Introduction to ANSI Z490.2
The upcoming ASSE National Standard for online EHS training.
ANSI Z490.2 is coming soon. Did you know? If you’re like most, you probably didn’t. After all, we can’t all do our daily jobs while also keeping up with every upcoming national standard, no matter how important, relevant, or helpful they may be.
And so we’ll begin this article with the assumptions that (a) you didn’t know Z490.2 is coming soon, that (b) you don’t know what it’s about, and (c) you don’t know about ANSI Z490.1, either.
ANSI Z490.1: The national standard for EHS training
To back up a step, it helps to know that ANSI Z490.1 is the ASSE/ANSI National Standard for Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Training (“Criteria for Accepted Practices in Environmental, Health and Safety Training”). This is an existing standard that provides guidelines for professionals with training responsibilities.
Z490.1 was updated in 2016 and is a great resource for professionals who want to lead, create, and/or buy effective safety training that helps lead to safe worker behaviors on the job.
In particular, it provides guidance on managing a comprehensive training program, course development, training delivery, training evaluation, and training documentation and recordkeeping. There’s also a handy Annexes section with some great information as well.
If you don’t yet have a copy of Z490.1, it’s worth looking into. It will set you (or, if you’re lucky, your boss) back $110-140, but that’s a great investment, especially if you’re in charge of EHS training but don’t really know much about how people learn or how to create effective training.
Enter Z490.2 for online EHS training
Now that you know what Z490.1 is, it’s easier to understand the upcoming, in-process, soon-to-be-completed Z490.2 standard. Z490.2 will be the ASSE/ANSI national standard for online EHS training.
Sounds simple enough, right? Even so, let’s take a closer look at two aspects of this: what is “online” EHS training and how is the upcoming Z490.2 standard on online EHS training related to the existing Z490.1 standard on all EHS training?
First, let’s address what “online” means for training in the context of Z490.2. What comes to mind when you think of online training? Anything on the Internet? What about training on a computer that’s not on the Internet? Does it matter if the course is an eLearning course, a video, a live webinar or a website? And what about augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR)?
You get the point. That term online is somewhat vague and quite broad. For the purposes of the standard, we decided to include any technology-assisted training in the definition of online, although we focused on “traditional” eLearning courses.
And second, there’s the issue of how this new standard will relate to the earlier standard. And the best way to think of that is to consider the Z490.2 standard as an addition, complement or supplement to the earlier, Z490.1 standard.
What’s covered in Z490.1 is true of all EHS training, including online training. And Z490.2 includes only additional material that’s relevant for considering online training. There’s nothing about Z490.2 that replaces or corrects anything in Z490.1.
But is online training effective?
Many people see the benefits of online training in terms of: delivering training to workers on their schedule (and not on the schedule of the trainer); delivering training to workers on different schedules or shifts, at multiple locations, in remote locations or to those who work on the road; in reduced training time and reduced training costs; and in improved recordkeeping, especially for compliance purposes.
Yet many also wonder if online training is as effective as other types of training, including forms of face-to-face training such as instructor-led and field-based training. In fact, some suspect or believe online is not as effective as these other forms of training.
To get some insight on this issue, the best thing to do is to turn to experts, research and evidence-based guidance on the issues.
First, there’s a U.S. Department of Education report titled Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning. This report is the summary of a meta-analysis and it concludes: “The meta-analysis found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”
Next, there’s a white paper by noted learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer, titled Does eLearning Work? What the Scientific Research Say, which is another report based on a series of meta-analyses. Thalheimer’s report comes to the same conclusion the Department of Education did: “In the first section of this report, five meta-analyses were summarized, comparing eLearning and learning technologies in general to traditional classroom practice. Overall, these meta-analyses found eLearning tends to outperform classroom instruction.”
