It has often been said that the workforce is the most critical element in the productive apparatus of the organization. Even in highly automated plants with their smaller number of workers, decrements in their health and well-being will sooner or later be reflected in impaired productivity or, sometimes, even in disasters.
Through governmental legislation and regulation, employers have been made responsible for maintaining the safety of the work environment and work practices, and for the treatment, rehabilitation and compensation of workers with occupational injuries and disease. In recent decades, however, employers have begun to recognize that disabilities and absences are costly even when they originate outside the workplace. Consequently, they have begun to provide more and more comprehensive health promotion and protection programs not only for employees but for their families as well. In opening a 1987 meeting of a World Health Organization (WHO) Expert Committee on Health Promotion in the Worksetting, Dr. Lu Rushan, Assistant Director-General of WHO, reiterated that WHO viewed workers’ health promotion as an essential component of occupational health services (WHO 1988).
Why the Workplace?
The rationale for employer sponsorship of health promotion programs includes preventing loss of worker productivity due to avoidable illnesses and disability and their associated absenteeism, improving employee well-being and morale, and controlling the costs of employer-paid health insurance by reducing the amount of health care services required. Similar considerations have stimulated union interest in sponsoring programs, particularly when their members are scattered among many organizations too small to mount effective programs on their own.
The workplace is uniquely advantageous as an arena for health protection and promotion. It is the place where workers congregate and spend a major portion of their waking hours, a fact that makes it convenient to reach them. In addition to this propinquity, their camaraderie and sharing of similar interests and concerns facilitate the development of peer pressures that can be a powerful motivator for participation and persistence in a health promotion activity. The relative stability of the workforce—most workers remain in the same organization for long periods of time—makes for the continuing participation in healthful behaviors necessary to achieve their benefit.
The workplace affords unique opportunities to promote the improved health and well-being of the workers by:
Does Health Promotion Work?
There is no doubt of the efficacy of immunizations in preventing infectious diseases or of the value of good occupational health and safety programs in reducing the frequency and severity of work-related diseases and injuries. There is general agreement that early detection and appropriate treatment of incipient diseases will reduce mortality and lower the frequency and extent of residual disability from many diseases. There is growing evidence that elimination or control of risk factors will prevent or, at least, substantially delay the onset of life-threatening diseases such as stroke, coronary artery disease and cancer. There is little doubt that maintaining a healthy lifestyle and coping successfully with psychosocial burdens will improve well-being and functional capacity so as to achieve the goal of wellness defined by the World Health Organization as a state beyond the mere absence of disease. Yet some remain skeptical; even some physicians, at least to judge by their actions.
There is perhaps a higher level of skepticism about the value of worksite health promotion programs. In large part, this reflects the lack of adequately designed and controlled studies, the confounding effect of secular events such as the declining incidence of mortality from heart disease and stroke and, most important, the length of time required for most preventive measures to have their effect. However, in the Health Project report, Freis et al. (1993) summarize the growing literature confirming the effectiveness of worksite health promotion programs in reducing health care costs. In its initial review of over 200 workplace programs, the Health Project, a voluntary consortium of business leaders, health insurers, policy scholars and members of government agencies which advocate health promotion to reduce the demand and the need for health services, found eight with convincing documentation of savings in health care costs.
Pelletier (1991) assembled 24 studies of comprehensive worksite programs published in peer-review journals between 1980 and 1990. (Reports of single-focus programs, such as those dealing with hypertension screening and smoking cessation, even though demonstrated to have been successful, were not included in this review.) He defined “comprehensive programs” as those which “provide an ongoing, integrated program of health promotion and disease prevention that knits the particular components (smoking cessation, stress management, coronary risk reduction, etc.) into a coherent, ongoing program that is consistent with corporate objectives and includes program evaluation.” All of the 24 programs summarized in this review achieved improvement in employees’ health practices, reductions in absenteeism and disability, and/or increases in productivity, while each of these studies that analyzed for impact on health care and disability costs, cost-effectiveness or cost/benefit changes demonstrated a positive effect.
Two years later, Pelletier reviewed an additional 24 studies published between 1991 and the early part of 1993 and found that 23 reported positive health gains and, again, all of those studies which analyzed cost-effectiveness or cost/benefit effects indicated a positive return (Pelletier 1993). Factors common to the successful programs, he noted, included specific program goals and objectives, easy access to the program and facilities, incentives for participation, respect and confidentiality, support of top management and a corporate culture that encourages health promotion efforts (Pelletier 1991).
While it is desirable to have evidence confirming the effectiveness and value of worksite health promotion programs, the fact is that such proof has rarely been required for the decision to initiate a program. Most programs have been based on the persuasive power of the conviction that prevention does work. In some instances, programs have been stimulated by interest articulated by employees and, occasionally, by the unexpected death of a top executive or a key employee from cancer or heart disease and the fond hope that a preventive program will keep “lightning from striking twice”.
Structure of a Comprehensive Program
In many organizations, particularly smaller ones, the health promotion and disease prevention program consists merely of one or more largely ad hoc activities that are informally related to each other, if at all, that have little or no continuity, and that often are triggered by a particular event and abandoned as it fades into memory. A truly comprehensive program should have a formal structure comprising a number of integrated elements, including the following:
Program Objectives and Ideology
The basic objectives of the program are to enhance and maintain the health and well-being of employees on all levels, to prevent disease and disability, and to ease the burden on individuals and the organization when disease and disability cannot be prevented.
The occupational health and safety program is directed to those factors on the job and in the workplace that may affect employees’ health. The wellness program recognizes that their health concerns cannot be confined within the boundaries of the plant or office, that problems arising in the workplace inevitably affect the health and well-being of workers (and, by extension, also their families) in the home and in the community and that, just as inevitably, problems arising outside of work affect attendance and work performance. (The term wellness can be considered the equivalent of the expression health promotion and protection, and has been used increasingly in the field during the last two decades; it epitomizes the World Health Organization’s positive definition of health.) Accordingly, it is quite appropriate for the health promotion program to address problems that some argue are not proper concerns for the organization.
The need to achieve wellness assumes greater urgency when it is recognized that workers with diminished capacities, however acquired, may be potentially hazardous to their co-workers and, in certain jobs, to the public as well.
There are those who hold that, since health is fundamentally a personal responsibility of the individual, it is inappropriate, and even intrusive, for employers or labor unions (or both) to undertake involvement with it. They are correct insofar as overly paternalistic and coercive approaches are employed. However, health-promoting adjustments of the job and the workplace along with enhanced access to health-promoting activities provide the awareness, knowledge and tools that enable employees to address that personal responsibility more effectively.
While the alert program director will take advantage of a particular event that will create interest in a special activity (e.g., the unexpected illness of a popular person in the organization, reports of cases of an infectious disease that raise fears of contagion, warnings of a potential epidemic), the comprehensive program will be based on a more formal needs assessment. This may simply consist of a comparison of the demographic characteristics of the workforce with morbidity and mortality data reported by public health authorities for such population cohorts in the area, or it may comprise the aggregate analyses of company-specific health-related data, such as health care insurance claims and the recorded causes of absenteeism and of disability retirement. Determination of the health status of the workforce through compilation of the results of health screenings, periodic medical examinations and health risk appraisal programs can be supplemented by surveys of employees’ health-related interests and concerns to identify optimal targets for the program. (It should be borne in mind that health problems affecting particular cohorts of employees that warrant attention may be obscured by relying only on data aggregated for the entire workforce.) Such needs assessments are not only useful in selecting and prioritizing program activities but also in planning to “market” them to the employees most likely to find them beneficial. They also provide a benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of the program.
A comprehensive health promotion and disease prevention program includes a number of elements, such as the following.
Promoting the program
A constant stream of promotional devices, such as handbills, memoranda, posters, brochures, articles in company periodicals, etc., will serve to call attention to the availability and desirability of participating in the program. With their permission, stories of the accomplishments of individual employees and any awards for achieving health promotion goals they may have earned may be highlighted.
Where possible, each employee’s health status should be assessed on entering the program to provide a basis for a “prescription” of personal objectives to be achieved and of the specific activities that are indicated, and periodically to assess progress and interim changes in health status. The health risk appraisal may be used with or without a medical examination as comprehensive as circumstances permit, and supplemented by laboratory and diagnostic studies. Health screening programs can serve to identify those for whom specific activities are indicated.
There is a long list of activities that may be pursued as part of the program. Some are continuing, others are addressed only periodically. Some are targeted to individuals or to particular cohorts of the workforce, others to the entire employee population. Prevention of illness and disability is a common thread that runs through each activity. These activities may be divided into the following overlapping categories:
In general, as programs have developed and expanded and awareness of their effectiveness has spread, the number and variety of activities have grown. Some, however, have been de-emphasized as resources have either been reduced because of financial pressures or shifted to new or more popular areas.
The tools employed in pursuing health promotion activities are determined by the size and location of the organization, the degree of centralization of the workforce with respect to geography and work schedules; the available resources in terms of money, technology and skills; the characteristics of the workforce (as regards educational and social levels); and the ingenuity of the program director. They include:
Implementing the Program
In many organizations, particularly smaller ones, health promotion activities are pursued on an ad hoc, haphazard basis, often in response to actual or threatened health “crises” in the workforce or in the community. After a time, however, in larger organizations, they are often pulled together into a more or less coherent framework, labelled “a program,” and made the responsibility of an individual designated as program director, coordinator or given some other title.
Selection of activities for the program may be dictated by the responses to employee interest surveys, secular events, the calendar or the suitability of the available resources. Many programs schedule activities to take advantage of the publicity generated by the categorical voluntary health agencies in connection with their annual fund-raising campaigns, for example, Heart Month, or National Fitness and Sports Week. (Each September in the United States, the National Health Information Center in the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Protection publishes National Health Observances, a list of the designated months, weeks and days devoted to the promotion of particular health issues; it is now also available via electronic mail.)
It is generally agreed that it is prudent to install the program incrementally, adding activities and topics as it gains credibility and support among the employees and to vary the topics to which special emphasis is given so that the program does not become stale. J.P. Morgan & Co., Inc., the large financial organization based in New York City, has instituted an innovative “scheduled cyclical format” in its health promotion program that emphasizes selected topics sequentially over a four-year period (Schneider, Stewart and Haughey 1989). The first year (the Year of the Heart) focuses on cardiovascular disease prevention; the second (the Year of the Body) addresses AIDS and early cancer detection and prevention; the third (the Year of the Mind) deals with psychological and social issues; and the fourth (the Year of Good Health) covers such significant topics as adult immunization, arthritis and osteoporosis, accident prevention, diabetes and healthy pregnancy. At this point, the sequence is repeated. This approach, Schneider and his co-authors state, maximizes involvement of available corporate and community resources, encourages employee participation by sequential attention to different issues, and affords the opportunity for directing attention to program revisions and additions based on medical and scientific advances.
Evaluating the Program
It is always desirable to evaluate the program both to justify continuation of its resource allocations and to identify any need for improvement and to support recommendations for expansion. The evaluation may range from simple tabulations of participation (including drop-outs) coupled with expressions of employee satisfaction (solicited and unsolicited) to more formal surveys. The data obtained by all these means will demonstrate the degree of utilization and the popularity of the program as a whole entity and of its individual components, and are usually readily available soon after the end of the evaluation period.
Even more valuable, however, are data reflecting the outcomes of the program. In an article pointing the way to improving evaluations of health promotion programs, Anderson and O’Donnell (1994) offer a classification of areas in which health promotion programs may have significant results (see figure 1).
Figure 1. Categories of health promotion outcomes.
Outcome data, however, require an effort planned prior to the outset of the program, and they have to be collected over a time sufficient to allow the outcome to develop and be measured. For example, one can count the number of individuals who receive an influenza immunization and then follow the total population for a year to demonstrate that those inoculated had a lower incidence of influenza-like respiratory infections than those who refused the inoculation. The study can be enlarged to correlate rates of absenteeism of the two cohorts and compare the program costs with the direct and indirect savings accrued by the organization.
Furthermore, it is not too difficult to demonstrate individuals’ achievement of more desirable profiles of risk factors for cardiovascular disease. However, it will take at least one and probably several decades to demonstrate a reduction in morbidity and mortality from coronary heart disease in an employee population cohort. Even then, the size of that cohort may not be large enough to make such data significant.
The review articles cited above demonstrate that good evaluation research can be done and that it is increasingly being undertaken and reported. There is no question of its desirability. However, as Freis and his co-authors (1993) said, “There are already model programs that improve health and decrease costs. It is not knowledge that is lacking, but penetration of these programs into a greater number of settings.”
Comments and Caveats
Organizations contemplating the launching of a health promotion program should be cognizant of a number of potentially sensitive ethical issues to be considered and a number of pitfalls to avoid, some of which have already been alluded to. They are comprised under the following headings:
Elitism versus egalitarianism
A number of programs exhibit elitism in that some of the activities are limited to individuals above a certain rank. Thus, an in-plant physical fitness facility may be restricted to executives on the grounds that they are more important to the organization, they work longer hours, and they find it difficult to free up the time to go to an outside “health club”. To some, however, this seems to be a “perk” (i.e., a special privilege), like the key to the private washroom, admission to the free executive dining room, and use of a preferred parking space. It is sometimes resented by rank-and-file workers who find visiting a community facility too expensive and are not allowed the liberty of taking time during the working day for exercise.
A more subtle form of elitism is seen in some in-plant fitness facilities when the quota of available memberships is taken up by “jocks” (i.e., exercise enthusiasts) who would probably find ways to exercise anyway. Meanwhile, those who are sedentary and might derive much greater benefit from regular supervised exercise are denied entry. Even when they make it into the fitness program, their continued participation is often discouraged by embarrassment at being outperformed by lower-ranking workers. This is particularly true of the manager whose male self-image is tarnished when he finds that he cannot perform at the level of his female secretary.
Some organizations are more egalitarian. Their fitness facilities are open to all on a first-come, first-served basis, with continuing membership available only to those who use it frequently enough to be of value to them. Others go part of the way by reserving some of the memberships for employees who are being rehabilitated following an illness or injury, or for older workers who may require a greater inducement to participate than their younger colleagues.
In some areas, anti-discrimination laws and regulations may leave the organization open to complaints, or even litigation, if the health promotion program can be shown to have discriminated against certain individuals on the basis of age, sex or membership in minority or ethnic groups. This is not likely to happen unless there is a more pervasive pattern of bias in the workplace culture but discrimination in the health promotion program might trigger a complaint.
Even if formal charges are not made, however, resentment and dissatisfaction, which may be magnified as they are communicated informally among employees, are not conducive to good employee relations and morale.
Concern about allegations of sex discrimination may be exaggerated. For example, even though it is not recommended for routine use in asymptomatic men (Preventive Services Task Force 1989), some organizations offer screening for prostatic cancer to compensate for making Pap tests and mammography available to female employees.
Complaints of discrimination have come from individuals who are denied the opportunity of winning incentive awards because of congenital health problems or acquired diseases that preclude participation in health promotion activities or achieving the ideal personal health goals. At the same time, there is the equity issue of rewarding individuals for correcting a potential health problem (e.g., giving up smoking or losing excess weight) while denying such rewards to individuals who do not have such problems.
“Blaming the victim”
Growing out of the valid concept that health status is a matter of personal responsibility is the notion that individuals are culpable when health defects are found and are to be held guilty for failing to correct them on their own. This sort of thinking fails to take notice of the fact that genetic research is increasingly demonstrating that some defects are hereditary and, therefore, although they may sometimes be modified, are beyond the individual’s capacity to correct.
Examples of “blaming the victim” are (a) the too-prevalent attitude that HIV/AIDS is a fitting retribution for sexual “indiscretions” or intravenous drug use and, therefore, its victims do not deserve compassion and care, and (b) the imposition of financial and bureaucratic barriers that make it difficult for unmarried young women to get adequate prenatal care when they become pregnant.
Most important, focusing in the workplace on individuals’ responsibility for their own health problems tends to obscure the employer’s accountability for factors in job structure and work environment that may be hazardous to health and well-being. Perhaps the classic example is the organization that offers stress management courses to teach employees to cope more effectively but that does not examine and correct features of the workplace that are needlessly stressful.
It must be recognized that hazards present in the workplace may not only affect the workers, and by extension their families as well, but they may also precipitate and aggravate personal health problems generated away from the job. While retaining the concept of individual responsibility for health, it must be balanced by the understanding that factors in the workplace for which the employer is responsible may also have a health-related influence. This consideration highlights the importance of communication and coordination between the health promotion program and the employer’s occupational safety and health and other health-related programs, especially when they are not in the same box on the organization chart.
Persuasion, not coercion
A cardinal tenet of worksite health promotion programs is that participation should be voluntary. Employees should be educated about the desirability of suggested interventions, provided with access to them, and persuaded to participate in them. There often is, however, a narrow margin between enthusiastic persuasion and compulsion, between well-meaning paternalism and coercion. In many instances, the coercion may be more or less subtle: e.g., some health promotion professionals tend to be overly authoritarian; employees may be fearful of embarrassment, being ostracized or even penalized if they reject the advice given them; a worker’s choices as to recommended health promotion activities may be overly limited; and executives may make it unpleasant for their subordinates not to join them in a favorite activity, such as jogging in the very early morning.
While many organizations offer rewards for healthy behavior, for instance, certificates of achievement, prizes, and “risk-rated” health insurance (involving, in the United States, for example, a reduction in the employee’s share of the premiums), a few impose penalties on those who do not meet their arbitrary standards of health behavior. The penalties may range from refusing employment, withholding advancement, or even dismissal or denying benefits that might otherwise be forthcoming. An example of an American firm levying such penalties is E.A. Miller, a meat-packing plant located in Hyrum, Utah, a town of 4,000 inhabitants located some 40 miles north of Salt Lake City (Mandelker 1994). E.A. Miller is the largest employer in this small community and provides group health insurance for its 900 employees and their 2,300 dependants. Its health promotion activities are typical in many ways except that there are penalties for not participating:
One form of coercion that has wide acceptance is “job jeopardy” for employees whose alcohol or drug abuse has had an impact on their attendance and work performance. Here, the employee is confronted with the problem and told that disciplinary actions will be stayed as long as he or she continues with the prescribed treatment and remains abstinent. With allowance for an occasional relapse (in some organizations, this is limited to a specific number), failure to comply results in dismissal. Experience has amply shown that the threat of job loss, regarded by some as the most potent stressor encountered in the workplace, is an effective motivator for many individuals with such problems to agree to take part in a program for their correction.
Confidentiality and privacy
Another hallmark of the successful health promotion program is that personal information about participating employees —and non-participants as well—must be kept confidential and, particularly, out of personnel files. To preserve the privacy of such information when it is needed for evaluative tabulations and research, some organizations have set up data bases in which individual employees are identified by code numbers or by some similar device. This is particularly relevant to mass screening and laboratory procedures where clerical errors are not unknown.
Health promotion programs are criticized by some on the basis of evidence that participants tend to be younger, healthier and more health conscious than those who do not (the “coals to Newcastle” phenomenon). This presents to those designing and operating programs the challenge of involving those who have more to gain through their participation.
