Workers Health & Safety Centre

JHSC Certification training via e-learning unsupported by evidence

This week will mark the year and a half mark in Ontario’s review of Certification training standards for joint health and safety committees (JHSCs). A decision is imminent.

Conducted by the Prevention Office of Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration, Training and Skills Development (MLITSD), the stated intent of the review was to ensure the standard approved by the Chief Prevention Officer (CPO) “remains effective, relevant, and up to date.”

While many questions were raised during the review the single most important one was whether to extend or rescind self-paced, asynchronous, online e-learning as an approved mode of Certification training delivery. During the pandemic and without consultation e-learning was approved as a mode of delivery for Certification Part I training only. This despite the previous approval of a superior online option – that of real-time, instructor-led, virtual classrooms or what some call distance learning.

Throughout the review workers and their representatives drew upon their considerable education and experience to make the case that e-learning should be excluded from the standard altogether, as it does not support the development of knowledge and skills necessary to exercise JHSC powers under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Staff and leadership at Workers Health & Safety Centre agreed, providing two detailed submissions for the review.

During review deliberations, the Institute for Work & Health weighed in with their timely study of Certification Part I modes of delivery. Funded by the MLITSD on its surface the study appeared to suggest that all modes of delivery were comparable. However, a deeper read of the study revealed serious limitations in the study design and reservations on the part of its authors.

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IWH findings, limitations and reservations

For the study, researchers at the Institute for Work & Health (IWH) evaluated three different modes of delivery for JHSC Certification Part I training—face-to-face (F2F), online instructor-led synchronous or distance learning, and online self-paced asynchronous e-learning—to determine if knowledge gained by learners differed. The primary outcome was to assess JHSC-related knowledge before and after training. Other outcomes explored included engagement, perceived utility of and applicability of training, and self-confidence in and intention to use learning. Learners were also asked for suggestions to improve the training.

Data was collected in a pre-post survey from 899 learners who received JHSC Certification Part I training. Learners were recruited from January to September 2022.
The study authors reported and observed: 
  • Learners in F2F, distance and e-learning attained similarly high post training “knowledge” scores.
  • Compared to distance learners though F2F learners reported statistically significant higher scores on post-training knowledge, after accounting for other factors.
  • Regardless, the assessment of this “knowledge” was limited to written multiple choice, true/false tests.
  • F2F learners also reported statistically significant higher levels of engagement during training, perceived utility of learning and self-confidence in using the learning compared to distance learners, with e-learners reporting the lowest scores.
  • “Limitations” of the study included the lack of any measurement of “skills for which the training was intended to prepare the learner, such as finding information from the Occupational Health and Safety Act, using a hazard management tool or conducting an investigation.”
  • However, when learners were asked for suggestions to improve the training, the study indicated attaining these important skills was in question for some. This was especially the case amongst e-learners whose percentages were highest in expressing the need to better understand how to navigate the Occupational Health and Safety Act (19.4% vs. 12.7 % for F2F and 15% for distance learning) and asking for better explanation of issues related to hazards and their controls (13.2% vs. 3.4% for F2F and 3% for distance learning). 
  • Unlike previous training studies conducted by IWH, this study also did not include sufficient passage of time for post training evaluation to measure knowledge retention or the transfer of knowledge to the workplace (i.e. learners’ actual JHSC practices in the workplace.)
  • Other limitations included the extremely small pool of training providers involved in the study. Those surveyed were restricted to learners participating in programs delivered by only three of more than 50 CPO-approved Certification training providers in Ontario — three employer Safe Work Associations, Infrastructure Health & Safety Association, Public Services Health & Safety Association and Workplace Safety & Prevention Services.

As a result, the IWH concluded, “The finding of modality equivalency should not be generalized to outcomes not measured in the study, including skill acquisition or transfer of learning to the workplace, especially given the differences seen in post-training confidence to use the learning.”
They further explained research shows that self-confidence is as critical as knowledge in predicting the transfer of learning, or in this case applying it in the workplace. This is critical because in real life, certified members attend refusals of unsafe work, stop work that would directly endanger a worker’s life, investigate fatalities and critical injuries, proactively inspect workplaces for hazardous conditions and recommend improvements to prevent future worker suffering.

Under what IWH dubbed “practical implications” they went on to specifically address the question of whether the e-learning mode option should be extended to Certification Part 2 training. “Further magnification of differences in self-confidence would be of concern … we do not yet have a good understanding of the extent to which modality in certification training, Parts 1 and 2 combined, impacts the ability of certified members to fully participate. Given the large number of workers who undergo JHSC certification training each year, even small differences, once aggregated across all Ontario workplaces, could be meaningful.”

