriptions and work instructions from a management system. They include other types of instructions, such as mandatory and prohibitive signs. Verbal instructions can also be so general or far-reaching that you should instruct on them.

Requirements from operating instructions. If the user manual state that the operators of the machine are to be instructed, it is often useful to create operating instructions for the machine. The operating instructions then contain the contents of the instruction. However, the instruction requirement is also given by the user manual even without operating instructions.

​Step 2: Are there any additional legal requirements?

These are the specific requirements from legal regulations, such as the Ordinance on Hazardous Substances. These are requirements or ancillary provisions from operating permits. In addition, there may be other requirements imposed by the supervisory authority or the employers’ liability insurance.

​Step 3: Are there any other requirements?

Do your risk assessments specify training or instruction as a protective measure that goes beyond those identified so far? Please carry out.

Are there other briefings or training sessions that are common in your industry? Just do them. There is usually a specific requirement behind this that you are not aware of right now. It is usually easier to include these in the programme instead of going through legislation first.

Of course you can do more, there is room for improvement. If you think that your employees need to be trained or instructed on further topics, implement it.

​Why did I chose the steps in this order?

It is easier to first compile the detailled specifications from instructions than to pore over the often rather vague regulations. And you have already fulfilled the majority of the requirements arising from these vague legal requirements with these specific topics arising from your everyday business.

You should record the identified training and instruction requirements in writing. In official German: document in your risk assessment.

​When do you instruct your employees, how often do instructions have to be repeated?

The time and repetition of the instruction can be specifically defined. Here, the Hazardous Substances Ordinance is again a great example:

The training must be carried out prior to commencement of employment and thereafter at least annually in relation to the workplace.

http://www.gesetze-im-internet.de/gefstoffv_2010/__14.html – sorry, German only

All right.

That is, before starting employment. Instruct your employee before he works with the hazardous material, before he operates the machine and so on. I myself like to have a new activity explained before carrying out.

This default implies that there is theoretical instruction before your employee performs the work practically. It may be appropriate and more useful to integrate this into the induction. For example, learning how to operate a machine by actually operating it – like eating with a knife and fork – and incorporating the appropriate theoretical instructions into this process at the right time.

​The right frequency for refresher training

The Ordinance on Hazardous Substances is clear on this issue: annually. For first-aiders it is just as clearly regulated, company first-aiders must take part in refresher training every two years.

Often you will only find: “The instruction is to be repeated at regular intervals”. If you now think that every 25 years is regular, this is correct, but not in the sense of the inventor.

German DGUV Information 205-023 Fire Protection Assistants is helpful here:

To refresh the knowledge, it is recommended to repeat the training in intervals of 3 to 5 years.

https://publikationen.dguv.de/regelwerk/dguv-informationen/2848/brandschutzhelfer – sorry again, German only

Instruction must therefore be repeated after three to five years at the latest. The interval here depends on when something once learned is likely to be forgotten. In the case of fire protection assistants, we hope that they will not have to use their knowledge.

The second, equally important factor can be applied well to activities that your employee performs regularly or frequently, where forgetting does not play such a role. When should knowledge be refreshed to counteract the creeping deviation from the specifications. This is not meant in a negative way. It is perfectly normal and human for procedures to change with repetition, we are not machines after all. So: before potentially dangerous routines become established, countermeasures are taken.

​Further criteria for repeat instructions

  • Changed production or work processes, work procedures
  • Requirements from the risk assessment, for example it was determined that the previous frequency was not sufficient
  • after accidents
  • external changes such as new legal requirements, changes in the classification of the hazardousness of substances or machines
  • changed state of the art or best available techniques

In order to reconcile all these different aspects and to keep the organisational effort low, an annual repetition is usually the easiest thing to do.

​How can you train and instruct successfully?

“All is asleep, one is talking – that’s what they call teaching”. Who doesn’t know that. But who has not had the experience that school lessons can be interesting.

It’s the same with trainings. Nobody feels like going, unless it’s a company party afterwards. And nobody wants to stand in front and recite the same slides over and over again – while everyone else is just sleeping.

Some things may be best taught in frontal lessons. We are also all grown up enough to deal with it sensibly.

In many cases, you can deliver the content more attractively with simple means. Ask questions, discuss with the participants, incorporate practical elements, keep it short and get to the point. There are certainly other possibilities that bring more benefit with justifiable effort.

Personally, it helps me to consider two aspects: the people I train and instruct are often those who have more practical experience than I do. Therefore, I like to question and discuss with them, but remain firm on the essential requirements.

The practitioners know whether the instructions and instruction contents are so correct and reasonably applicable. Such a meeting is the opportunity to check whether the instructions are still up to date, correspond to reality and can thus be reasonably implemented.

​Document your instructions

Documentation is part of successful training or instruction: always prepare a list of participants, which is signed by all participants.

This doesn’t have to be a big formality, it can be done on a notepad if need be. Make sure that it says the following:

  • Date and period of instruction
  • Name of the instructor
  • Contents of the instructions
  • Names (legible) and signatures of participants

Who instructs – who may instruct?

Who is allowed to give instructions to your employees? Only the boss, of course.

Unfortunately, it is not quite that simple in all cases. There are areas in which the legislator has set far-reaching requirements for the qualification of the instructor. For example, for first-aider training courses, these may only be carried out by qualified personnel from recognised training organisations.

There is nothing left for you as a business owner but to let the qualified people do the training.

The question arises as to whether it makes sense to supplement the training with in-house instruction. I recommend this especially for first-aiders. Point out to your first-aiders where they can find first-aid material and how first-aid incidents are to be reported and documented.

This is useful for standard training courses, which are often held externally as open courses. There is certainly the possibility to provide the trainer with your company-specific features so that these requirements are also instructed. This is useful, for example, when instructing forklift drivers or crane operators.

This means that you have delegated the instruction. Delegating instruction is quite common and makes sense if you do not have the expertise yourself or if someone in your company is better suited. However, it should be clear to both the instructor and the participants that it is still an instruction, i.e. instructions are being conveyed.


Training and instruction are necessary. They teach your employees how to work correctly and safely. There are many different instructions for your employees, which are necessary and useful is to be determined for your company.

Training and instruction are successful when the content is received by the participants, who understand and implement it. Setting up instructions in such a way that this goal is achieved is a fine art, but it is certainly feasible.