Health promotion programs involve some costs to the organization. These may be expressed in terms of financial outlays for services and materials, time taken from work hours, distraction of participating employees, and the burden of management and administration. As noted above, there is increasing evidence that these are more than offset by reduced personnel costs and by improvements in productivity. There are also the less tangible benefits of embellishing the public relations image of the organization and of enhancing its reputation as a good place to work, thereby facilitating recruitment efforts.
Most of the time, the organization will cover the entire cost of the program. Sometimes, particularly when an activity is conducted off the premises in a community-based facility, the participants are required to share its cost. In some organizations, however, all or part of the employee’s portion is refunded on successful completion of the program or course.
Many group health insurance programs cover preventive services provided by health professionals including, for example, immunizations, medical examinations, tests, and screening procedures. Such health insurance coverage, however, presents problems: it may increase the cost of the insurance and the out-of-pocket costs of the deductible fees and co-payments usually required may constitute an effective obstacle to their use by low-salaried workers. In the last analysis, it may be less costly for employers to pay for preventive services directly, saving themselves the administrative costs of processing insurance claims and of reimbursement.
Conflicts of interest
While most health professionals exhibit exemplary integrity, vigilance must be exercised to identify and deal with those who do not. Examples include those who falsify records to make their efforts look good and those who have a relationship with an outside provider of services who provides kickbacks or other rewards for referrals. The performance of outside vendors should be monitored to identify those who underbid to win the contract and then, to save money, use poorly qualified personnel to deliver the services.
A more subtle conflict of interest exists when staff members and vendors subvert the needs and interests of employees in favor of the organization’s goals or the agenda of its managers. This sort of reprehensible action may not be explicit. An example is steering troubled employees into a stress management program without making a strenuous effort to persuade the organization to reduce inordinately high levels of stress in the workplace. Experienced professionals will have no difficulty in properly serving both the employees and the organization, but should be ready to move to a situation in which ethical values are more conscientiously observed whenever improper pressures on the part of management become too great.
Another subtle conflict that may affect employees adversely arises when a relationship of competition, rather than coordination and collaboration, develops between the health promotion program and other health-related activities in the organization. This state of affairs is found not infrequently when they are placed in different areas of the organization chart and report to different lines of management authority. As has been said before, it is critical that, even when part of the same entity, the health promotion program should not operate at the expense of the occupational safety and health program.
Stress is probably the most pervasive health hazard encountered both in the workplace and away from it. In a landmark survey sponsored by the St. Paul Fire and Marine Insurance Company and involving nearly 28,000 workers in 215 diverse American organizations, Kohler and Kamp (1992) found that work stress was strongly related to employee health and performance problems. They also found that among personal life problems, those created by the job are most potent, showing more impact than purely off-the-job issues such as family, legal or financial problems. This suggests, they said, that “some workers become caught in a downward spiral of work and home life problems—problems on the job create problems at home, which in turn are taken back to work, and so on.” Accordingly, while primary attention should be directed to the control of psychosocial risk factors intrinsic to the job, this should be complemented by health promotion activities aimed at personal stress factors most likely to affect work performance.
Access to health care
A subject worthy of attention in its own right, education in navigating the health care delivery system should be made part of the program with an eye to future needs for health services. This begins with self-care—knowing what to do when signs and symptoms appear and when professional services are needed—and goes on to selecting a qualified health professional or a hospital. It also includes inculcating both the ability to distinguish good from poor health care and an awareness of patients’ rights.
To save employees time and money, some in-plant medical units offer more or less extensive in-plant health services, (often including x rays, laboratory tests and other diagnostic procedures), reporting the results to the employees’ personal physicians. Others maintain a roster of qualified physicians, dentists and other health professionals to whom employees themselves and sometimes also their dependants may be referred. Time off from work to keep medical appointments is an important adjunct where health professional services are not available outside of working hours.
In the United States, even where there is a good group health insurance program, low-salaried workers and their families may find the deductible and coinsurance portions of covered charges to be barriers to procuring recommended health services in all but dire circumstances. Some employers are helping to overcome such obstacles by exempting these employees from such payments or by making special fee arrangements with their health care providers.
Worksite health promotion programs are presented, often explicitly, as an expression of the employer’s concern for the health and well-being of the workforce. That message is contradicted when the employer is deaf to employees’ complaints about working conditions and does nothing to improve them. Employees are not likely to accept or participate in programs offered under such circumstances or at times of labor-management conflict.
The health promotion program should be designed to accommodate to the diversity increasingly characteristic of today’s workforce. Differences in ethnic and cultural background, educational levels, age and sex should be recognized in the content and presentation of health promotion activities.
It is clear from all of the above that the worksite health promotion program represents an extension of the occupational safety and health program which, when properly designed and implemented, can benefit individual employees, the workforce as a whole and the organization. In addition, it may also be a force for positive social change in the community.
Over the past few decades, worksite health promotion programs have increased in number and comprehensiveness, in small and medium-sized organizations as well as in larger ones, and in the private, voluntary and public sectors. As demonstrated by the array of articles contained in this chapter, they have also increased in scope, expanding from direct clinical services dealing, for example, with medical examinations and immunizations, to involvement with personal and family problems whose relationship to the workplace may seem more tenuous. One should allow one’s selection of program elements and activities to be guided by the particular characteristics of the workforce, the organization and the community, keeping in mind that some will be needed only by specific cohorts of employees rather than by the population as a whole.
In considering the creation of a worksite health promotion program, readers are advised to plan carefully, to implement incrementally, allowing room for growth and expansion, to monitor performance and program quality and, to the extent possible, evaluate outcomes. The articles in this chapter should prove to be uniquely helpful in such an endeavor.
Abuya: What’s the matter? You look worn out.
Mwangi: I am worn out—and disgusted. I was up half the night getting ready for this lecture I just gave and I don’t think it went very well. I couldn’t get anything out of them—no questions, no enthusiasm. For all I know, they didn’t understand a word I said.
Kariuki: I know what you mean. Last week I was having a terrible time trying to explain chemical safety in Swahili.
Abuya: I don’t think it’s the language. You were probably just talking over their heads. How much technical information do these workers really need to know anyway?
Kariuki: Enough to protect themselves. If we can’t get the point across, we’re just wasting our time. Mwangi, why didn’t you try asking them something or tell a story?
Mwangi: I couldn’t figure out what to do. I know there has to be a better way, but I was never trained in how to do these lectures right.
Abuya: Why all the fuss? Just forget about it! With all the inspections we have to do, who’s got time to worry about training?
The above discussion in an African factory inspectorate, which could take place anywhere, highlights a real problem: how to get the message through in a training session. Using a real problem as a discussion starter (or trigger) is an excellent training technique to identify potential obstacles to training, their causes and potential solutions. We have used this discussion as a role play in our Training of Trainers’ workshops in Kenya and Ethiopia.
The ILO-FINNIDA African Safety and Health Project is part of the ILO’s technical cooperation activities aimed to improve occupational safety and health training and information services in 21 African countries where English is commonly spoken. It is sponsored by FINNIDA, the Finnish International Development Agency. The Project took place from 1991 to 1994 with a budget of US$5 million. One of the main concerns in the implementation of the Project was to determine the most appropriate training approach by which to facilitate high quality learning. In the following case study we will describe the practical implementation of the training approach, the Training the Trainers’ (TOT) course (Weinger 1993).
Development of a New Training Approach
In the past, the training approach in most African factory inspectorates, and also in many technical cooperation projects of the ILO, has been based on randomly selected, isolated topics of occupational safety and health (OSH) which were presented mainly by using lecturing methods. The African Safety and Health Project conducted the first pilot course in TOT in 1992 for 16 participating countries. This course was implemented in two parts, the first part dealing with basic principles of adult education (how people learn, how to establish learning objectives and select teaching contents, how to design the curriculum and select instructional methods and learning activities and how to improve personal teaching skills) and the second part with practical training in OSH based on individual assignments which each participant completed during a four month’s time period following the first part of the course.
The main characteristics of this new approach are participation and action orientation. Our training does not reflect the traditional model of classroom learning where participants are passive recipients of information and the lecture is the dominant instructional method. In addition to its action orientation and participatory training methods, this approach is based on the latest research in modern adult education and takes a cognitive and activity-theoretical view of learning and teaching (Engeström 1994).
On the basis of the experience gained during the pilot course, which was extremely successful, a set of detailed course material was prepared, call the Training of Trainers Package, which consists of two parts, a trainer’s manual and a supply of participants’ handout matter. This package was used as a guideline during planning sessions, attended by from 20 to 25 factory inspectors over a period of ten days, and concerned with establishing national TOT courses in Africa. By the spring of 1994, national TOT courses had been implemented in two African countries, Kenya and Ethiopia.
High Quality Learning
There are four key components of high quality learning.
Motivation for learning. Motivation occurs when participants see the “use-value” of what they are learning. It is stimulated when they can perceive the gap that separates what they know and what they need to know to solve a problem.
Organization of subject matter. The content of learning is too commonly thought of as separate facts stored in the brain like items in boxes on a shelf. In reality, people construct models, or mental pictures, of the world while learning. In promoting cognitive learning, teachers try to organize facts into models for better learning and include explanatory principles or concepts (the “but whys” behind a fact or skill).
Advancing through steps in the learning process. In the learning process, the participant is like an investigator looking for a model by which to understand the subject matter. With the help of the teacher, the participant forms this model, practices using it and evaluates its usefulness. This process can be divided into the following six steps:
Social interaction. The social interaction between participants in a training session is an essential component of learning. In group activities, participants learn from one another.
Planning training for high quality learning
The kind of education aimed at particular skills and competencies is called training. The goal of training is to facilitate high quality learning and it is a process that takes place in a series of steps. It requires careful planning at each stage and each step is equally important. There are many ways of breaking the training into components but from the point of view of the cognitive conception of learning, the task of planning a training course can be analysed into six steps.
Step 1: Conduct a needs assessment (know your audience).
Step 2: Formulate learning objectives.
Step 3: Develop an orientation basis or “road map” for the course.
Step 4: Develop the curriculum, establishing its contents and associated training methods and using a chart to outline your curriculum.
Step 5: Teach the course.
Step 6: Evaluate the course and follow up on the evaluation.
Practical Implementation of National TOT Courses
Based on the above-mentioned training approach and experience from the first pilot course, two national TOT courses were implemented in Africa, the one in Kenya in 1993 and the other in Ethiopia in 1994.
Training needs were based on the work activity of factory inspectors and were determined by means of a pre-workshop questionnaire and a discussion with the course participants about their everyday work and about the kinds of skills and competencies necessary to carry it out (see figure 1). The course has thus been designed primarily for factory inspectors (in our national TOT courses, usually 20 to 25 inspectors participated), but it could be extended to other personnel who may need to carry out safety and health training, such as shop stewards, foremen, and safety and health officers.
Figure 1. Orientation basis for the factory inspector's work activity.
A compilation of course objectives for the national TOT course was assembled step by step in cooperation with the participants, and is given immediately below.
Objectives of the national TOT course
The aims of the training of trainers (TOT) course are as follows:
The key subject areas or curriculum units that guided the implementation of the TOT course in Ethiopia are outlined in figure 2. This outline may also serve as an orientation basis for the whole TOT course.
Figure 2. The key subject areas of the TOT course.
Determining training methods
The external aspect of the teaching method is immediately observable when you step into a classroom. You might observe a lecture, a discussion, group or individual work. However, what you do not see is the most essential aspect of teaching: the kind of mental work being accomplished by the student at any given moment. This is called the internal aspect of the teaching method.
Teaching methods can be divided into three main groups:
Most of the above methods were used in our TOT courses. However, the method one selects depends on the learning objectives one wants to achieve. Each method or learning activity should have a function. These instructional functions, which are the activities of a teacher, correspond with the steps in the learning process described above and can help guide your selection of methods. There follows a list of the nine instructional functions:
Planning the curriculum: Charting your course
One of the functions of curriculum or course plan is to assist in guiding and monitoring the teaching and learning process. The curriculum can be divided into two parts, the general and the specific.
The general curriculum gives an overall picture of the course: its goals, objectives, contents, participants and guidelines for their selection, the teaching approach (how the course will be conducted) and the organizational arrangements, such as pre-course tasks. This general curriculum would usually be your course description and a draft programme or list of topics.
A specific curriculum provides detailed information on what one will teach and how one plans to teach it. A written curriculum prepared in chart form will serve as a good outline for designing a curriculum specific enough to serve as a guide in the implementation of the training. Such a chart includes the following categories:
Time: the estimated time needed for each learning activity
Curriculum Units: primary subject areas
Topics: themes within each curriculum unit
Instructional function: the function of each learning activity in helping to achieve your learning objectives
Activities: the steps for conducting each learning activity
Materials: the resources and materials needed for each activity
Instructor: the trainer responsible for each activity (when there are several trainers)
To design the curriculum with the aid of the chart format, follow the steps outlined below. Completed charts are illustrated in connection with a completed curriculum in Weinger 1993.
Evaluating the course and follow-up
The last step in the training process is evaluation and follow-up. Unfortunately, it is a step that is often forgotten, ignored and, sometimes, avoided. Evaluation, or the determination of the degree to which course objectives were met, is an essential component of training. This should include both programme critique (by the course administrators) and participant evaluation.
Participants should have an opportunity to evaluate the external factors of teaching: the instructor’s presentation skills, techniques used, facilities and course organization. The most common evaluation tools are post-course questionnaires and pre- and post-tests.
Follow-up is a necessary support activity in the training process. Follow-up activities should be designed to help the participants apply and transfer what they have learned to their jobs. Examples of follow-up activities for our TOT courses include:
Selection of trainers
Trainers were selected who were familiar with the cognitive learning approach and had good communication skills. During the pilot course in 1992 we used international experts who had been involved in development of this learning approach during the 1980s in Finland. In the national courses we have had a mixture of experts: one international expert, one or two regional experts who had participated in the first pilot course and two to three national resource persons who either had responsibility for training in their own countries or who had participated earlier in this training approach. Whenever it was possible, project personnel also participated.
Discussion and Summary
Factory training needs assessment
The factory visit and subsequent practice teaching are a highlight of the workshop. This training activity was used for workplace training needs assessment (curriculum unit VI A, figure 1). The recommendation here would be to complete the background on theory and methods prior to the visit. In Ethiopia, we scheduled the visit prior to addressing ourselves to the question of teaching methods. While two factories were looked at, we could have extended the time for needs assessment by eliminating one of the factory visits. Thus, visiting groups will visit and focus on only that factory where they will be actually training.
The risk mapping component of the workshop (this is also part of curriculum unit VI A) was even more successful in Ethiopia than in Kenya. The risk maps were incorporated in the practice teaching in the factories and were highly motivating for the workers. In future workshops, we would stress that specific hazards be highlighted wherever they occur, rather than, for example, using a single green symbol to represent any of a variety of physical hazards. In this way, the extent of a particular type of hazard is more clearly reflected.
The instructional methods focused on audio-visual techniques and the use of discussion starters. Both were quite successful. In a useful addition to the session on transparencies, the participants were asked to work in groups to develop a transparency of their own on the contents of an assigned article.
Flip charts and brainstorming were new teaching methods for participants. In fact, a flip chart was developed especially for the workshop. In addition to being an excellent training aid, the use of flip charts and “magic markers” is a very inexpensive and practical substitute for the overhead projector, which is unavailable to most inspectors in the developing countries.
“Microteaching”, or instruction in the classroom focusing on particular local problems, made use of videotape and subsequent critique by fellow participants and resource people, and was very successful. In addition to enhancing the working of external teaching methods, the taping was a good opportunity for comment on areas for improvement in content prior to the factory teaching.
A common error, however, was the failure to link discussion starters and brainstorm activities with the content or message of an activity. The method was perfunctorily executed, and its effect ignored. Other common errors were the use of excessively technical terminology and the failure to make the training relevant to the audience’s needs by using specific workplace examples. But the later presentations in the factory were designed to clearly reflect the criticisms that participants had received the day before.
Practice teaching in the factory
In their evaluation of the practice teaching sessions in the factory, participants were extremely impressed with the use of a variety of teaching methods, including audiovisuals, posters that they developed, flip charts, brainstorming, role plays, “buzz groups” and so on. Most groups also made use of an evaluation questionnaire, a new experience for them. Of particular note was their success in engaging their audiences, after having relied solely on the lecture method in the past. Common areas for improvement were time management and the use of overly technical terms and explanations. In the future, the resource persons should also try to ensure that all groups include the application and evaluation steps in the learning process.
Course planning as a training experience
During these two courses it was possible to observe significant changes in the participants’ understanding of the six steps in high quality learning.
In the last course a section on writing objectives, where each participant writes a series of instructional objectives, was added into the programme. Most participants had never written training objectives and this activity was extremely useful.
As for the use of the curriculum chart in planning, we have seen definite progress among all participants and mastery by some. This area could definitely benefit from more time. In future workshops, we would add an activity where participants use the chart to follow one topic through the learning process, using all of the instructional functions. There is still a tendency to pack the training with content material (topics) and to intersperse, without due consideration of their relevance, the various instructional functions throughout a series of topics. It is also necessary that trainers emphasize those activities that are chosen to accomplish the application step in the learning process, and that they acquire more practice in developing learners’ tasks. Application is a new concept for most and difficult to incorporate in the instructional process.
Finally the use of the term curriculum unit was difficult and sometimes confusing. The simple identification and ordering of relevant topic areas is an adequate beginning. It was also obvious that many other concepts of the cognitive learning approach were difficult, such as the concepts of orientation basis, external and internal factors in learning and teaching, instructional functions and some others.
In summary, we would add more time to the theory and curriculum development sections, as outlined above, and to the planning of future curriculum, which affords the opportunity of observing individual ability to apply the theory.
The ILO-FINNIDA African Safety and Health Project has undertaken a particularly challenging and demanding task: to change our ideas and old practices about learning and training. The problem with talking about learning is that learning has lost its central meaning in contemporary usage. Learning has come to be synonymous with taking in information. However, taking in information is only distantly related to real learning. Through real learning we re-create ourselves. Through real learning we become able to do something we were never able to do before (Senge 1990). This is the message in our Project’s new approach on learning and training.
Categories of Occupational Safety and Health Professionals Requiring Training and Education
The delivery of occupational safety and health services requires a highly-trained and multidisciplinary team. In a few less-developed countries, such a team may not exist, but in the vast majority of countries in the world, experts in different aspects of OSH are usually at least available though not necessarily in sufficient numbers.
The question of who belong to the categories of OSH professionals is fraught with controversy. Usually there is no dispute that occupational physicians, occupational nurses, occupational hygienists and safety professionals (sometimes referred to as safety practitioners) are OSH professionals. However, there are also members of many other disciplines who can make a plausible claim to belonging to the OSH professions. They include those ergonomists, toxicologists, psychologists and others who specialize in the occupational aspects of their subjects. For the purpose of this article, nevertheless, the training of these latter types of personnel will not be discussed, as the main focus of their training is often not on OSH.