Other findings and concerns with e-learning

When taken in the context of other training studies, the IWH Certification Part I study takes on greater meaning. Many other studies have also highlighted characteristics of ineffective, poor-quality health and safety training. Some of the training studied is offered here in Ontario.

For instance, research conducted by the Centre for Research Expertise in Occupational Disease evaluated skin-specific training programs where workers cited a preference for training that was hands-on, delivered in-person, and received at the start of employment. In practice, workers reported much of the training was often only available online to be completed on their own time. Workers said there was too much information, it was not easy to retain, and the training was mostly passive. They most often cited WHMIS training as an example of poor training they had received.

Similarly, the IWH’s earlier evaluation of the Ministry’s worker awareness e-learning program found it also suffered from deficiencies, concluding this training was “not effective in increasing awareness and empowerment.” Moreover, IWH observed, “Mode of training matters. Passive training (completing OHS awareness training on-line or through a workbook) is less effective than active (instructor-led) training on both awareness and empowerment.” For those who offer online training options they also advised, “Future programs utilising on-line training need to examine ways to make this type of training more effective (e.g., interactive training modules).”

For some, technology offers convenient solutions, but as WHSC pointed out in our submissions to the Certification review, these too come at a cost. Training based solely on technology rather than on adult learning principles will not achieve our important objectives. Such programs can also be lengthy and expensive to develop. Many adult learners still struggle to access technology. Self-paced e-learning can be an isolating experience for many, adding to the current mental health crisis. And importantly, e-learning makes it difficult to validate learner identity rendering a record of training meaningless.

Register for quality JHSC Certification Training today. Save 20% until April 30.

Training that works!

When significant changes were made to the province’s Certification training standards in 2016 the move followed extensive deliberations and wide public consultations. Importantly, the 2016 standard excluded the entirely asynchronous, self-paced, e-learning option, because it does not support adult education principles which the literature tells us are vital to assured learning.

Adult education involves instruction, demonstration of knowledge and skills and finally proper evaluation. Research evidence validates this type of training.

Consider the following:
  • Studies by IWH found Ontario’s standardized F2F working at heights training improved workers’ knowledge, confidence, and safe work practices and lowered related injury claim rates.
  • Education science research suggests learning is situational, involves some degree of self-regulation and can build competence which aids health and safety and skills development, especially among young workers.
  • The benefit of interacting with others and the opportunity to practice learning was a finding in an IWH study evaluating ergonomics training for office workers. It found an ‘enhanced’ program with in-person session helped reinforce knowledge and skill and increased self-efficacy including confidence to identify problems and solutions.
  • Research by the U.S. Center for Construction Research and Training compared F2F training with instructor-led, synchronous online distance training. F2F learners reported statistically significant higher ratings of instructor effectiveness, teaching/learning methods, and overall effectiveness in developing the knowledge, skills, and confidence to work safely. Although they found “both delivery formats were highly effective.”
  • A body of research by the Labour OHCOW Academic Research Collaboration on “Knowledge Activism” explored characteristics of the most effective workplace health and safety representatives and found they engaged in a range of activities such as conducting research, identifying and trying to implement recommendations and building strategic relationships. Their actions and knowledge went beyond minimum legal requirements. The authors also noted, “The evidence also points to the value of worker centered training and education in helping representatives to develop both the orientation and the skills needed to be an effective knowledge activist.”

Ultimately, Andrew Mudge, WHSC executive director offers this insight, “The rush to embrace e-learning for the sake of convenience and cost is shortsighted and will fail workers, especially for something as important as OHS training essential to the worker right to know and in this case JHSC Certification training essential to the worker right to participate. The length and quality of JHSC Certification training has been eroded over the years. It must not be degraded further. In fact, much needs to be redressed.”  

Adds Mudge, “Effective training which incorporates adult learning principles and safeguards workers’ health and safety is paramount. We believe this is what matters most.”

Training for ensured learning 

In support of Day of Mourning for the first time ever, Workers Health & Safety Centre is offering a special 20 per cent discount for most scheduled training during the month of April. Discounts apply to both our F2F in-person and virtual or distant classroom options.


Related Resources:
IWH: Differing Effects of In-person and Online Methods of Delivering JHSC Certification Part 1 Training
Ontario’s worker OHS awareness training ineffective, IWH study finds.
Most worker health and safety training highly deficient: studies.
Standardized working at heights training improves safety, study.
Learning the value of virtual classrooms AND training standards.
Knowledge activists more effective as health and safety reps, study finds.

Need more information?
Contact a WHSC training services representative in your area.
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