The quick take-away here should be that eLearning and online learning can be effective. I don’t share the results of these studies in an attempt to prove that online learning is more effective than face-to-face training. In fact, if you dig deeper into Dr. Thalheimer’s study, you’ll see that he believes the improved performance associated with online training isn’t a result of the online delivery method itself but is more likely explained by better instructional design and the instructional techniques within the online courses (and that those same instructional techniques can also be used in face-to-face training). And Thalheimer’s study and theories only duplicate earlier ones advanced by Dr. Ruth Colvin Clark in her book Evidence-Based Training Methods: A Guide for Training Professionals.
So the truth is that it’s not the training delivery method (such as online or classroom training) that influences how effective the training is. Instead, it’s the instructional techniques or factors (realistic scenarios, practice, feedback, visuals, chunking, etc.) used within those delivery methods.
Using online training: Blend, blend, blend
With the introductory material down, let’s now turn our attention to how to use online EHS training at work.
A real consideration of how and when to use any particular safety training delivery method (online, instructor-led, etc.) should begin with considering using the training delivery method that’s best suited for the training need. This will include the following considerations:
• What you discovered in the learner analysis. Do employees have a preference for one training delivery method over another? Are there relevant language issues? What about their schedules, and what resources are available at work?
• Is it appropriate for the learning objective? Make sure the training delivery method is appropriate for the learning objective, including whether or not a delivery method will allow you to train workers well for the knowledge/skill and whether or not it will allow a credible post-training assessment of that same knowledge/skill.
• What are the needs for practice, consequences, and feedback? One of the most effective training methods is to allow people to practice a skill and see the consequences of their efforts, receive feedback about their performance, or both of these. When selecting a training delivery method for a specific training need, consider the employee’s need for feedback and consequences and select a training delivery method that can accommodate that need.
Beyond these tips, though, learning experts suggest one universal guideline, and that’s to use a blended learning solution that includes multiple training delivery methods. For example, that same Department of Education report cited earlier says: “The difference between student outcomes for online and face-to-face classes … was larger in those studies contrasting conditions that blended elements of online and face-to-face instruction with conditions taught entirely face-to-face”.
In addition, the study by Dr. Will Thalheimer referenced earlier says: “… blended learning (using both online learning and classroom instruction) creates the largest benefits.”
Tips for evaluating online safety training
But not all online safety training solutions are the same, and not all will work equally well at your workplace. If you see the benefits of online safety training at work, and would like some tips for evaluating different solutions and selecting the one that’s most appropriate for your organization, below are a few tips to get you moving in a positive direction:
1. Determine your company’s safety training needs and how online training will fit into those needs. Consider not only training needs, but also technical/IT needs, available resources, budget, and future plans/growth.
2. Get a team of stakeholders at your work, including employees, involved in the evaluation and selection process. Don’t go it alone.
3. Understand the various options under the “online safety training” umbrella. There are now a large variety of ways to access online safety training, including pay-per-view solutions, streaming subscription-based solutions, full-blown learning management system (LMS) solutions, mobile learning solutions, and even old-school DVDs. Become familiar with the various options, the pros and cons of each, and how they might (or might not) serve your needs at work.
4. Content topics and instructional design. Review courses for solid subject matter expertise on safety topics relevant at your work and appropriate instructional design to increase training effectiveness.
5. Review the features of the online training management system, if any. Consider issues such as reporting, document storage, safety training creation capabilities, assignment capabilities, management of due dates and recurrent training, employee training notifications, software integrations with your HRIS or other work software applications, and more.
6. Don’t forget to evaluate the safety training provider, as the relationship you develop with them may be more beneficial.
This is a larger topic than we can’t cover in this article, so know there’s still more to consider, but these are great starting points.
I hope you found this introduction to the upcoming ANSI Z490.2 standard on online safety training, and the additional thoughts on evaluating and using online safety training, both interesting and useful.
Primarily, I support your interest in creating safety training in any form, as safety training is one part of an overall occupational safety management effort designed to create the result we all want: all workers going home each night alive, safe and healthy.