In most countries, specific OSH training is of fairly recent origin. Until the Second World War, most OSH professionals received little or no formal training in their chosen calling. Few schools of public health or universities provided formal OSH courses, though some such institutions offered OSH as a subject in the context of a wider degree course, usually in public health. Segments of OSH were taught at the postgraduate level for physicians training in disciplines such as dermatology or respiratory medicine. Some engineering aspects of safety, such as machine guarding, were taught in technological and engineering schools. In most countries, even training in individual components of occupational hygiene courses were hard to find before the Second World War. The development of occupational nursing training is even more recent.
In the developed countries, OSH training received a boost during the Second World War, just as OSH services did. The mass mobilization of whole nations for the war effort led to greater emphasis on protecting the health of workers (and therefore their fighting capability or productivity with respect to the manufacturing of more munitions, warplanes, tanks and warships). At the same time, however, wartime conditions and the drafting of both university teachers and students into the armed forces made it extremely difficult to set up formal courses of OSH training. After the Second World War, however, many such courses were established, some with the help of the generous study grants for demobilized servicemen awarded by grateful governments.
After the Second World War, most colonies of European empires achieved independence and embarked upon the path of industrialization to a greater or lesser extent as a means to national development. Before long, such developing countries found themselves confronting the ills of the industrial revolution of nineteenth-century Europe, but within a much telescoped time span and on an unprecedented scale. Occupational accidents and diseases and environmental pollution became rampant. This led to the development of OSH training, although even today there are large variations in the availability of such training in these countries.
Review of Current International Initiatives
International Labour Organization (ILO)
There have been several initiatives of the ILO in recent years which relate to OSH training. Many of them relate to practical training for interventive measures at the worksite. Some other initiatives are carried out in collaboration with national governments (Rantanen and Lehtinen 1991).
Other ILO activities since the 1970s have been carried on largely in developing countries throughout the world. Several such activities relate to the upgrading of training of factory inspectors in countries such as Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, Tanzania, Thailand, and Zimbabwe.
The ILO, together with other United Nations agencies such as the United Nations Development Programme, has also assisted in the establishment or upgrading of national institutes of OSH, the training functions of which are usually among their top priorities.
The ILO has also produced several practical monographs which are very useful as training materials for OSH courses (Kogi, Phoon and Thurman 1989).
World Health Organization (WHO)
The WHO has held in recent years a number of important international and regional conferences and workshops on OSH training. In 1981, a conference entitled “Training of Occupational Health Personnel” was held under the auspices of the Regional Office for Europe of the WHO. In the same year, the WHO convoked with the ILO a Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health which focused on “educational and training in occupational health, safety and ergonomics” (WHO 1981). That meeting assessed the needs for education and training at different levels, developed policies in education and training and advised on methodology and programmes for education and training (WHO 1988).
In 1988 a WHO Study Group published a report entitled Training and Education in Occupational Health to address particularly the new policies on primary health care strategies adopted by the WHO member states, new needs resulting from technological developments and new approaches to health promotion at work (WHO 1988).
International Commission on Occupational Health (ICOH)
In 1985, the ICOH established a Scientific Committee on Education and Training in Occupational Health. This Committee has organized four international conferences as well as mini-symposia on the subject in the International Congresses on Occupational Health (ICOH 1987). Among the conclusions of the second conference, the need to develop training strategies and training methodologies received prominent mention in the list of priority issues (ICOH 1989).
A main feature of the third conference was the methodology of OSH training, including such functions as learning by participation, problem-based learning and evaluation of courses, teaching and students (ICOH 1991).
In different parts of the world, regional bodies have organized training activities in OSH. For example, the Asian Association of Occupational Health, established in 1954, has a Technical Committee in Occupational Health Education which conducts surveys on training of medical students and related subjects.
Types of Professional Programmes
Degree-granting and similar programmes
Probably the prototype of degree-granting and similar programmes is the sort which was developed in schools of public health or equivalent establishments. Higher education for public health is a relatively recent development. In the United States, the first school dedicated to this purpose was established in 1916 as the Institute of Hygiene at Johns Hopkins University. At that time, the overriding public health concerns centred around the communicable diseases. As time went on, education about the prevention and control of man-made hazards and about occupational health drew increasing emphasis in the training programmes of schools of public health (Sheps 1976).
Schools of public health offer OSH courses for a postgraduate diploma or for the degree of Master of Public Health, allowing students to concentrate in occupational health. Usually entry requirements include the possession of a tertiary educational qualification. Some schools insist upon relevant prior experience in OSH as well. The duration of training on a full-time basis is usually one year for the diploma and two years for the Master’s course.
Some of the schools train the different OSH personnel together in core courses, with training in the specific OSH disciplines (e.g., occupational medicine, hygiene or nursing) being offered to students specializing in these areas. This common training is probably a great advantage, as trainees of the different OSH disciplines could develop a greater understanding of each other’s functions and a better experience of team work.
Especially in recent years, schools of medicine, nursing and engineering have offered courses similar to those in schools of public health.
A few universities are offering OSH courses at the basic or undergraduate level. Unlike the traditional OSH tertiary courses, admission to which is usually dependent upon the acquisition of a previous degree, these newer courses admit students who have just graduated from high school. Much controversy still surrounds the merits of this development. Proponents of such courses argue that they produce more OSH professionals in less time and at lower cost. Their opponents argue that OSH practitioners are more effective if they build their OSH training on a basic discipline into which they integrate their special OSH practice, such as occupational medicine or nursing. Knowledge of basic sciences may be acquired at the specialization level if they have not been taught as part of undergraduate training.
Training courses in OSH for physicians vary in their clinical component. The conference, mentioned above, on the training of occupational health personnel organized by the WHO/Regional Office for Europe emphasized that “occupational medicine is fundamentally a clinical skill and its practitioners must be fully competent in clinical medicine”. It must also be stressed that the diagnosis of chemical intoxication among workers is largely clinical, as is the differentiation between “occupational disease” and other diseases and their management (Phoon 1986). It has become, therefore, a worldwide trend to insist upon postings to different clinics as part of the training of the occupational physician. In the United States and Canada, for example, trainees undergo a four-year residency programme which includes a substantial clinical component in such subjects as dermatology and respiratory medicine in addition to the curriculum required for the degree of Master of Public Health or its equivalent.
Formal training for occupational nurses probably varies even more in different parts of the world than that for occupational physicians. These differences hinge on the variations of responsibilities and functions of occupational nurses. Some countries define occupational health nursing as “the application of nursing principles in conserving the health of workers in all occupations. It involves prevention, recognition, and treatment of illness and injury and requires special skills and knowledge in the fields of health education and counselling, environmental health, rehabilitation and human relations” (Kono and Nishida 1991).On the other hand, other countries understand occupational nursing as the role of the nurse in an interdisciplinary occupational health team, who is expected to participate in all the fields of general health management, delivery of health services, environmental control, healthy and safe working procedures and OSH education. A survey in Japan showed, however, that not all the graduates from an occupational nursing staff took part in all these activities. This was probably due to a lack of understanding of the nurse’s role in OSH and to inadequate training in some of the fields (Kono and Nishida 1991).
The discipline of occupational hygiene has been defined by the American Industrial Hygiene Association as the science and art devoted to the recognition, evaluation and control of those environmental factors and stresses, arising in or from the workplace, which may cause sickness, impaired health and well-being, or significant discomfort and inefficiency among workers or among the citizens of the community. Speciality training has also emerged within the general field of occupational hygiene, including that in chemistry, engineering, noise, radiation, air pollution and toxicology.
Curricula for Occupational Safety and Health Personnel
The detailed contents of the curricula for the training of occupational physicians, nurses, hygienists and safety personnel, as recommended by the 1981 Joint ILO/WHO Committee an Occupational Health mentioned above will be represented in the pages to follow. As regards the main subject areas to be taught, the Committee recommends:
According to the profile of the personnel, the educational programmes will go more or less deeply into different subjects to meet the demands of the respective professions, as discussed below for several categories.
It is difficult to comment in detail what should go into the curricula of OSH courses. It is generally agreed that such courses should have a greater input of behavioural sciences than is now the case, but such input should be relevant to the sociocultural milieu of a particular country or region for which a course is designed. Moreover, OSH should not be taught in isolation from the general health services and the community health situation in a given country or region. The fundamentals of management science should be included in OSH curricula to improve the understanding of organizational structures and practices in enterprises as well as to enhance administrative skills of OSH professionals. The art of communication and the ability to conduct an investigation of OSH problems scientifically and to formulate solutions were also recommended for inclusion in all OSH curricula (Phoon 1985b).
Physicians and nurses
All medical students should be taught some occupational health. In some countries, there are separate courses; in others, occupational health is dealt with in such courses as physiology, pharmacology and toxicology, public health, social medicine and internal medicine. Nevertheless, medical students do not, as a rule, acquire sufficient knowledge and skill to allow them to practice occupational health independently, and some postgraduate training in occupational health and safety is necessary. For further specialization in occupational health (e.g., occupational diseases, or even more narrow fields, like occupational neurology or dermatology), postgraduate training programmes should be available. For nurses active in occupational health services, both long-term and short-term courses need to be organized, depending on their range of activities.
Figure 1. Postgraduate training syllabus for physicians and nurses.
Safety and health engineers and safety officers
The practice of occupational safety is concerned with such failures of materials, machines, processes and structures as may give rise to dangerous situations, including the release of harmful agents. The aim of education in this field is to enable students to foresee danger, both at the planning stage of projects and in existing situations, to quantify the danger and to design measures to combat it. Training in occupational safety involves the student in a substantial study of selected topics from engineering and materials science, particularly those related to mechanical, civil, chemical, electrical and structural engineering.
Separate curricular units would be concerned, for example, with the structure and strength of materials, in mechanical engineering; with forces in structures, in civil engineering; with handling and transportation of chemicals, in chemical engineering; with design standards, protective equipment and the theory of preventive maintenance, in electrical engineering; and with the behaviour of strata, in mining engineering.
Safety engineers, in addition to acquiring a basic knowledge, should also undergo a course of specialization. The 1981 Joint ILO/WHO Committee recommendations for a specialized safety engineering course of study are listed in figure 2.
Figure 2. A syllabus for specialization in safety engineering.
Courses can be either full-time, part-time or “sandwich courses”—in the lattermost case, periods of studying are interspersed with periods of practice. The selection of which courses to take is very much a matter of individual circumstances or preference. This is especially true since many safety practitioners have extensive knowledge gained through on-the-job experience in particular industries. However, within a large community or a country, there should preferably be a large range of choices to cater for all these different needs.
The recent enormous advances in communications technology should enable the greater usage of distance-learning courses which can be delivered both to remote areas of a country or even across national frontiers. Unfortunately, such technology is still quite expensive, and countries or areas which need such distance-learning capabilities most may be the very ones least able to afford them.
Primary health care practitioners
There is a severe shortage of OSH professionals in developing countries. In addition, among primary health care practitioners and health professionals as a whole, there is a tendency to direct their main activities to curative services. This should be counterbalanced with the help of appropriate training to emphasize the great value of instituting preventive measures at the workplace in collaboration with other responsible parties such as workers and managers. This would help, to a certain extent, to alleviate the problems caused by the present shortage of OSH personnel in developing countries (Pupo-Nogueira and Radford 1989).
A number of developing countries have recently embarked on short courses of OSH training for primary health care and public health personnel. There is a wide spectrum of organizations which have undertaken such training. They include national productivity boards (Phoon 1985a), farmers’ associations, national safety councils, national institutes of health, and professional bodies such as medical and nurses’ associations (Cordes and Rea 1989).
A scarcity of OSH professionals affects not only developing countries, but many developed ones as well. In the United States, one response to this problem took the form of a joint report by a preventive medicine and internal medicine study group that recommended that training programmes in internal medicine emphasize controls of hazards in the workplace and in the environment, since most patients seen by internists are members of the workforce. Furthermore, the American Academy of Family Physicians and the American Medical Association have published several monographs on occupational health for the family physician. A study by the American Institute of Medicine reaffirmed the role of the primary care physician in occupational health, outlined the basic skills required and emphasized the need to enhance occupational health activity in basic training and continuing education (Ellington and Lowis 1991). In both developed and developing countries, however, there is still an inadequate number of OSH training programmes for primary health care personnel and an insufficient number of trained personnel.
Training in the multidisciplinary nature of OSH can be enhanced by making sure that everyone who trains is fully familiar with the roles, activities and areas of concern of the other OSH personnel. In an OSH course in Scotland, for example, members of the different OSH professions participate in the teaching programme. The students are also provided with self-instruction packages designed to give them detailed knowledge of and insight into the different OSH professional areas. Extensive use is also made of experiential learning techniques such as role-playing simulations and participative case studies. For example, students are asked to complete personal checklists on how each particular area of occupational health activity is likely to affect them in their own work situations, and on how they can cooperate effectively with other occupational health professionals.
In the running of a multidisciplinary OSH course, a key element is the mix of learners of different professional backgrounds in the same class. The course material, such as group exercises and essays, must be carefully selected without any bias to a particular discipline. Lecturers must also receive training in the setting of multidisciplinary questions and problems (D’Auria, Hawkins and Kenny 1991).
In professional education as a whole, there is an increasing awareness of the need for continuing education. In the field of OSH, new knowledge concerning old hazards and new problems arising from changes in technology are developing so rapidly that no OSH practitioner could hope to keep up to date without making a systematic and constant effort to do so.
Continuing education in OSH can be formal or informal, voluntary or obligatory in order to maintain certification. It is essential for every OSH practitioner to keep up with reading the key professional journals, at least in his or her own disciplines. When a new hazard is encountered, it would be very useful to mount a literature search on that subject through a library. If such a library is unavailable, the CIS service of the ILO could be asked to undertake that service instead. Moreover, having continual and direct access to at least a few up-to-date texts on OSH is essential to any kind of OSH practice.
More formal kinds of continuing education could take the form of conferences, workshops, lectures, journal clubs or seminars. Usually tertiary institutions of learning or professional organizations can provide the means of delivery of such programmes. Whenever possible, there should be annual events in which a broader range of views or expertise could be canvassed than is usually available within the framework of a small community or town. Regional or international conferences or seminars can provide extremely useful opportunities for participants, not only to take advantage of the formal programme but also to exchange information with other practitioners or researchers outside the formal sessions.
Nowadays, more and more OSH professional organizations require members to attend a minimum number of continuing education activities as a condition for extension of certification or membership. Usually only the fact of attendance at approved functions is required. Attendance by itself is, of course, no guarantee that the participant has benefited from being present. Alternatives such as subjecting OSH professionals to regular examinations are also fraught with problems. Within a single OSH discipline, there is such a wide diversity of practice even within the same country that it is extremely difficult to devise an examination equitable to all the OSH practitioners concerned.
In every OSH training course there should be emphasis on the need for self-learning and its continuing practice. To this end, training in information retrieval and critical analysis of published literature is imperative. Training on the use of computers to facilitate obtaining of information from the many excellent OSH resources around the world would be also beneficial. Several courses have been developed in recent years to promote self-learning and information management through microcomputers (Koh, Aw and Lun 1992).
There is an increasing demand on the part of trainees and the community to ensure that curricula are constantly evaluated and improved. Many modern curricula are competency-based. A series of professional competencies required is first compiled. Since competence may be defined by different groups in different ways, extensive consultations on this matter should be held with faculty members and OSH practitioners (Pochyly 1973). In addition, there is a need for consultations with “consumers” (e.g., students, workers and employers), an inbuilt evaluation programme and well-defined but flexible educational objectives (Phoon 1988). Sometimes the establishment of advisory committees on curriculum or teaching programmes, which normally include faculty and student representatives, but sometimes also involve members of the general community, can provide a useful forum for such consultations.
Infrastructure is often ignored in discussions on OSH training and education. Yet supporting facilities and human resources such as computers, libraries, efficient administrative staff and procedures and safe and convenient access are among the host of infrastructure considerations which could be crucial to the success of training courses. Proper monitoring of students’ progress, counselling and assistance of students with problems, health care of students and their families (where indicated), minding of students’ children, canteen and recreational facilities and provision of lockers or cupboards for the storage of personal possessions of trainees are all important details which should receive careful attention.
Faculty Recruitment and Development
The quality and popularity of a training programme are often vital factors in determining the quality of staff applying for a vacant position. Obviously, other factors such as satisfactory service conditions and opportunities for career and intellectual development are also important.
Careful consideration should be given to job specifications and job requirements. Faculty should have the necessary OSH qualifications, though flexibility should be exercised to allow the recruitment of staff from non-OSH disciplines who may be able to make special contributions to teaching or especially promising applicants who may have the capability but not all the qualifications or experience normally required for the job. Whenever possible, faculty should have practical OSH experience.
After recruitment, it is the responsibility of the leadership and senior members of the school or department to make sure that new staff are given as much encouragement and opportunity to develop as possible. New staff should be inducted into the culture of the organization but also encouraged to express themselves and to participate in decision-making processes related to teaching and research programmes. Feedback should be given to them concerning their teaching performance in a sensitive and constructive manner. Whenever necessary, offers of help to remedy identified limitations should be given. Many departments have found the regular holding of teaching or evaluation workshops for staff to be extremely useful. Cross-postings to industries and sabbatical leave are other important measures for staff development. Some extent of consultancy work, which could be either clinical, worksite or laboratory (depending on the discipline and areas of activity of the faculty member) helps to make academic teaching more practical.
Classrooms should be designed and furnished according to appropriate ergonomic principles and equipped with audio-visual aid equipment and video projection facilities. The lighting and acoustics should be satisfactory. Access to an exit should be located in such a way as to minimize the disturbance of an ongoing class.
Proper principles of OSH should be applied to the design and construction of laboratories. Such safety equipment as showers, eye washing facilities, first aid supplies and resuscitation equipment and fume cupboards should be installed or made available where indicated, and laboratories should be bright, airy and odourless.
Venues for field visits should be chosen to provide a wide range of OSH experiences for the trainees. If possible, worksites with different levels of OSH standards should be chosen. However, on no account should the safety or health of trainees be compromised.
Locations for clinical work would very much depend on the nature and level of the training course. In some circumstances, bedside teaching may be indicated to demonstrate the appropriate clinical approach to skills in history taking. In some other circumstances, presentation of cases with or without patients could serve the same purpose.
Examinations and Assessment
The recent trend has been to seek alternatives to administering an all-important and single final examination at the end of a course. Some courses have abolished formal examinations altogether and replaced them with assignments or periodic assessments. Some other courses have a combination of such assignments and assessments, open book examinations and closed book examinations as well. It is nowadays increasingly understood that examinations or assessments are as much measures of the quality of courses and teachers as of the trainees.
A feedback of trainees’ opinions concerning the entire course or components thereof through questionnaires or discussions is invaluable in the evaluation or revision of a course. As far as possible, all courses should be constantly evaluated, at least on an annual basis, and revised if necessary.
Insofar as modes of examination are concerned, essay questions can test organization, integrating ability and writing skills. The precision and validity of essay examinations, however, have been found to be weak. Multiple-choice questions (MCQs) are less subjective, but good ones are difficult to formulate and do not allow a display of practical knowledge. Modified essay questions (MEQs) differ from essays or MCQs in that the candidate is presented with a progressive amount of information about a problem. It avoids cueing by requesting short-answer responses rather than presenting candidates with alternatives from which to choose the appropriate answer. Oral examinations can measure problem-solving skills, professional judgement, communication skills and ability to retain composure under stress. The main difficulty with the oral examination is the potential for so-called “lack of objectivity”. The oral examination can be made more reliable by imposing some structure on it (Verma, Sass-Kortsak and Gaylor 1991). Perhaps the best alternative is to use a battery of these different types of examination rather than to rely on one or two of them only.
Certification and Accreditation
The word certification usually refers to the conferment upon a professional of authorization to practise. Such certification could be conferred by a national board or a college or an institution of practitioners of an OSH discipline. Usually, the OSH professional is given certification only after fulfilling a stipulated period of training in connection with an approved course or positions and also upon passing an examination. In general, such “global certification” is valid for life, unless there is proven professional negligence or misconduct. However, there are other forms of accreditation which require periodic renewal. They include such accreditation as that required in some countries to either conduct special statutory medical examinations or to report on radiographs of asbestos-exposed persons.
Accreditation, on the other hand, refers to the recognition of OSH courses by a national board or professional organization or a scholarship-granting body. Such accreditation should be subject to periodic reappraisal to ensure that courses keep to an appropriate level of currency and effectiveness.
Following a brief review of the development of educational contributions to worker health and safety and of the first attempts to establish the foundations of management education, this article will address curriculum development. The two career paths along which future senior managers develop will be considered as an issue relevant to the educational needs of managers. The curriculum content for managerial issues will be set forth first, to be followed by that pertinent to an understanding of injury causation.
Education for occupational safety and health has been directed, in the main, to people such as safety managers and occupational physicians, and more recently, to occupational health nurses, ergonomists and hygienists—people who have been appointed to specialist staff positions in organizations.
The advisory roles of these specialists have incorporated tasks such as the administration of pre-employment medical examinations, health surveillance, monitoring employee exposures to a range of hazards and environmental examination. Their activities moreover include contributing to job and task design in order to adjust engineering or administrative controls by way of minimizing if not eliminating (for example) the harmful effects of postural demands or of exposure to toxic hazards.
This specialist-oriented educational approach has tended to ignore the central fact that the provision of safe and healthy workplaces requires an extraordinarily broad scope of operational knowledge necessary to make them a reality. It must be borne in mind that managers carry the responsibility for planning, organizing and controlling work activities in public and private enterprises across all industry sectors.
During the decade of the 1970s many initiatives were taken to offer study programmes at the tertiary level to provide a professional education with practical training for the range of specialist engineers, scientists and health care workers entering the field of occupational safety and health.
In the 1980s it was recognized that the people most directly concerned with occupational safety and health, the managers, the workers themselves and their associations, were the most significant entities in the move to reduce workplace injury and ill health. Legislation in many jurisdictions was introduced to provide education for workers serving on safety committees or as elected safety and health representatives. These changes highlighted for the first time the very limited education and training facilities then available to managers.
An early initiative to address management education
Several steps were taken to overcome this problem. The most widely known is Project Minerva, an initiative of the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), which represented an early effort to inculcate that body of specific managerial skills which is necessary to ensure workplace safety and which “generally exceeds that which is offered through courses in the traditional business curriculum” (NIOSH 1985). Teaching materials intended to address the more urgent safety and health concerns were provided for business schools. The resource guide comprised instructional modules, case studies and a book of readings. Module topics are listed in figure 1.
Figure 1. Modular curriculum content, Project Minerva resource guide.
The Canadian Society of Safety Engineers has recommended this structure to business schools seeking to incorporate occupational safety and health materials into their curricula.
Fundamentals of Managing: General Rather Than Specific Needs
Any job responsibility entails the acquisition of relevant knowledge and appropriate skills in order to discharge it. Responsibility for managing occupational safety and health within any organization will be placed increasingly upon line managers at each level in the job hierarchy. Associated with that responsibility ought to be commensurate accountability and the authority to command the necessary resources. The knowledge and skills needed to discharge this responsibility form the curriculum for occupational safety and health management education.
At first sight, it would seem necessary that a curriculum of this sort be developed with the aim of meeting all the special demands of the whole range of management functions as they relate to such a diversity of positions as office administrator, nurse manager, operations director, supplies and purchasing superintendent, fleet coordinator and even ship’s captain. The curricula need also, perhaps, address the whole range of industries and the occupations found within them. However, experience strongly suggests that this is not so. The necessary skills and knowledge are, in fact, common to all management functions and are more fundamental than those of the specialists. They are operative at the level of basic management expertise. However, not all managers arrive at their position of responsibility by taking similar paths.
Managerial Career Paths
The usual path to a managerial career is through either supervisory or specialist functions. In the former case, career development is dependent on work experience and job knowledge and in the latter it ordinarily presupposes off-the-job college education and postgraduate study, for example as an engineer or nurse manager. Both streams need to develop occupational safety and health (OSH) skills. For the latter this may be done in graduate school.
It is usual today for successful managers to acquire the degree of Master of Business Administration (MBA). For this reason the Minerva Project directed its attention to the 600 or more graduate management schools in the United States. By incorporating into MBA curricula such aspects of occupational safety and health as were determined to be critical for successful management of the field, it was believed that this material would be integrated into the formal studies of middle management.
Given the extremely high rate of technological invention and scientific discovery, undergraduate courses, particularly in engineering and scientific disciplines, have only limited opportunities to integrate broadly-based safety theory and practice into design, process and operation studies.
Since managerial roles begin fairly soon after graduation for those with specialist education, there is a need to provide the knowledge and skills that will support the safety and health responsibility of both specialist and generalist managers.
It is important that an awareness of the content of any curriculum devoted to occupational safety and health objectives among management be promoted among other personnel having related responsibilities. Thus, the training of such key employees as safety and health representatives should be designed to keep them current with such curricular developments.
Curriculum for Managing Occupational Safety and Health
There are two broad classes of knowledge into which the discipline of occupational safety and health falls. One is that relating to the functions and principles of management and the other deals with the nature and proactive control of hazards. The model of curriculum development set forth below will follow this division. Both the supervisory path to management and the specialist path will require their own particular coverage of each of these classes.
The question of what level of complexity and technological detail needs to be provided to students may be determined by the purpose of the course, its length and the intention of the providers regarding subsequent education and skills development. These issues will be addressed in a later section.
Specifically, curricula should address machinery and plant safety, noise, radiation, dust, toxic materials, fire, emergency procedures, medical and first aid arrangements, workplace and employee monitoring, ergonomics, environmental hygiene, workplace design and maintenance and, most importantly, the development of standard operating procedures and training. This last is an essential component of managerial understanding. Not only must tasks and processes be the subject of operator training but the requirement for continuous improvement of people and processes makes training and retraining the most critical step in improving the quality of both. Adult learning theory and practice needs to be applied in the development of the curricular materials that guide this continuing training process.
The functions and principles of management
The fundamental purposes of management embrace the planning, organizing and control of workplace activities. They also embrace the incorporation of practices which maximize opportunities for workforce participation in goal setting, team operation and quality improvement. Furthermore, successful management requires the integration of occupational safety and health into all the organization’s activities.
It is rare for undergraduate programmes, outside those of colleges of business, to cover any of this knowledge. However, it is a most essential component for the specialist practitioners to have incorporated into their undergraduate study.
The mission statement, strategic plan and structure set up to guide and facilitate the attainment of the organization’s objectives must be understood by the managers to be the basis for their individual activities. Each division of the organization whether it is a hospital, trucking business or coal mine, will in turn have its own goals and structure. Each will reflect the need to achieve organizational goals, and, taken together, will drive the organization towards them.
Policies and procedures
The primary embodiment of an organization’s goals are comprised by policy documents, the guides for individual employees on specific topics. (In some jurisdictions, the publication of an organization’s overall policy is required by law.) These documents ought to include reference to the range of occupational safety and health programmes designed with regard to the activities and processes which occupy the working time of employees. A sample of some general policy statements might include documents on emergency evacuation, fire fighting, purchasing procedures, injury reporting and accident and incident investigation. On the other hand, specific hazards will require their own process-specific policy materials concerning, for example, hazardous substances management, ergonomic interventions or entry into confined spaces.
After establishing policy, an activity preferably carried out with worker representative participation and union involvement, detailed procedures would then be put in place to give effect to them. Again, participative practices will contribute to the wholehearted acceptance of them by the workforce as a valuable contribution to their safety and health.
Figure 2. A health and safety management system.
Organizational structures defining key roles
The next stage in the management process is to define an organizational structure which characterizes the roles of key people—for example, the chief executive—and professional advisors such as safety advisors, occupational hygienists, the occupational health nurse, the physician and the ergonomist. In order to facilitate their roles, the relationships of these people and elected safety and health representatives (required in some jurisdictions) and worker members of safety committees to the organizational structure need to be explicit.
The planning and organizing functions of management will integrate structures, policies and procedures into the operational activities of the enterprise.
Control activities—establishing processes and goals, determining standards of acceptable achievement and measuring performance against those standards—are the operational steps which bring to realization the intentions of the strategic plan. They also need to be established through co-determination. The tools for control are workplace audits, which may be continuous, frequent, random or formal.
An understanding of these activities is an important component of a management education syllabus, and skills should be developed in carrying them out. Such skills are as essential to the success of an integrated safety and health plan as they are to the discharge of any other management function, whether purchasing or fleet operation.
Organizational development and curriculum
Since the introduction of new organizational structures, new equipment and new materials is occurring at a rapid pace, special attention must be given to the processes of change. The employees who will be affected by these changes can have a deciding influence on their effectiveness and on the efficiency of the work group. An understanding of the psychosocial factors influencing the activities of the organization must be acquired and skills must be developed in using this knowledge to reach organizational objectives. Of particular importance is the delegation of the authority and the accountability of the manager to work groups formed into autonomous or semi-autonomous work teams. The management education curriculum must place at the disposal of its students the tools necessary to carry out their obligation to ensure not only process improvement and quality but the development of the multiple skills and quality awareness of personnel with which the issue of safety is so closely involved.
There are two further components of the management curriculum requiring examination. One of these is the activity of incident investigation and the other, on which the whole of this activity rests, is an understanding of the accident phenomenon.
The accident phenomenon
The work of Derek Viner (1991) in clearly expounding the significance of energy sources as the potential hazards in all workplaces has defined half of the accident equation. In conjunction with Viner’s work, the contribution of Dr. Eric Wigglesworth (1972) in identifying human error, the crucial element in managing workplace safety activities, completes its definition. An emphasis on the process of each damaging occurrence has been shown by Benner (1985) when considering accident investigation methods to be the most productive approach to managing worker safety and health.
Wigglesworth’s visualization of the sequence of events which results in injury, damage and loss appears in figure 3. It highlights the role of nonculpable human error, as well as the essential element of loss of energy containment and the potential for the injury outcome where this occurs.
Figure 3. The error/injury process.
The implications of the model for management become clear when planning for work processes takes account of the behavioural inputs which affect those processes. This is so in particular when the role of design is given its rightful place as the initiating mechanism for both equipment and process development. When planning takes account both of the design of plant and equipment and of the human factors influencing work activity, coordination and control mechanisms can then be implemented to assure containment of the identified hazards.
A model may be used to illustrate the significance of the interaction between the worker, the equipment, tools and machines employed to further the task objectives and the environment within which the activity takes place. The model highlights the need to address factors within all three elements which may contribute to damaging events. Within the workstation environment, which encompasses the thermal, aural and lighting components, among others, the worker interacts with the tools and equipment necessary to get the work done (see figure 4).
Figure 4. Representation of workstation elements relevant to injury causation and control.
Accident investigation and analysis
Accident investigation serves a number of important functions. First, it can be a proactive process, being used in situations where an incident occurs which results in no damage or injury but where there is a potential for harm. Studying the sequence of events can uncover features of the work process which could lead to more serious consequences. Second, one may gain an understanding of the process by which the events unfolded and thus can identify the absence of, or weakness in, process or task design, training, supervision or controls over energy sources. Third, many jurisdictions legally require investigations of certain types of incidents, for example, scaffolding and trench collapses, electrocutions and failures of hoisting equipment. The work of Benner (1985) illustrates well the importance of having a clear understanding of the accident phenomenon and an effective protocol for investigating injury and damage events.
The nature and control of hazards
All injury results from some form of energy exchange. The uncontrolled release of physical, chemical, biological, thermal, or other forms of energy is a source of potential harm to a variety of workers. Containment by suitable engineering and administrative mechanisms is one essential aspect of suitable control. Identifying and evaluating these energy sources is a prerequisite for control.
A management education curriculum would thus contain topics covering a range of activities which includes establishing objectives, planning the work, developing policy and procedures, undertaking organizational change and installing controls over work processes (and specifically the energy sources utilized in carrying out that work), all aimed at injury prevention. While curricula designed for the technical areas of operations need address only fundamental principles, organizations that make use of very hazardous materials or processes must have in their employ a senior member of management with sufficient training in the specific modes of handling, storage and transport of such technology to ensure the safety and health of workers and members of the community.
Larger enterprises and small business
Managers who work in larger organizations employing, say, a hundred or more people usually have one or only a few functional responsibilities and report to a senior manager or a board of directors. They have occupational safety and health responsibility for their own subordinates and act within established policy guidelines. Their educational needs may be addressed by the formal programmes offered in business schools at the undergraduate or graduate level.
On the other hand, the sole managers or partners in small enterprises are less likely to have had graduate education, and, if they have, it is more likely to be of a technological than managerial sort, and it is more difficult to address their needs for the management of occupational health and safety.
Small business needs
Providing training programmes for these managers, who often work very long hours, has represented a difficulty of long standing. Although a number of large legislative jurisdictions have produced guidance booklets setting out minimum performance stands, the more promising approaches are being made available through industry associations, such as the Ontario Industrial Accident Prevention Associations funded by levies placed by the Workers’ Compensation Board upon all businesses in the given industrial sector.
A body of knowledge and skills which addresses the needs of managers at the first-line supervisory level, middle management and senior executives is outlined in figure 5 by topic. Individual short-form syllabuses follow in figure 6. These have been collated from the syllabuses of a number of university graduate study programmes.
Figure 5. Syllabus for an OSH study programme.
The needs of first-line supervisors will be met through the acquisition of knowledge and skills covered by those topics that relate to operational demands. The training of senior executives will concentrate on such topics as strategic planning, risk management and compliance matters as well as initiating policy proposals. The allocation of hours for each course of study should reflect student needs.
Management education for occupational safety and health demands an eclectic approach to the broadest range of issues. It shares with quality the imperative of being integrated into every management and worker activity, into every employee’s job description and should be a part of the performance appraisal of all.
The articles in this chapter have thus far concentrated on training and education regarding workplace hazards. Environmental education serves multiple purposes and is a useful complement to occupational safety and health training. Worker education is a critical and often overlooked aspect of a broad and effective environmental protection strategy. Environmental issues are frequently viewed as purely technological or scientific matters that stand outside the purview of workers. Yet worker knowledge is critical to any effective environmental solutions. Workers are concerned as citizens and as employees about environmental matters because the environment shapes their lives and affects their communities and families. Even when technological solutions are required that use new hardware, software or process approaches, worker commitment and competence are necessary for their effective implementation. This is true for workers whether involved directly in environmental industries and occupations or in other kinds of jobs and industrial sectors.
Worker education can also provide a conceptual foundation to enhance workers’ participation in environmental improvement, health and safety protection, and organizational improvement. The UNEP Industry and Environment Programme notes that “many companies have found that worker involvement in environmental improvement can yield important benefits” (UNEP 1993). The Cornell Work and Environment Initiative (WEI) in a study of US enterprises found that intense worker participation yielded triple the source reduction of technical or external solutions alone and boosted yields of some technological approaches even higher (Bunge et al. 1995).
Worker environmental education comes in a variety of forms. These include trade union awareness and education, occupational training and orientation, connecting environment to workplace health and safety concerns and broad awareness as citizens. Such education occurs in a range of venues including worksites, trade union halls, classrooms and study circles, using both traditional and newer computer-based delivery systems. It is fair to say that workers’ environmental education is an underdeveloped field, especially in comparison with managerial and technical training and school-based environmental education. At the international level, education of front-line workers is often mentioned in passing and is overlooked when it comes to implementation. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has commissioned a series of studies on the educational dimension of environmental protection, and in its next programme of work will directly look at the shop-floor workers and their environmental educational needs.
What follows are several examples gathered through the WEI at Cornell University that illustrate both practice and possibility in worker environmental education.The WEI is a network of managers, trade unionists, environmentalists and government policy officials from 48 countries in all parts of the world, committed to finding ways that workers and the workplace can contribute to environmental solutions. It addresses a wide range of industries from primary extraction to production, service and public-sector enterprises. It provides a means for education and action on environmental matters that seeks to build knowledge at the workplace and in academic institutions that can lead to cleaner and more productive workplaces and better connection between internal and external environments.
Australia: Eco-Skills Modules
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has developed new approaches to workers’ education for the environment that provides both broad social awareness and specific competencies for employment, especially among young workers.
The ACTU has organized an Environment Training Company with a broad mandate to address a variety of sectors but with an initial focus on land management issues. This focus includes teaching ways to handle reclamation work safely and effectively but also ways to assure compatibility with indigenous peoples and natural environments. With input from trade unionists, environmentalists and employers, the training company developed a set of “Eco-Skills” modules to establish basic environmental literacy among workers from an array of industries. These are integrated with a set of skill competencies that are technical, social and safety oriented.
Eco-Skills modules 1 and 2 contain a broad base of environmental information. They are taught alongside other entry-level training programmes. Levels 3 and higher are taught to people who specialize in work focused on reduction of environmental impacts. The first two Eco-Skills modules are composed of two forty-hour sessions. Trainees attain skills through lectures, group problem-solving sessions and practical hands-on techniques. Workers are assessed through written and oral presentations, group work and role plays.
Concepts covered in the sessions include an introduction to the principles of ecologically sustainable development, efficient resource use and cleaner production and environmental management systems. Once Module 1 is completed workers should be able to:
Module 2 expands upon these initial objectives and prepares workers to begin applying pollution prevention and resource conservation methods.
Some industries are interested in connecting environmental impact skills and knowledge to their industry standards at every level. Awareness of environmental issues would be reflected in the day-to-day work of all industry workers at all skill levels. An incentive for workers lies in the fact that pay rates are linked to industry standards. The Australian experiment is in its infancy, but it is a clear attempt to work with all parties to develop competency-based activities that lead to increased and safer employment while enhancing environmental performance and awareness.
Linking Occupational Health and Safety and Environmental Training
One of the most active unions in the United States in environmental training is the Laborers International Union of North American (LIUNA). US government regulations require that hazardous-waste abatement workers receive 40 hours of training. The union along with participating contractors have developed an intensive 80-hour course designed to provide potential hazardous-waste workers with greater awareness of safety and the industry. In 1995, over 15,000 workers were trained in lead, asbestos and other hazardous-waste abatement and other environmental remediation work. The Laborers–Associated General Contractors programme has developed 14 environmental remediation courses and associated train-the-trainer programmes to assist nationwide efforts at safe and quality remediation. These are conducted at 32 training sites and four mobile units.
In addition to providing safety and technical training, the programme encourages participants to think about larger environmental issues. As part of their classwork, trainees gather materials from local papers on environmental issues and use this local connection as an opening to discuss broader environmental challenges. This joint environmental training fund employs a full-time equivalent staff of 19 at its central office and spends over US$10 million. The materials and training methods meet high quality standards with extensive use of audio-visual and other training aids, specific competency focus, and quality commitment and assessment built in throughout the curricula. A “learn-at-home” video is used to help meet literacy concerns and environmental and basic literacy training are connected. For those who desire it, six of the courses are transferable into college credit. The programme is active in serving minority communities, and over half of the participants come from minority population groups. Additional programmes are developed in partnership with minority consortiums, public housing projects and other training providers.
The union understands that a great deal of its future membership will come in environmentally related businesses and sees the development of worker education programmes as building the foundation for that growth. While both safety and productivity are better on jobs using trained workers, the union also sees the broader impact:
The most interesting impact environmental training has had on members is their increased respect for chemicals and harmful substances in the workplace and at home. … Awareness is also increasing with respect to the consequences of continued pollution and the cost involved with cleaning up the environment. … The true impact is much greater than just preparing people for work (LIUNA 1995).
In the United States, such hazardous-materials training is also conducted by the Operating Engineers; Painters; Carpenters; Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers; Chemical Workers Union; Machinists; Teamsters; Ironworkers and Steelworkers.
LIUNA is also working internationally with the Mexican Confederation of Workers (CTM), federal and private training groups and employers to develop training methodologies. The focus is on training Mexican workers in environmental remediation work and construction skills. The Inter-American Partnership for Environmental Education and Training (IPEET) held its first training course for Mexican workers during the summer of 1994 in Mexico City. A number of labour leaders and workers from local industries, including paint manufacturing and metal plating, attended the one-week course on environmental safety and health. Other LIUNA partnerships are being developed in Canada with French editions of the materials and “Canadianization” of the content. The European Institute for Environmental Education and Training is also a partner for similar training in Eastern European and CIS countries.
Zambia: Educational Manual on Occupational Health and Safety
In Zambia, too often occupational health and safety is taken seriously only when there is an incident involving injury or damage to company property. Environmental issues are also ignored by industry. The Manual on Occupational Health and Safety was written in an effort to educate employees and employers on the importance of occupational health and safety issues.
The first chapter of this manual outlines the importance of education at all levels in a company. Supervisors are expected to understand their role in creating safe, healthy working conditions. Workers are taught how maintaining a positive, cooperative attitude relates to their own safety and work environment.
The manual specifically addresses environmental issues, noting that all major towns in Zambia face
threats of increasing environmental damage. In specific, the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) identified environmental hazards in the mining industry through strip mining and air and water pollution that results from poor practices. Many factories are responsible for air and water pollution because they discharge their waste directly into nearby streams and rivers and allow smoke and fumes to escape unchecked into the atmosphere (ZCTU 1994).
Though many African trade unions are interested in further education on the environment, lack of adequate funding for worker education and the need for materials that link environmental, community and workplace hazards are major barriers.
Employer-Based Worker Environmental Education and Training
Employers, especially larger ones, have extensive environmental education activities. In many cases, these are mandated training linked to occupational or environmental safety requirements. However, an increasing number of companies recognize the power of broad worker education that goes well beyond compliance training. The Royal Dutch/Shell Group of companies have made health, safety and environment (HSE) part of their overall approach to training, and environment is an integral part of all management decisions (Bright and van Lamsweerde 1995). This is a global practice and mandate. One of the company’s goals is to define HSE competencies for appropriate jobs. Worker competence is developed through improved awareness, knowledge and skill. Appropriate training will increase worker awareness and knowledge, and skills will develop as new knowledge is applied. A wide range of delivery techniques helps share and reinforce the environmental message and learning.
At Duquesne Light in the United States, all 3,900 employees were successfully trained “on how the company and its employees actually affect the environment.” William DeLeo, Vice-President of Environmental Affairs said:
To develop a training programme that enabled us to meet out strategic objectives we determined that our employees needed a general awareness of the importance of environmental protection as well as specific technical training relative to their job responsibilities. These two points became the guiding strategy for our environmental education program (Cavanaugh 1994).
Worker and Union-Based Environmental Education Programmes
The Workers’ Education Branch of the ILO has developed a six-booklet set of background materials to spark discussion among trade unionists and others. The booklets address workers and the environment, the workplace and the environment, the community and the environment, world environmental issues, the new bargaining agenda, and provide a guide to resources and a glossary of terms. They provide a broad, insightful and easy-to-read approach that can be used in both developing and industrial countries to discuss topics relevant to workers. The materials are based on specific projects in Asia, the Caribbean and Southern Africa, and can be used as a whole text or can be separated in a study circle format to promote general dialogue.
The ILO in a review of training needs pointed out:
Trade unionists must increase their awareness about environmental concerns in general and the impact their employing firms are having on the environment, including the safety and health of their workers, in particular. Trade unions and their members need to understand environmental issues, the consequences that environmental hazards have on their members and the community at large, and be able to develop sustainable solutions in their negotiations with company management and employers’ organizations. (ILO 1991.)
The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions has observed:
Local trade unions and other employee representatives are in a particularly difficult situation. They will have the relevant knowledge of the local situation and the workplace but will, in most cases, not be sufficiently specialised in complex environmental and strategic issues.
They will, therefore, be unable to exercise their functions unless they received additional and specialised training. (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions 1993.)
A number of national unions have urged increased workers’ education on the environment. Included among them is the LO in Sweden, whose 1991 Environmental Programme called both for more education and action at the workplace and for additional study circle material on the environment to promote awareness and learning. The Manufacturing Workers Union in Australia has developed a training course and set of materials to assist the union in providing environmental leadership, including how to address environmental issues through collective bargaining.
Good worker-based environmental education provides both conceptual and technical information to workers that assists them in increasing environmental awareness and in learning concrete ways to change work practices that are damaging to the environment. These programmes also learn from workers at the same time to build on their awareness, reflection and insight about workplace environmental practice.
Workplace environmental education is best done when it is connected to community and global environmental challenges so that workers have a clear idea of how the ways they work are connected to the overall environment and how they can contribute to a cleaner workplace and global ecosystem.
The term environmental education covers a potentially wide range of issues and activities when applied to employees, managers and workplaces. These encompass:
This article focuses on the state of worker training and education in the United States in the growing environmental remediation field. It is not an exhaustive treatment of environmental education, but rather an illustration of the link between occupational safety and health and the environment and of the changing nature of work in which technical and scientific knowledge has become increasingly important in such traditional “manual” trades as construction. “Training” refers in this context to shorter-term programmes organized and taught by both academic and non-academic institutions. “Education” refers to programmes of formal study at accredited two-year and four-year institutions. Currently a clear career path does not exist for individuals with interest in this field. The development of more defined career paths is one goal of the National Environmental Education and Training Center, Inc. (NEETC) at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, a wide range of education and training programmes exist at different levels, offered by a variety of academic and non-academic institutions. A survey of the institutions involved in this type of training and education formed the source material for the original report from which this article was adapted (Madelien and Paulson 1995).
A 1990 study conducted by Wayne State University (Powitz et al. 1990) identified 675 separate and distinct noncredit short courses for hazardous waste worker training at colleges and universities, offering over 2,000 courses nationwide each year. However, this study did not cover some of the primary providers of training, namely community college programmes, US Occupational Safety and Health Administration training programmes and independent firms or contractors. Thus, the Wayne State number could probably be doubled or tripled to estimate the number of noncredit, noncertification course offerings available in the United States today.
The major government-funded training programme in environmental remediation is that of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). This program, established under the Superfund legislation in 1987, provides grants to non-profit organizations with access to appropriate worker populations. Recipients include labour unions; university programmes in labour education/labour studies and public health, health sciences and engineering; community colleges; and non-profit-making safety and health coalitions, known as COSH groups (Committees on Occupational Safety and Health). Many of these organizations operate in regional consortia. The target audiences include:
The NIEHS program has resulted in extensive curriculum and materials development and innovation, which has been characterized by considerable sharing and synergy among grantees. The programme funds a national clearinghouse which maintains a library and curriculum centre and publishes a monthly newsletter.
Other government funded programmes offer short courses targeting hazardous waste industry professionals as opposed to front-line remedial workers. Many of these programmes are housed in university Educational Resource Centers funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The broadest change on the hazardous waste education and training landscape in the past few years is the dramatic development of community college programmes and consortia to improve vocational education at the associate’s degree level. Since the 1980s, community colleges have been doing the most organized and extensive curriculum development work in secondary education.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has funded programmes nationwide to provide for a trained workforce at sites where the need has changed from nuclear technicians to hazardous waste clean-up workers. This training is taking place most rigorously at community colleges, many of which have historically provided for personnel needs at specific DOE sites. DOE-funded programmes at community colleges have also given rise to major efforts in curriculum development and consortia for sharing information. Their goals are to establish more consistent and higher standards of training and to provide mobility for the workforce, enabling an individual trained to work at a site in one part of the country to move to another site with minimal retraining requirements.
Several consortia of community colleges are advancing curricula in this area. The Partnership for Environmental Technology Education (PETE) operates in six regions. PETE is working with the University of Northern Iowa to create a world-class network of community college environmental programmes, linked with high schools, that inform and prepare students for entry into these two-year degree programmes. The goals include the development of (1) nationally validated curriculum models, (2) comprehensive professional development programmes and (3) a national clearinghouse for environmental education.
The Hazardous Materials Training and Research Institute (HMTRI) serves the curriculum development, professional development, print and electronic communications needs of 350 colleges with two-year environmental technologies credit programmes. The Institute develops and distributes curricula and materials and implements educational programmes at its own Environmental Training Center at Kirkwood Community College in Iowa, which has extensive classroom, laboratory and simulated field site facilities.
The Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD) provides national leadership in the US Department of Education’s Tech Prep/Associate Degree initiative. The Tech Prep program requires coordination between secondary and post-secondary institutions to give students a solid foundation for a career pathway and the world of work. This activity has led to the development of several contextual, experiential student texts in basic science and mathematics, which are designed for students to learn new concepts in relationship to existing knowledge and experience.
CORD has also played a significant role in the Clinton administration’s national educational initiative, “Goals 2000: Educate America”. In recognition of the need for qualified entry-level personnel, the initiative provides for the development of occupational skills standards. (“Skills standards” define the knowledge, skills, attitudes and level of ability necessary to successfully function in specific occupations.) Among the 22 skills standards development projects funded under the programme is one for hazardous materials management technology technicians.
Articulation between vocational and baccalaureate programmes
A continuing problem has been the poor linkage between two-year and four-year institutions, which hampers students who wish to enter engineering programmes after completing associate’s (two-year) degrees in hazardous/radioactive waste management. However, a number of community college consortia have begun to address this problem.
The Environmental Technology (ET) consortium is a California community college network that has completed articulation agreements with four four-year colleges. The establishment of a new job classification, “environmental technician”, by the California Environmental Protection Agency provides added incentive for graduates of the ET program to continue their education. An ET certificate represents the entry level requirement for the environmental technician position. Completion of an associate’s degree makes the employee eligible for promotion to the next job level. Further education and work experience allows the worker to progress up the career ladder.
The Waste-management Education and Research Consortium (WERC), a consortium of New Mexico schools, is perhaps the most advanced model which attempts to bridge gaps between vocational and traditional four-year education. Consortium members are the University of New Mexico, the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, New Mexico State University, Navajo Community College, Sandia Laboratory and Los Alamos Laboratories. The approach to curriculum transfer has been an interactive television (ITV) program in distance learning, which takes advantage of the varied strengths of the institutions.
Students enrolled in the environmental programme are required to take 6 hours of courses from the other institutions through distance learning or an offsite semester of coursework. The programme is decidedly inter-disciplinary, combining a minor in hazardous materials/waste management with a major from another department (political science, economics, pre-law, engineering or any of the sciences). The programme is “both broad and narrow” in focus, in that it recognizes a need to develop students with both a broad knowledge base in their field and some specific training in hazardous materials and hazardous waste management. This unique programme couples student participation in realistic applied research and industry-led curriculum development. The courses for the minor are very specific and take advantage of the particularized specialties at each school, but each program, including the associate degree, has a large core requirement in humanities and social sciences.
Another unique feature is the fact that the four-year schools offer two-year associate’s degrees in radioactive and hazardous materials technology. The two-year associate’s degree in environmental science offered at the Navajo Community College includes courses in Navajo history and substantial courses in communications and business, as well as technical courses. A hands-on laboratory has also been developed on the Navajo Community College campus, an unusual feature for a community college and part of the consortium’s commitment to hands-on laboratory learning and technology development/applied research. The WERC member institutions also offer a “non-degree” certificate programme in waste management studies, which seems to be above and beyond the 24-hour and 40-hour courses offered at other colleges. It is for individuals who already have a bachelor’s or graduate degree and who further wish to take advantage of seminars and specialty courses at the universities.
Several significant changes have taken place in the focus of education and training related to the hazardous waste industry in the past few years, in addition to the proliferation of short-course training programmes and traditional engineering programmes. Overall, the Department of Energy seems to have focused education at the community college level on workforce retraining, primarily through the Partnership for Environmental Technology Education (PETE), the Waste-management Education and Research Consortium (WERC) and other consortia like them.
There is a major gap between vocational training and traditional education in the environmental field. Because of this gap, there is not a clear, routine career path for hazardous waste workers, and it is difficult for these workers to advance in industry or government without classic technical degrees. Although inter-departmental options for education at a management level are being established within economics, law and medicine departments which recognize the breadth of the environmental industry, these are still academic-based professional degrees which miss a large part of the available and experienced workforce.
As the environmental clean-up industry matures, the long-term needs of the workforce for more balanced training and education and a well-developed career path become more clear. The large numbers of displaced workers from closed military sites means more people are entering the environmental workforce from other fields, making the demand on union training and placement of displaced workers (both discharged military personnel and displaced civilian personnel) even greater than before. Educational programmes are needed which meet both the needs of personnel entering the industry and of industry itself for a more balanced and better-educated workforce.
Since labour union members are one of the main groups poised to enter the hazardous waste clean-up and environmental remediation field, it would seem that labour studies and industrial relations departments might be logical entities to develop degree programmes that incorporate a hazardous waste/environmental curriculum with development of labour/management skills.
Until very recently the effectiveness of training and education in controlling occupational health and safety hazards was largely a matter of faith rather than systematic evaluation (Vojtecky and Berkanovic 1984-85; Wallerstein and Weinger 1992). With the rapid expansion of intensive federally-funded training and education programmes in the past decade in the United States, this has begun to change. Educators and researchers are applying more rigorous approaches to evaluating the actual impact of worker training and education on outcome variables such as accident, illness and injury rates and on intermediate variables such as the ability of workers to identify, handle and resolve hazards in their workplaces. The programme that combines chemical emergency training as well as hazardous waste training of the International Chemical Workers Union Center for Worker Health and Safety Education provides a useful example of a well-designed programme which has incorporated effective evaluation into its mission.
The Center was established in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1988 under a grant which the International Chemical Workers Union (ICWU) received from the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences to provide training for hazardous waste and emergency response workers. The Center is a cooperative venture of six industrial unions, a local occupational health centre and a university environmental health department. It adopted an empowerment education approach to training and defines its mission broadly as:
… promoting worker abilities to solve problems and to develop union-based strategies for improving health and safety conditions at the worksite (McQuiston et al. 1994).
To evaluate the programme’s effectiveness in this mission the Center conducted long-term follow-up studies with the workers who went through the programme. This comprehensive evaluation went considerably beyond the typical assessment which is conducted immediately following training, and measures trainees’ short-term retention of information and satisfaction with (or reaction to) the education.
Programme and Audience
The course that was the subject of evaluation is a four or five-day chemical emergency/hazardous waste training programme. Those attending the courses are members of six industrial unions and a smaller number of management personnel from some of the plants represented by the unions. Workers who are exposed to substantial releases of hazardous substances or who work with hazardous waste less proximately are eligible to attend. Each class is limited to 24 students so as to promote discussion. The Center encourages local unions to send three or four workers from each site to the course, believing that a core group of workers is more likely than an individual to work effectively to reduce hazards when they return to the workplace.
The programme has established interrelated long-term and short-term goals:
Long-term goal: for workers to become and remain active participants in determining and improving the health and safety conditions under which they work.
Immediate educational goal: to provide students with relevant tools, problem-solving skills, and the confidence needed to use those tools (McQuiston et al. 1994).
In keeping with these goals, instead of focusing on information recall, the programme takes a “process oriented” training approach which seeks “to build self-reliance that stresses knowing when additional information is needed, where to find it, and how to interpret and use it.” (McQuiston et al. 1994.)
The curriculum includes both classroom and hands-on training. Instructional methods emphasize small group problem-solving activities with the active participation of the workers in the training. The development of the course also employed a participatory process involving rank-and-file safety and health leaders, programme staff and consultants. This group evaluated initial pilot courses and recommended revisions of the curriculum, materials and methods based on extensive discussions with trainees. This formative evaluation is an important step in the evaluation process that takes place during programme development, not at the end of the programme.
The course introduces the participants to a range of reference documents on hazardous materials. Students also develop a “risk chart” for their own facility during the course, which they use to evaluate their plant’s hazards and safety and health programmes. These charts form the basis for action plans which create a bridge between what the students learn at the course and what they decide needs to be implemented back in the workplace.
The Center conducts anonymous pre-training and post-training knowledge tests of participants to document increased levels of knowledge. However, to determine the long-term effectiveness of the programme the Center uses telephone follow-up interviews of students 12 months after training. One attendee from each local union is interviewed while every manager attendee is interviewed. The survey measures outcomes in five major areas:
The most recent published results of this evaluation are based on 481 union respondents, each representing a distinct worksite, and 50 management respondents. The response rates to the interviews were 91.9% for union respondents and 61.7% for management.
Results and Implications
Use of resource materials
Of the six major resource materials introduced in the course, all except the risk chart were used by at least 60% of the union and management trainees. The NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards and the Center’s training manual were the most widely used.
Training of co-workers
Almost 80% of the union trainees and 72% of management provided training to co-workers back at the worksite. The average number of co-workers taught (70) and the average length of training (9.7 hours) were substantial. Of special significance was that more than half of the union trainees taught managers at their worksites. Secondary training covered a wide range of topics, including chemical identification, selection and use of personal protective equipment, health effects, emergency response and use of reference materials.
Obtaining worksite improvements
The interviews asked a series of questions related to attempts to improve company programmes, practices and equipment in 11 different areas, including the following seven especially important ones:
The questions determined whether respondents felt changes were needed and, if so, whether improvements had been made.
In general, union respondents felt greater need for and attempted more improvements than management, although the degree of difference varied with specific areas. Still fairly high percentages of both unions and management reported attempted improvements in most areas. Success rates over the eleven areas ranged from 44 to 90% for unionists and from 76 to 100% for managers.
Questions concerning spills and releases were intended to ascertain whether attendance at the course had changed the way spills were handled. Workers and managers reported a total of 342 serious spills in the year following their training. Around 60% of those reporting spills indicated that the spills were handled differently because of the training. More detailed questions were subsequently added to the survey to collect additional qualitative and quantitative data. The evaluation study provides workers’ comments on specific spills and the role the training played in responding to them. Two examples are quoted below:
Following training the proper equipment was issued. Everything was done by the books. We have come a long way since we formed a team. The training was worthwhile. We don’t have to worry about the company, now we can judge for ourselves what we need.
The training helped by informing the safety committee about the chain of command. We are better prepared and coordination through all departments has improved.
The great majority of union and management respondents felt that they are “much better” or “somewhat better” prepared to handle hazardous chemicals and emergencies as a result of the training.
This case illustrates many of the fundamentals of training and education programme design and evaluation. The goals and objectives of the educational programme are explicitly stated. Social action objectives regarding workers’ ability to think and act for themselves and advocate for systemic changes are prominent along with the more immediate knowledge and behaviour objectives. The training methods are chosen with these objectives in mind. The evaluation methods measure the achievement of these objectives by discovering how the trainees applied the material from the course in their own work environments over the long term. They measure training impact on specific outcomes such as spill response and on intermediate variables such as the extent to which training is passed on to other workers and how course participants use resource materials.
Worker training in occupational safety and health may serve many different purposes. Too often, worker training is viewed only as a way to comply with governmental regulations or to reduce insurance costs by encouraging individual workers to follow narrowly defined safe work behaviours. Worker education serves a far broader purpose when it seeks to empower workers to take an active part in making the workplace safe, rather than simply to encourage worker compliance with management safety rules.
Over the past two decades, there has been a move in many countries toward the concept of broad worker involvement in safety and health. New regulatory approaches rely less on government inspectors alone to enforce safety and health on the job. Labour unions and management are increasingly encouraged to collaborate in promoting safety and health, through joint committees or other mechanisms. This approach requires a skilled and well-informed workforce that can interact directly with management on issues of safety and health.
Fortunately, there are many international models for training workers in the full range of skills necessary to participate broadly in workplace health and safety efforts. These models have been developed by a combination of labour unions, university-based labour education programmes and community-based non-governmental organizations. Many innovative worker training programmes were developed originally with financing from special government grant programmes, union funds or employer contributions to collectively bargained safety and health funds.
These participatory worker training programmes, designed in a variety of national settings for diverse worker populations, share a general approach to training. The educational philosophy is based on sound adult education principles and draws upon the empowerment philosophy of “popular education”. This article describes the educational approach and its implications for designing effective worker training.
Two disciplines have influenced the development of labour-oriented safety and health education programmes: the field of labour education and, more recently, the field of “popular” or empowerment education.
Labour education began simultaneously with the trade union movement in the 1800s. Its early goals were directed towards social change, that is, to promote union strength and the integration of working people into political and union organizing. Labour education has been defined as a “specialized branch of adult education that attempts to meet the educational needs and interests arising out of workers’ participation in the union movement”. Labour education has proceeded according to well-recognized principles of adult learning theory, including the following:
Since the beginning of the 1980s, worker safety and health training has also been influenced by the perspective of “popular” or “empowerment” education. Popular education since the 1960s has developed largely from the philosophy of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. It is an approach to learning that is participatory and is based on the reality of student/worker experiences in their worksites. It fosters dialogue between educators and workers; critically analyses the barriers to change, such as organizational or structural causes of problems; and has worker action and empowerment as its goals. These tenets of popular education incorporate the basic principles of adult education, yet stress the role of worker action in the educational process, both as a goal to improve worksite conditions and as a mechanism for learning.
Participatory education in an empowerment context is more than small group activities that involve students/workers in active learning within the classroom. Participatory popular education means students/workers have the opportunity to acquire analytic and critical thinking skills, practice social action skills and develop the confidence to develop strategies for the improvement of the work environment long after the education sessions end.
Design of Education Programmes
It is important to realize that education is a continuing process, not a one-time event. It is a process that requires careful and skilful planning though each major stage. To implement a participatory education process that is based on sound adult education principles and that empowers workers, certain steps must be taken for planning and implementing participatory worker education which are similar to those used in other training programmes (see “Principles of Training”), but require special attention to meeting the goal of worker empowerment:
Step one: Assess needs
Needs assessment forms the foundation for the entire planning process. A thorough needs assessment for worker training includes three components: a hazards assessment, a profile of the target population and background on the social context of training. The hazards assessment is aimed at identifying high-priority problems to be addressed. The target population profile attempts to answer a broad set of questions about the workforce: Who can most benefit from training? What training has the target population already received? What knowledge and experience will the trainees bring to the process? What is the ethnic and gender makeup of the workforce? What is the literacy level of the workers and what languages do they speak? Whom do they respect and whom do they mistrust? Finally, gathering information on the social context of training allows the trainer to maximize the impact of training by looking at the forces that may support improved safety and health conditions (such as strong union protection that allow workers to speak out freely about hazards) and those that may pose barriers (such as productivity pressures or lack of job security).
Needs assessment can be based on questionnaires, review of documents, observations made in the workplace and interviews with workers, their union representatives and others. The popular education approach utilizes an ongoing “listening” process to gather information about the social context of training, including people's concerns and the obstacles that might inhibit change.
Step two: Gain support
Successful worker education programmes rely on identifying and involving key actors. The target population must be involved in the planning process; it is difficult to gain their trust without having sought their input. In a popular education model, the educator attempts to develop a participatory planning team from the union or shop floor who can provide ongoing advice, support, networking and a check on the validity of the needs assessment findings.
Labour unions, management and community-based groups are all potential providers of worker safety and health education. Even if not sponsoring the training directly, each of these groups may have a key role to play in supporting the educational effort. The union can provide access to the workforce and back up the efforts for change that hopefully will emerge from the training. Union activists who are respected for their knowledge or commitment can assist in outreach and help ensure a successful training outcome. Management is able to provide paid released time for training and may more readily support efforts to improve safety and health that grow out of a training process they have “bought into”. Some employers understand the importance and cost-effectiveness of comprehensive worker training in safety and health, while others will not participate without government-mandated training requirements or a collectively bargained right to paid educational leave for safety and health training.
Community-based non-governmental organizations can provide training resources, support or follow-up activities. For non-union workers, who may be especially vulnerable to retaliation for safety and health advocacy on the job, it is particularly important to identify community support resources (such as religious groups, environmentalist organizations, disabled worker support groups or minority workers’ rights projects). Whoever has a significant role to play must be involved in the process through co-sponsorship, participation on an advisory committee, personal contact or other means.
Step three: Establish education objectives and content
Using information from the needs assessment, the planning team can identify specific learning objectives. A common mistake is to assume that the objective of workshops is simply to present information. What is presented matters less than what the target population receives. Objectives should be stated in terms of what workers will know, believe, be able to do or accomplish as a result of the training. The majority of traditional training programmes focus on objectives to change the individuals' knowledge or behaviours. The goal of popular worker education is to create an activist workforce that will advocate effectively for a healthier work environment. Popular education objectives may include learning new information and skills, changing attitudes and adopting safe behaviours. However, the ultimate goal is not individual change, but collective empowerment and workplace change. The objectives leading to this goal include the following:
There is a hierarchy of these objectives (figure 1). Compared with the other training objectives, knowledge objectives are the easiest to achieve (but they are by no means easy to attain in an absolute sense); skill objectives require more hands-on training to ensure mastery; attitude objectives are more difficult because they may involve challenging deeply held beliefs; individual behaviour objectives are achievable only if attitude barriers are addressed and if performance, practice and on-the-job follow-up are built into the training; and social action objectives are most challenging of all, because training must also prepare participants for collective action in order to achieve more than they can on an individual basis.
Figure 1. Hierarchy of training objectives.
For example, it is a reasonably straightforward task to communicate the risks that asbestos poses to workers. The next step is to ensure that they have the technical skills to follow all safety procedures on the job. It is more difficult still to change what workers believe (e.g., to convince them that they and their fellow workers are at risk and that something can and should be done about it). Even armed with the right skills and attitudes, it may be difficult for workers to actually follow safe work practices on the job, especially since they may lack the proper equipment or management support. The ultimate challenge is to promote social action, so that workers may gain the skills, confidence and willingness to insist on using less hazardous substitute materials or to demand that all necessary environmental controls be used when they are working with asbestos.
Empowerment-oriented labour education always aims to have an impact on the highest level—social action. This requires that workers develop critical thinking and strategic planning skills that will allow them to set achievable goals, constantly respond to barriers and reshape their plans as they go. These are complex skills that require the most intensive, hands-on approach to training, as well as strong on-going support that the workers will need in order to sustain their efforts.
The specific content of educational programmes will depend on the needs assessment, regulatory mandates and time considerations. Subject areas that are commonly addressed in worker training include the following:
Step four: Select education methods
It is important to select the right methods for the chosen objectives and content areas. In general, the more ambitious the objectives, the more intensive the methods must be. Whatever methods are selected, the profile of the workforce must be considered. For example, educators need to respond to workers’ language and literacy levels. If literacy is low, the trainer should use oral methods and highly graphic visuals. If a variety of languages is in use among the target population the trainer should use a multilingual approach.
Because of time limitations, it may not be possible to present all of the relevant information. It is more important to provide a good mix of methods to enable workers to acquire research skills and to develop social action strategies so that they can pursue their own knowledge, rather than attempt to condense too much information into a short period of time.
The teaching methods chart (see table 1) provides a summary of different methods and the objectives which each might fulfil. Some methods, such as lectures or informational films, primarily fulfil knowledge objectives. Worksheets or brainstorming exercises can fulfil information or attitude objectives. Other more comprehensive methods, such as case studies, role-plays or short videotapes that trigger discussion may be aimed at social action objectives, but may also contain new information and may present opportunities to explore attitudes.
Table 1. Teaching methods chart
|Teaching methods||Strengths||Limitations||Objectives achieved|
|Lecture||Presents factual material in direct and logical manner. Contains experiences which inspire.
Stimulates thinking to open a discussion.
For large audiences.
|Experts may not always be good teachers.
Audience is passive. Learning difficult to gauge.
Needs clear introduction and summary.
|Worksheets and questionnaires||Allow people to think for themselves without being influenced by others in discussion.
Individual thoughts can then be shared in small or large groups.
|Can be used only for short period of time. Handout requires preparation time. Requires literacy.||Knowledge Attitudes/emotions|
|Brainstorming||Listening exercise that allows creative thinking for new ideas. Encourages full participation because all ideas equally recorded.||Can become unfocused.
Needs to be limited to 10 to 15 minutes.
|Planning deck||Can be used to quickly catalogue information.
Allows students to learn a procedure by ordering its component parts.
Group planning experience.
|Requires planning and creation of multiple planning decks.||Knowledge|
|Risk mapping||Group can create visual map of hazards, controls, and plans for action.
Useful as follow-up tool.
|Requires workers from same or similar workplace.
May require outside research.
|Knowledge Skills/social action|
|Audiovisual materials (films, slide shows, etc.)||Entertaining way of teaching content and raising issues.
Keeps audience’s attention.
Effective for large groups.
|Too many issues often presented at one time.
Too passive if not combined with discussion.
|Audiovisuals as triggers||Develops analytic skills.
Allows for exploration of solutions.
|Discussion may not have full participation.||Social action Attitudes/emotions|
|Case studies as triggers||Develops analytic and problem-solving skills.
Allows for exploration of solutions.
Allows students to apply new knowledge and skills.
|People may not see relevance to own situation.
Cases and tasks for small groups must be clearlydefined to be effective.
|Social action Attitudes/emotions
|Role playing session (trigger)||Introduces problem-situation dramatically.
Develops analytic skills.
Provides opportunity for people to assume roles of others.
Allows for exploration of solutions.
|People may be too self-conscious.
Not appropriate for large groups.
|Social action Attitudes/emotions
|Report back session||Allows for large group discussion of role plays, case studies, and small group exercise. Gives people a chance to reflect on experience.||Can be repetitive if each small group says the same thing. Instructors need to prepare focused questions to avoid repetitiveness.||Social action skills Information|
|Prioritizing and planning activity||Ensures participation by students. Provides experience in analysing and prioritizing problems. Allows for active discussion and debate.||Requires a large wall or blackboard for posting. Posting activity should proceed at a lively pace to be effective.||Social action
|Hands-on practice||Provides classroom practise of learned behaviour.||Requires sufficient time, appropriate physical space, and equipment.||Behaviours
Adapted from: Wallerstein and Rubenstein 1993. By permission.
Step five: Implementing an education session
Actually conducting a well-designed education session becomes the easiest part of the process; the educator simply carries out the plan. The educator is a facilitator who takes the learners through a series of activities designed to (a) learn and explore new ideas or skills, (b) share their own thoughts and abilities and (c) combine the two.
For popular education programmes, based on active participation and sharing of worker’s own experiences, it is critical that workshops establish a tone of trust, safety in discussion and ease of communication. Both physical and social environments need to be well planned to allow for maximum interaction, small group movement and confidence that there is a shared group norm of listening and willingness to participate. For some educators, this role of learning facilitator may require some “retooling”. It is a role that relies less on a talent for effective public speaking, the traditional centrepiece of training skills, and more on an ability to foster cooperative learning.
The use of peer trainers is gaining in popularity. Training workers to train their peers has two major advantages: (1) worker trainers have the practical knowledge of the workplace to make training relevant and (2) peer trainers remain in the workplace to provide on-going safety and health consultation. The success of peer trainer programmes is dependent on providing a solid foundation for worker trainers through comprehensive “training of trainer” programmes and access to technical experts when needed.
Step six: Evaluate and follow up
Though often overlooked in worker education, evaluation is essential and serves several purposes. It allows the learner to judge his or her progress toward new knowledge, skills, attitudes or actions; it allows the educator to judge the effectiveness of the training and to decide what has been accomplished; and it can document the success of training to justify future expenditures of resources. Evaluation protocols should be set up in concert with the education objectives. An evaluation effort should tell you whether or not you have achieved your training objectives.
The majority of evaluations to date have assessed immediate impact, such as knowledge learned or degree of satisfaction with the workshop. Behaviour-specific evaluations have used observations at the worksite to assess performance.
Evaluations that look at workplace outcomes, particularly injury and illness incidence rates, can be deceptive. For example, management safety promotion efforts often include incentives for keeping accident rates low (e.g., by offering a prize to the crew with the least accidents in a year). These promotional efforts result in under-reporting of accidents and often do not represent actual safety and health conditions on the job. Conversely, empowerment-oriented training encourages workers to recognize and report safety and health problems and may result, at first, in an increase in reported injuries and illnesses, even when safety and health conditions are actually improving.
Recently, as safety and health training programmes have begun to adopt empowerment and popular education goals and methods, evaluation protocols have been broadened to include assessment of worker actions back at the worksite as well as actual worksite changes. Social action objectives require long-term evaluation that assesses changes on both the individual level and on the environmental and organization level, and the interaction between individual and environmental change. Follow-up is critical for this long-term evaluation. Follow-up phone calls, surveys or even new sessions may be used not only to assess change, but also to support the students/workers in applying their new knowledge, skills, inspiration or social action resulting from training.
Several programmatic components have been identified as important for promoting actual behavioural and worksite changes: union support structures; equal union participation with management; full access to training, information and expert resources for workers and their unions; conducting training within the context of a structure for comprehensive changes; programme development based on worker and workplace needs assessments; use of worker-produced materials; and integration of small group interactive methods with worker empowerment and social action goals.
In this article, the growing need for preparing workers for broad participation in workplace injury and illness prevention efforts has been depicted as well as the critical role of workers as advocates for safety and health. The distinct role of labour empowerment training in responding to these needs and the educational principles and traditions that contribute to a labour empowerment approach to education were addressed. Finally, a step-by-step educational process that is required to achieve the goals of worker involvement and empowerment was described.
This learner-centred approach to education implies a new relationship between occupational safety and health professionals and workers. Learning can no longer be a one-way street with an “expert” imparting knowledge to the “students”. The educational process, instead, is a partnership. It is a dynamic process of communication that taps the skills and knowledge of workers. Learning occurs in all directions: workers learn from the instructors; instructors learn from workers; and workers learn from one another (see figure 2).
Figure 2. Learning is a three-way process.
For a successful partnership, workers must be involved in every stage of the educational process, not just in the classroom. Workers must participate in the who, what, where, when and how of training: Who will design and deliver the training? What will be taught? Who will pay for it? Who will have access to it? Where and when will training take place? Whose needs will be met and how will success be measured?
Training can and will produce positive results if it is based on clearly defined needs specific to the workplace and if it is delivered with a view to those needs and the ways in which adults learn. This is, of course, true for safety and health training as well. The principles of safety and health training are no different from those which apply to any form of industrial training. Indeed, a good case can be made for the integration of skill training along with safety training wherever possible. Safety and health training which fails to produce positive results because it is not based on sound analysis is, at best, a waste of time and money. At worst, such training may result in false confidence, thus increasing the risk of accidents.
The first step in safety and health training design is to identify the problems which need to be addressed. This may be done for the entire organization, for a particular location or for a particular job. Alternatively, the analysis of training needs may have a specific focus, for example, compliance with safety and health legislation or the performance of the joint safety and health committee. However, not all problems can be solved by training; in some cases, other action is needed to supplement it. A simple example of this is the case where the problem identified is a low level of compliance with the rule obliging workers to wear personal protective equipment. While part of the problem may be due to the fact that employees do not understand why the equipment is needed or how to use it correctly, it is equally possible that some or all of the problem may be caused by the fact that there is consistent failure to replace broken or missing equipment.
The existence of problems may surface in the form of a high rate of accidents, refusal-to-work situations or government inspectors' orders or citations. However, it is the problems which underlie such outward signs of trouble that need to be clearly identified. A training needs assessment may be defined as the process of identifying problems that are signalled by deficiencies in compliance with standards or external requirements and that can be resolved wholly or partly by training. A systems approach to training needs analysis involves a number of logical steps: problem identification, analysis, identification of training needs, the ranking of needs in order of urgency and the setting of training goals or objectives.
The sorts of problems that lend themselves to solution by means of training include the following:
Those that are identified after accidents have already happened. In this case, problems may be identified through review of accident statistics, accident investigation reports or, more broadly, through the failure to meet organizational goals for safety and health.
Problems that can be anticipated. Dangers can be identified before actual harm is done—for example, hazards can be foreseen when new machinery, substances or processes are introduced into the workplace, where there exist processes that have never been thoroughly analysed or where existing practice conflicts with known safe procedures .
The existence of external requirements. New legal requirements which either impose specific safety and health training duties or other requirements suggesting the need for training are examples of external requirements. The development of new industry codes of practice or national or international standards affecting safety and health are other examples.
The next step is to analyse the problems so that necessary training may be identified. Problem analysis involves collecting information about the problem so that its causes can be determined. It also requires determining an appropriate standard which should be met. If, for example, the problem identified relates to a lack of effectiveness of the joint safety and health committee, analysis seeks to answer several questions. First, what is the committee supposed to be doing? Second, how well is the committee performing each of its required tasks? (This question requires the analyst to determine appropriate performance standards which should apply.) Third, why is the committee not performing particular tasks effectively?
Once the problem has been analysed, the next step is to determine suitable solutions. If training is the solution or part of the solution, the particular training needs must be identified. What combination of skills and knowledge is required and by whom?
A critical part of the investigation of training needs is the assessment of the people involved. The purpose of this is threefold: first, people are likely to be more committed to training (and thus more likely to learn) if they have played a part in identifying the needs themselves; second, it is often necessary to assess the current level of required skill and knowledge among the target group of employees (for example, one might investigate whether joint safety and health committee members actually know what it is they are supposed to be doing); third, basic educational levels and literacy and language skills must be known so that appropriate instructional methods are applied. Surveys can be used to assess a number of these variables. If they are used, however, care should be taken to ensure individual confidentiality.
Setting priorities and goals
Once training needs have been clearly identified, the next step is to set priorities and objectives. Consideration must be given to the relative urgency of various training needs, taking into account factors such as the relative severity of consequences should accidents occur, the frequency with which problems are likely to occur, the number of people affected and legal compliance.
Training objectives must be specific because, if they are not, evaluating whether the training has been successful will prove difficult. Specifically defined objectives also help determine appropriate training content and delivery method. Training objectives or goals establish the results that training should achieve. Examples of specific training objectives might include (a) to ensure that every manager and supervisor knows and understands legal safety and health duties and rights applying to themselves and to all workers, (b) to ensure that all welders know and understand the hazards of welding and the required control procedures or (c) to provide fork-lift truck operators with the skill to operate their vehicles safely according to required procedures
Needs Assessment Methods
Methods for analysing training needs depend on the scope of the assessment and on available resources. All or some of the following methods may be used:
Choosing Appropriate Instructional Methods
Instructional methods include a number of techniques such as lectures, problem-solving exercises, small group discussion and role-playing.The methods chosen must be appropriate to what is being learned (whether knowledge, skills or concepts) and the training objectives. If, for example, the training objective is to impart knowledge about basic safety rules in the workplace, then a short lecture may be appropriate. However, there are different levels of learning in adults. The lowest level of learning is listening to information; the next level is acquiring knowledge; then, developing understanding; and finally, at the highest level, the ability to apply what is learned to different situations. In most training situations, participants will need to learn at more than one level and so a variety of instructional techniques will be required. Instructional methods must also be based upon sound principles of how adults learn best.
Principles of Adult Learning
The way in which adults learn differs from the way children learn in several important respects. Adults approach the task of learning in possession of life experiences and a developed concept of self. The process of learning is an individual experience which takes place within the learner and depends on the learner's willingness to learn, the ability to relate his or her own experiences to what is being learned and the perceived value of what is being learned to the learner. In many cases, adults make a free choice to learn and so, unlike school children, they are voluntary participants. However, when safety and health training is provided in the workplace, workers and managers may be required to attend training sessions, with little room for individual choice. Where this is so, particular attention needs to be paid to involving learners both in the process of identifying training needs and in the design of the programme itself. Addressing the perceived training needs of workers may be as important as the identification of needs in other areas. Above all, adult training involves change. As with any change, acceptance is dependent on the learners’ belief that they have some control over the change and that the change is not perceived as threatening.
Research has identified a number of factors which facilitate learning in adults:
Careful consideration should be given to the selection of trainers, the scheduling of training and pilot testing. In selecting trainers, two equally important abilities must be sought: knowledge of the subject and teaching ability. Not everyone who has the required safety and health knowledge will necessarily have teaching ability. On the whole, it is easier for people to acquire knowledge than it is to acquire teaching ability. In most workplaces, including the shop floor, there will be a number of people who have a natural teaching ability, and they will have the advantage of knowing the workplace and being able to understand practical examples. In small group learning, a “group learning facilitator” may be used in place of a trainer. In this case, the facilitator is learning along with the group but has responsibilities for the process of learning.
The scheduling of training involves several important considerations. For example, it should be arranged at a time convenient for the learners and when interruptions can be minimized. Training can also be packaged in self-contained modules so that it can be spread out over time—perhaps a three hour module once a week could be scheduled. Not only does this approach sometimes cause less interference with production, it also allows time between sessions for learners to try to apply what has been learned.
Every training programme should be pilot tested before initial use. This allows the programme to be tested against training objectives. Pilot testing should involve not only the trainers but a representative sample of the prospective learners as well.
The purpose of evaluating training is quite simply to establish whether the training objectives have been met and, if so, whether this has resulted in solving the problem addressed by those objectives. Preparation for training evaluation should begin at the training design stage. In other words, the problem to be addressed by training must be clear, the training objectives must be specific and the status quo prior to training must be known. For example, if the problem to be addressed is poor observance of safe working practices in material handling operations, and training has been designed to address part of this problem by providing information and skills to, say, fork-lift operators, then a successful outcome in this case would be high observance of correct safe working practices.
Evaluation of training can be done at various levels. At the first level, the aim is simply to assess student reactions to the training programme. Did they like the programme, the instructor and the course material, were they bored, did they feel that they had learned something? This approach may be useful in assessing whether or not the programme was perceived to be of value by the students. Such evaluations are most usefully conducted through an attitude survey and should not generally be administered by the course instructor. Participants are unlikely to provide candid answers at this point even if the questionnaires are anonymous. As an aid to this type of evaluation, students can be allowed to test themselves on the training content.
The next level of evaluation is the assessment of whether or not the learning objectives have been met. Learning objectives are related to the content of the training and they define what the student should be able to do or know when training is completed. Learning objectives are usually developed for each part of the course content and are shared with students so that they know what they should expect to learn. Evaluation at this level is designed to assess whether or not students have learned what is defined in the learning objectives. This can be done by testing participants at the end of the course. Knowledge, concepts and abstract skills can be assessed in written tests whereas practical skills can be assessed by direct observation of students demonstrating the skill. Where this level of evaluation is used, it is absolutely necessary to have prior knowledge of the knowledge or skill baseline of the students before training begins.
The third level of evaluation is the assessment of whether or not the knowledge and skills learned in the training are actually being applied on the job. Such assessment can be made through direct observation at specified intervals of time following training. Evaluation of application on the day following training may produce a result quite different from that based on an evaluation some three months later. It is important to note, however, that if the evaluation shows a lack of application after three months, it may not be the training itself which is defective; it may be due to a lack of reinforcement in the workplace itself.
Finally, the highest level of evaluation is the determination of whether or not the problem addressed by the training has been resolved. If the problem identified was a high rate of musculoskeletal injuries in the shipping and receiving area, is there evidence of the desired drop in the injury rate? Here again, timing is important. In this case, it may take time for the training to become effective. The rate may not drop for a number of months because such injuries are often cumulative; and so the rate for some time may reflect conditions prior to training. Furthermore, the training may result in greater awareness of the problem leading to increased reporting soon after training.
Ideally, all four levels of training evaluation should be built into the training design and implementation. However, if only one level is used, its limitations should be clearly understood by all concerned.
Where training is designed and provided by an external agency, the organization can and should nevertheless evaluate its potential usefulness by applying criteria based on the principles outlined in this article.
No matter how successful training is in meeting objectives, its effect will decline with time if reinforcement is not provided in the workplace on a regular and consistent basis. Such reinforcement should be the routine responsibility of supervisors, managers and joint safety and health committees. It can be provided through regular monitoring of performance on the job, recognition of proper performance and routine reminders through the use of short meetings, notices and posters.
Labour or Industrial Relations
The term labour relations, also known as industrial relations, refers to the system in which employers, workers and their representatives and, directly or indirectly, the government interact to set the ground rules for the governance of work relationships. It also describes a field of study dedicated to examining such relationships. The field is an outgrowth of the industrial revolution, whose excesses led to the emergence of trade unions to represent workers and to the development of collective labour relations. A labour or industrial relations system reflects the interaction between the main actors in it: the state, the employer (or employers or an employers’ association), trade unions and employees (who may participate or not in unions and other bodies affording workers’ representation). The phrases “labour relations” and “industrial relations” are also used in connection with various forms of workers’ participation; they can also encompass individual employment relationships between an employer and a worker under a written or implied contract of employment, although these are usually referred to as “employment relations”. There is considerable variation in the use of the terms, partly reflecting the evolving nature of the field over time and place. There is general agreement, however, that the field embraces collective bargaining, various forms of workers’ participation (such as works councils and joint health and safety committees) and mechanisms for resolving collective and individual disputes. The wide variety of labour relations systems throughout the world has meant that comparative studies and identification of types are accompanied by caveats about the limitations of over-generalization and false analogies. Traditionally, four distinct types of workplace governance have been described: dictatorial, paternalistic, institutional and worker-participative; this chapter examines primarily the latter two types.
Both private and public interests are at stake in any labour relations system. The state is an actor in the system as well, although its role varies from active to passive in different countries. The nature of the relationships among organized labour, employers and the government with respect to health and safety are indicative of the overall status of industrial relations in a country or an industry and the obverse is equally the case. An underdeveloped labour relations system tends to be authoritarian, with rules dictated by an employer without direct or indirect employee involvement except at the point of accepting employment on the terms offered.
A labour relations system incorporates both societal values (e.g., freedom of association, a sense of group solidarity, search for maximized profits) and techniques (e.g., methods of negotiation, work organization, consultation and dispute resolution). Traditionally, labour relations systems have been categorized along national lines, but the validity of this is waning in the face of increasingly varied practices within countries and the rise of a more global economy driven by international competition. Some countries have been characterized as having cooperative labour relations models (e.g., Belgium, Germany), whereas others are known as being conflictual (e.g., Bangladesh, Canada, United States). Different systems have also been distinguished on the basis of having centralized collective bargaining (e.g., those in Nordic countries, although there is a move away from this, as illustrated by Sweden), bargaining at the sectoral or industrial level (e.g., Germany), or bargaining at the enterprise or plant level (e.g., Japan, the United States). In countries having moved from planned to free-market economies, labour relations systems are in transition. There is also increasing analytical work being done on the typologies of individual employment relationships as indic- ators of types of labour relations systems.
Even the more classic portrayals of labour relations systems are not by any means static characterizations, since any such system changes to meet new circumstances, whether economic or political. The globalization of the market economy, the weakening of the state as an effective force and the ebbing of trade union power in many industrialized countries pose serious challenges to traditional labour relations systems. Technological development has brought changes in the content and organization of work that also have a crucial impact on the extent to which collective labour relations can develop and the direction they take. Employees’ traditionally shared work schedule and common workplace have increasingly given way to more varied working hours and to the performance of work at varied locations, including home, with less direct employer supervision. What have been termed “atypical” employment relationships are becoming less so, as the contingent workforce continues to expand. This in turn places pressure on established labour relations systems.
Newer forms of employee representation and participation are adding an additional dimension to the labour relations picture in a number of countries. A labour relations system sets the formal or informal ground rules for determining the nature of collective industrial relations as well as the framework for individual employment relationships between a worker and his or her employer. Complicating the scene at the management end are additional players such as temporary employment agencies, labour contractors and job contractors who may have responsibilities towards workers without having control over the physical environment in which the work is carried out or the opportunity to provide safety training. In addition, public sector and private sector employers are governed by separate legislation in most countries, with the rights and protections of employees in these two sectors often differing significantly. Moreover, the private sector is influenced by forces of international competition that do not directly touch public-sector labour relations.
Finally, neoliberal ideology favouring the conclusion of indi-vidualized employment contracts to the detriment of collectively bargained arrangements poses another threat to traditional labour relations systems. Those systems have developed as a result of the emergence of collective representation for workers, based on past experience that an individual worker’s power is weak when compared to that of the employer. Abandoning all collective representation would risk returning to a nineteenth century concept in which acceptance of hazardous work was largely regarded as a matter of individual free choice. The increasingly globalized economy, the accelerated pace of technological change and the resultant call for greater flexibility on the part of industrial relations institutions, however, pose new challenges for their survival and prosperity. Depending upon their existing traditions and institutions, the parties involved in a labour relations system may react quite differently to the same pressures, just as management may choose a cost-based or a value-added strategy for confronting increased competition (Locke, Kochan and Piore, 1995). The extent to which workers’ participation and/or collective bargaining are regular features of a labour relations system will most certainly have an impact on how management confronts health and safety problems.
Moreover, there is another constant: the economic dependence of an individual worker on an employer remains the underlying fact of their relationship–one that has serious potential consequences when it comes to safety and health. The employer is seen as having a general duty to provide a safe and healthful workplace and to train and equip workers to do their jobs safely. The worker has a reciprocal duty to follow safety and health instructions and to refrain from harming himself/herself or others while at work. Failure to live up to these or other duties can lead to disputes, which depend on the labour relations system for their resolution. Dispute resolution mechanisms include rules governing not only work stoppages (strikes, slowdowns or go-slows, work to rule, etc.) and lockouts, but the discipline and dismissal of employees as well. Additionally, in many countries employers are required to participate in various institutions dealing with safety and health, perform safety and health monitoring, report on-the-job accidents and diseases and, indirectly, to compensate workers who are found to be suffering from an occupational injury or disease.
Human Resources Management
Human resources management has been defined as “the science and the practice that deals with the nature of the employment relationship and all of the decisions, actions and issues that relate to that relationship” (Ferris, Rosen and Barnum 1995; see figure 1). It encapsulates employer-formulated policies and practices that see the utilization and management of employees as a business resource in the context of a firm’s overall strategy to enhance productivity and competitiveness. It is a term most often used to describe an employer’s approach to personnel administration that emphasizes employee involvement, normally but not always in a union-free setting, with the goal of motivating workers to enhance their productivity. The field was formed from a merger of scientific management theories, welfare work and industrial psychology around the time of the First World War and has undergone considerable evolution since. Today, it stresses work organization techniques, recruitment and selection, performance appraisal, training, upgrading of skills and career development, along with direct employee participation and communication. Human resources management has been put forth as an alternative to “Fordism”, the traditional assembly-line type of production in which engineers are responsible for work organization and workers’ assigned tasks are divided up and narrowly circumscribed. Common forms of employee involvement include suggestion schemes, attitude surveys, job enrichment schemes, teamworking and similar forms of empowerment schemes, quality of working-life programmes, quality circles and task forces. Another feature of human resources management may be linking pay, individually or collectively, to performance. It is noteworthy that one of the three objectives of occupational health has been identified by the Joint ILO/WHO Committee on Occupational Health as “development of work organizations and working cultures in a direction which supports health and safety at work and in doing so also promotes a positive social climate and smooth operation and may enhance productivity of the undertakings...” (ILO 1995b). This is known as developing a “safety culture.”
Figure 1. The role of human resources management in adding value to people and to organizations
The example of a safety performance management programme illustrates some human resource management theories in the context of occupational safety and health. As described by Reber, Wallin and Duhon (1993), this approach has had considerable success in reducing lost time on account of accidents. It relies on specifying safe and unsafe behaviours, teaching employees how to recognize safe behaviour and motivating them to follow the safety rules with goal setting and feedback. The programme relies heavily on a training technique whereby employees are shown safe, correct methods via videotapes or live models. They then have a chance to practice new behaviours and are provided with frequent performance feedback. In addition, some companies offer tangible prizes and rewards for engaging in safe behaviour (rather than simply for having fewer accidents). Employee consultation is an important feature of the programme as well.
The implications of human resources management for industrial relations practices remain a source of some controversy. This is particularly the case for types of workers’ participation schemes that are perceived by trade unions as a threat. In some instances human resources management strategies are pursued alongside collective bargaining; in other cases the human resources management approach seeks to supplant or prevent the activities of independent organizations of workers in defence of their interests. Proponents of human resources management maintain that since the 1970s, the personnel management side of human resources management has evolved from being a maintenance function, secondary to the industrial relations function, to being one of critical importance to the effectiveness of an organization (Ferris, Rosen and Barnum 1995). Since human resources management is a tool for management to employ as part of its personnel policy rather than a relationship between an employer and workers’ chosen representatives, it is not the focus of this chapter.
The articles which follow describe the main parties in a labour relations system and the basic principles underpinning their interaction: rights to freedom of association and representation. A natural corollary to freedom of association is the right to engage in collective bargaining, a phenomenon which must be distinguished from consultative and non-union worker participation arrangements. Collective bargaining takes place as negotiations between representatives chosen by the workers and those acting on behalf of the employer; it leads to a mutually accepted, binding agreement that can cover a wide range of subjects. Other forms of workers’ participation, national-level consultative bodies, works councils and enterprise-level health and safety representatives are also important features of some labour relations systems and are thus examined in this chapter. Consultation can take various forms and occur at different levels, with national-, regional- and/or industrial- and enterprise-level arrangements. Worker representatives in consultative bodies may or may not have been selected by the workers and there is no obligation for the state or the employer to follow the wishes of those representatives or to abide by the results of the consultative process. In some countries, collective bargaining and consultative arrangements exist side by side and, to work properly, must be carefully intermeshed. For both, rights to information about health and safety and training are crucial. Finally, this chapter takes into account that in any labour relations system, disputes may arise, whether they are individual or collective. Safety and health issues can lead to labour relations strife, producing work stoppages. The chapter thus concludes with descriptions of how labour relations disputes are resolved, including by arbitration, mediation or resort to the regular or labour courts, preceded by a discussion of the role of the labour inspectorate in the context of labour relations.
The Actors in the Labour Relations System
Classically, three actors have been identified as parties to the labour relations system: the state, employers and workers’ representatives. To this picture must now be added the forces that transcend these categories: regional and other multilateral economic integration arrangements among states and multinational corporations as employers which do not have a national identity but which also can be seen as labour market institutions. Since the impact of these phenomena on labour relations remains unclear in many respects, however, discussion will focus on the more classic actors despite this caveat of the limitation of such an analysis in an increasingly global community. In addition, greater emphasis is needed on analysing the role of the individual employment relationship in labour relations systems and on the impact of the emerging alternative forms of work.
The state always has at least an indirect effect on all labour relations. As the source of legislation, the state exerts an inevitable influence on the emergence and development of a labour relations system. Laws can hinder or foster, directly or indirectly, the establishment of organizations representing workers and employers. Legislation also sets a minimum level of worker protection and lays down “the rules of the game”. To take an example, it can provide lesser or greater protection for a worker who refuses to perform work he or she reasonably considers to be too hazardous, or for one who acts as a health and safety representative.
Through the development of its labour administration, the state also has an impact on how a labour relations system may function. If effective enforcement of the law is afforded through a labour inspectorate, collective bargaining can pick up where the law leaves off. If, however, the state infrastructure for having rights vindicated or for assisting in the resolution of disputes that emerge between employers and workers is weak, they will be left more to their own devices to develop alternative institutions or arrangements.
The extent to which the state has built up a well-functioning court or other dispute resolution system may also have an influence on the course of labour relations. The ease with which workers, employers and their respective organizations may enforce their legal rights can be as important as the rights themselves. Thus the decision by a government to set up special tribunals or administrative bodies to deal with labour disputes and/or disagreements over individual employment problems can be an expression of the priority given to such issues in that society.
In many countries, the state has a direct role to play in labour relations. In countries that do not respect freedom of association principles, this may involve outright control of employers’ and workers’ organizations or interference with their activities. The state may attempt to invalidate collective bargaining agreements that it perceives as interfering with its economic policy goals. Generally speaking, however, the role of the state in industrialized countries has tended to promote orderly industrial relations by providing the necessary legislative framework, including minimum levels of worker protection and offering parties information, advice and dispute settlement services. This could take the form of mere toleration of labour relations institutions and the actors in them; it could move beyond to actively encourage such institutions. In a few countries, the state is a more active participant in the industrial relations system, which includes national level tripartite negotiations. For decades in Belgium and more recently in Ireland, for instance, government representatives have been sitting down alongside those from employer and trade union circles to hammer out a national level agreement or pact on a wide range of labour and social issues. Tripartite machinery to fix minimum wages has long been a feature of labour relations in Argentina and Mexico, for example. The interest of the state in doing so derives from its desires to move the national economy in a certain direction and to maintain social peace for the duration of the pact; such bipartite or tripartite arrangements create what has been called a “social dialogue”, as it has developed in Australia (until 1994), Austria, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands, for instance. The pros and cons of what have been termed “corporatist” or “neocorporatist” approaches to labour relations have been extensively debated over the years. With its tripartite structure, the International Labour Organization has long been a proponent of strong tripartite cooperation in which the “social partners” play a significant role in shaping government policy on a wide range of issues.
In some countries, the very idea of the state becoming involved as a negotiator in private sector bargaining is unthinkable, as in Germany or the United States. In such systems, the role of the state is, aside from its legislative function, generally restricted to providing assistance to the parties in reaching an agreement, such as in offering voluntary mediation services. Whether active or passive, however, the state is a constant partner in any labour relations system. In addition, where the state is itself the employer, or an enterprise is publicly owned, it is of course directly involved in labour relations with the employees and their representatives. In this context, the state is motivated by its role as provider of public services and/or as an economic actor.
Finally, the impact of regional economic integration arrangements on state policy is also felt in the labour relations field. Within the European Union, practice in member countries has changed to reflect directives dealing with consultation of workers and their representatives, including those on health and safety matters in particular. Multilateral trade agreements, such as the labour side agreement to the North American Free Trade Agreement (Canada, Mexico, United States) or the agreements implementing the Mercosur Common Market (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, thought soon to be joined by Bolivia and Chile) also sometimes contain workers’ rights provisions or mechanisms that over time may have an indirect impact on labour relations systems of the participating states.
Employers–that is, providers of work–are usually differentiated in industrial relations systems depending upon whether they are in the private or the public sector. Historically, trade unionism and collective bargaining developed first in the private sector, but in recent years these phenomena have spread to many public sector settings as well. The position of state-owned enterprises—which in any event are dwindling in number around the world—as employers, varies depending upon the country. (They still play a key role in China, India, Viet Nam and in many African countries.) In Eastern and Central Europe, one of the major challenges of the post-Communist era has been the establishment of independent organizations of employers.
International Employers’ Organizations
Based in Geneva, Switzerland, the International Organization of Employers (IOE) in 1996 grouped 118 central national organizations of employers in 116 countries. The exact form of each member organization may differ from country to country, but in order to qualify for membership in the IOE an employers’ organization must meet certain conditions: it must be the most representative organization of employers - exclusively of employers - in the country; it must be voluntary and independent, free from outside interference; and it must stand for and defend the principles of free enterprise. Members include employer federations and confederations, chambers of commerce and industry, councils and associations. Regional or sectoral organizations cannot become members; nor can enterprises, regardless of their size or importance, affiliate themselves directly with the IOE - a factor that has served to ensure that its voice is representative of the employer community at large, and not of the particular interests of individual enterprises or sectors.
The IOE’s main activity, however, is to organize employers whenever they have to deal with social and labour matters at the global level. In practice, most of this takes place in the ILO, which has responsibility for these questions in the United Nations system. The IOE also has Category I consultative status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, where it intervenes whenever matters of interest or consequence to employers arise.
The IOE is one of only two organizations that the employer community has set up to represent the interests of enterprise globally. The other is the International Chamber of Commerce, with its headquarters in Paris, which concerns itself principally with economic matters. While structurally quite different, the two organizations complement each other. They cooperate on the basis of an agreement which defines their areas of responsibility as well as through good personal relations between their representatives and, to a degree, on a common membership base. Many subjects cut across their mandates, of course, but are dealt with pragmatically without friction. On certain issues, such as multinational enterprises, the two organizations even act in unison.
by Chapter Editor (excerpted from: ILO 1994)
In the private sector, the situation has been summed up as follows:
Employers have common interests to defend and precise causes to advance. In organizing themselves, they pursue several aims which in turn determine the character of their organizations. These can be chambers of commerce, economic federations and employers’ organizations (for social and labour matters) ... Where issues centre essentially on social matters and industrial relations, including collective bargaining, occupational health and safety, human resource development, labour law and wages, the desire for co-ordinated action has led to the creation of employers’ organizations, which are always voluntary in nature ... (ILO 1994a).
Some employers’ organizations were initially established in response to pressure from the trade unions to negotiate, but others may be traced to medieval guilds or other groups founded to defend particular market interests. Employers’ organizations have been described as formal groups of employers set up to defend, represent and advise affiliated employers and to strengthen their position in society at large with respect to labour matters as distinct from economic matters ... Unlike trade unions, which are composed of individual persons, employers’ organizations are composed of enterprises (Oechslin 1995).
As identified by Oechslin, there tend to be three main functions (to some extent overlapping) common to all employers’ organizations: defence and promotion of their members’ interests, representation in the political structure and provision of services to their members. The first function is reflected largely in lobbying government to adopt policies that are friendly to employers’ interests and in influencing public opinion, chiefly through media campaigns. The representative function may occur in the political structure or in industrial relations institutions. Political representation is found in systems where consultation of interested economic groups is foreseen by law (e.g., Switzerland), where economic and social councils provide for employer representation (e.g., France, French-speaking African countries and the Netherlands) and where there is participation in tripartite forums such as the International Labour Conference and other aspects of ILO activity. In addition, employers’ organizations can exercise considerable influence at the regional level (especially within the European Union).
The way in which the representative function in the industrial relations system occurs depends very much on the level at which collective bargaining takes place in a particular country. This factor also largely determines the structure of an employers’ organization. If bargaining is centralized at the national level, the employers’ organization will reflect that in its internal structure and operations (central economic and statistical data bank, creation of a mutual strike insurance system, strong sense of member discipline, etc.). Even in countries where bargaining takes place at the enterprise level (such as Japan or the United States), the employers’ organization can offer its members information, guidelines and advice. Bargaining that takes place at the industrial level (as in Germany, where, however, some employers have recently broken ranks with their associations) or at multiple levels (as in France or Italy) of course also influences the structure of employers’ organizations.
As for the third function, Oechslin notes, “it is not always easy to draw a line between activities supporting the functions described above and those undertaken for the members in their interest” (p. 42). Research is the prime example, since it can be used for multiple purposes. Safety and health is an area in which data and information can be usefully shared by employers across sectors. Often, new concepts or reactions to novel developments in the world of work have been the product of broad reflection within employers’ organizations. These groups also provide training to members on a wide range of management issues and have undertaken social affairs action, such as in the development of workers’ housing or support for community activities. In some countries, employers’ organizations provide assistance to their members in labour court cases.
The structure of employers’ organizations will depend not only on the level at which bargaining is done, but also on the country’s size, political system and sometimes religious traditions. In developing countries, the main challenge has been the integration of a very heterogeneous membership that may include small and medium-sized businesses, state enterprises and subsidiaries of multinational corporations. The strength of an employers’ organi-zation is reflected in the resources its members are willing to devote to it, whether in the form of dues and contributions or in terms of their expertise and time.
The size of an enterprise is a major determinant in its approach to labour relations, with the employer of a small workforce being more likely to rely on informal means for dealing with its workers. Small and medium-sized enterprises, which are variously defined, sometimes fall under the threshold for legally mandated workers’ participation schemes. Where collective bargaining occurs at the enterprise level, it is much more likely to exist in large firms; where it takes place at the industry or national level, it is more likely to have an effect in areas where large firms have historically dominated the private sector market.
As interest organizations, employers’ organizations—like trade unions—have their own problems in the areas of leadership, internal decision-making and member participation. Since employers tend to be individualists, however, the challenge of marshalling discipline among the membership is even greater for employers’ organizations. As van Waarden notes (1995), “employers’ associations generally have high density ratios ... However, employers find it a much greater sacrifice to comply with the decisions and regulations of their associations, as these reduce their much cherished freedom of enterprise.” Trends in the structure of employers’ organizations very much reflect those of the labour market– towards or against centralization, in favour of or opposed to regulation of competition. Van Waarden continues: “even if the pressure to become more flexible in the ‘post-Fordist’ era continues, it does not necessarily make employers’ associations redundant or less influential ... [They] would still play an important role, namely as a forum for the coordination of labour market policies behind the scenes and as an advisor for firms or branch associations engaged in collective bargaining” (ibid., p. 104). They can also perform a solidarity function; through employers’ associations, small employers may have access to legal or advisory services they otherwise could not afford.
Public employers have come to see themselves as such only relatively recently. Initially, the government took the position that a worker’s involvement in trade union activity was incompatible with service to the sovereign state. They later resisted calls to engage in collective bargaining with the argument that the legislature, not the public administration, was the paymaster and that it was thus impossible for the administration to enter into an agreement. These arguments, however, did not prevent (often unlawful) public sector strikes in many countries and they have fallen by the wayside. In 1978, the International Labour Conference adopted the Labour Relations (Public Service) Convention (No. 151) and Recommendation (No. 159) on public employees’ right to organize and on procedures for determining their terms and conditions of employment. Collective bargaining in the public sector is now a way of life in many developed countries (e.g., Australia, France, United Kingdom) as well as in some developing countries (e.g., many francophone African countries and many countries in Latin America).
The level of employer representation in the public sector depends largely upon the political system of the country. In some this is a centralized function (as in France) whereas in others it reflects the various divisions of government (as in the United States, where bargaining can take place at the federal, state and municipal levels). Germany presents an interesting case in which the thousands of local communities have banded together to have a single bargaining agent deal with the unions in the public sector throughout the country.
Because public sector employers are already part of the state, they do not fall under laws requiring registration of employers’ organizations. The designation of the bargaining agent in the public sector varies considerably by country; it may be the Public Service Commission, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Finance or another entity altogether. The positions taken by a public employer in dealing with employees in this sector tend to follow the political orientation of the ruling political party. This may range from taking a particular stance in bargaining to a flat-out denial of the right of public employees to organize into trade unions. However, while as an employer the public service is shrinking in many countries, there is an increasing readiness on its part to engage in bargaining and consultations with employee representatives.
International Labour Federations
The international labour movement on a global, as opposed to a regional or national level, consists of international associations of national federations of labour unions. There are currently three such internationals, reflecting different ideological tendencies: the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) and the relatively small, originally Christian, World Congress of Labour (WCL). The ICFTU is the largest, with 174 affiliated unions from 124 countries in 1995, representing 116 million trade union members. These groups lobby intergovernmental organizations on overall economic and social policy and press for worldwide protection of basic trade union rights. They can be thought of as the political force behind the international labour movement.
The industrial force of the international labour movement lies in the international associations of specific labour unions, usually drawn from one trade, industry or economic sector. Known as International Trade Secretariats (ITSs) or Trade Union Internationals (TUIs), they may be independent, affiliated to, or controlled by the internationals. Coverage has traditionally been by sector, but also in some cases is by employee category (such as white-collar workers), or by employer (public or private). For example, in 1995 there were 13 operative ITSs aligned with the ICFTU, distributed as follows: building and woodworking; chemical and mining, energy; commercial, clerical, professional and technical; education; entertainment; food, agriculture, restaurant and catering; graphic arts; journalism; metalworking; postal and telecommunications; public service; textile, garment and leather work; transport. The ITSs concentrate mainly on industry-specific issues, such as industrial disputes and pay rates, but also the application of health and safety provisions in a specific sector. They provide information, education, training and other services to affiliated unions. They also help coordinate international solidarity between unions in different countries, and represent the interests of workers in various international and regional forums.
Such action is illustrated by the international trade union response to the incident at Bhopal, India, involving the leak of methyl isocyanate, which claimed thousands of victims on 3 December 1984. At the request of their Indian national trade union affiliates, the ICFTU and the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions (ICEM) sent a mission to Bhopal to study the causes and effects of the gas leak. The report contained recommendations for preventing similar disasters and endorsed a list of safety principles; this report has been used by trade unionists in both industrialized and developing countries as a basis of programmes for improving health and safety at work.
Source: Rice 1995.
The classic definition of a trade union is “a continuous association of wage earners for the purpose of maintaining or improving the conditions of their employment” (Webb and Webb 1920). The origins of trade unions go back as far as the first attempts to organize collective action at the beginning of the industrial revolution. In the modern sense, however, trade unions arose in the later part of the nineteenth century, when governments first began to concede the unions’ legal right to exist (previously, they had been seen as illegal combinations interfering with freedom of commerce, or as outlawed political groups). Trade unions reflect the conviction that only by banding together can workers improve their situation. Trade union rights were born out of economic and political struggle which saw short-term individual sacrifice in the cause of longer-term collective gain. They have often played an important role in national politics and have influenced developments in the world of work at the regional and international levels. Having suffered membership losses, however, in recent years in a number of countries (in North America and some parts of Europe), their role is under challenge in many quarters (see figure 2). The pattern is mixed with areas of membership growth in the public service in many countries around the world and with a new lease on life in places where trade unions were previously non-existent or active only under severe restrictions (e.g., Korea, the Philippines, some countries of Central and Eastern Europe). The flourishing of democratic institutions goes hand in hand with the exercise of trade union freedoms, as the cases of Chile and Poland in the 1980s and 1990s best illustrate. A process of internal reform and reorientation to attract greater and more diverse membership, particularly more women, can also be seen within trade union circles in a number of countries. Only time will tell if these and other factors will be sufficient to deflect the counterweighing tendencies towards the “de-collectivization”, also referred to as “atomization”, of labour relations that has accompanied increased economic globalization and ideological individualism.
Figure 2. Membership rates in trade unions, 1980-1990
In contemporary industrial relations systems, the functions fulfilled by trade unions are, like employers’ organizations, basically the following: defence and promotion of the members’ interests; political representation; and provision of services to members. The flip side of trade unions’ representative function is their control function: their legitimacy depends in part upon the ability to exert discipline over the membership, as for example in calling or ending a strike. The trade unions’ constant challenge is to increase their density, that is, the number of members as a percentage of the formal sector workforce. The members of trade unions are individuals; their dues, called contributions in some systems, support the union’s activities. (Trade unions financed by employers, called “company unions”, or by governments as in formerly Communist countries, are not considered here, since only independent organizations of workers are true trade unions.) Affiliation is generally a matter of an individual’s voluntary decision, although some unions that have been able to win closed shop or union security arrangements are considered to be the representatives of all workers covered by a particular collective bargaining agreement (i.e., in countries where trade unions are recognized as representatives of workers in a circumscribed bargaining unit). Trade unions may be affiliated to umbrella organizations at the industrial, national, regional and international levels.
Trade unions are structured along various lines: by craft or occupation, by branch of industry, by whether they group white- or blue-collar workers and sometimes even by enterprise. There are also general unions, which include workers from various occupations and industries. Even in countries where mergers of industrial unions and general unions are the trend, the situation of agricultural or rural workers has often favoured the development of special structures for that sector. On top of this breakdown there is often a territorial division, with regional and sometimes local subunits, within a union. In some countries there have been splits in the labour movement around ideological (party politics) and even religious lines which then come to be reflected in trade union structure and membership. Public sector employees tend to be represented by unions separate from those representing employees in the private sector, although there are exceptions to this as well.
The legal status of a trade union may be that of any other association, or it may be subject to special rules. A great number of countries require trade unions to register and to divulge certain basic information to the authorities (name, address, identity of officials, etc.). In some countries this goes beyond mere record-keeping to interference; in extreme cases of disregard for freedom of association principles, trade unions will need government authorization to operate. As representatives of workers, trade unions are empowered to enter into engagements on their behalf. Some countries (such as the United States) require employer recognition of trade unions as an initial prerequisite to engaging in collective bargaining.
Trade union density varies widely between and within countries. In some countries in Western Europe, for instance, it is very high in the public sector but tends to be low in the private sector and especially in its white-collar employment. The figures for blue-collar employment in that region are mixed, from a high in Austria and Sweden to a low in France, where, however, trade union political power far exceeds what membership figures would suggest. There is some positive correlation between centralization of bargaining and trade union density, but exceptions to this also exist.
As voluntary associations, trade unions draw up their own rules, usually in the form of a constitution and by-laws. In democratic trade union structures, members select trade union officers either by direct vote or through delegates to a general conference. Internal union government in a small, highly decentralized union of workers in a particular occupational group is likely to differ significantly from that found in a large, centralized general or industrial union. There are tasks to allocate among union officers, between paid and unpaid union representatives and coordination work to be done. The financial resources available to a union will also vary depending upon its size and the ease with which it can collect dues. Institution of a dues check-off system (whereby dues are deducted from a worker’s wages and paid directly to the union) alleviates this task greatly. In most of Central and Eastern Europe, trade unions that were dominated and funded by the state are being transformed and/or joined by new independent organizations; all are struggling to find a place and operate successfully in the new economic structure. Extremely low wages (and thus dues) there and in developing countries with government-supported unions make it difficult to build a strong independent union movement.
In addition to the important function of collective bargaining, one of the main activities of trade unions in many countries is their political work. This may take the form of direct representation, with trade unions being given reserved seats in some parliaments (e.g., Senegal) and on tripartite bodies that have a role in determining national economic and social policy (e.g., Austria, France, the Netherlands), or on tripartite advisory bodies in the fields of labour and social affairs (e.g., in many Latin American and some African and Asian countries). In the European Union, trade union federations have had an important impact on the development of social policy. More typically, trade unions have an influence through the exercise of power (backed up by a threat of industrial action) and lobbying political decision makers at the national level. It is certainly true that trade unions have successfully fought for greater legislative protection for all workers around the world; some believe that this has been a bittersweet victory, in the long run undermining their own justification to exist. The objectives and issues of union political action have often extended well beyond narrower interests; a prime example of this was the struggle against apartheid within South Africa and the international solidarity expressed by unions around the world in words and in deeds (e.g., organizing dockworker boycotts of imported South African coal). Whether trade union political activity is on the offence or the defence will of course depend largely on whether the government in power tends to be pro- or anti-labour. It will also depend upon the union’s relationship to political parties; some unions, particularly in Africa, were part of their countries’ struggles for independence and maintain very close ties with ruling political parties. In other countries there is a traditional interdependence between the labour movement and a political party (e.g., Australia, United Kingdom), whereas in others alliances may shift over time. In any event, the power of trade unions often exceeds what would be expected from their numerical strength, particularly where they represent workers in a key economic or public service sector, such as transport or mining.
Aside from trade unions, many other types of workers’ participation have sprung up to provide indirect or direct representation of employees. In some instances they exist alongside trade unions; in others they are the only type of participation available to workers. The functions and powers of workers’ representatives that exist under such arrangements are described in the article “Forms of workers’ participation’’.
The third type of function of trade unions, providing services to members, focuses first and foremost on the workplace. A shop steward at the enterprise level is there to ensure that workers’ rights under the collective bargaining agreement and the law are being respected–and, if not, to take action. The union officer’s job is to defend the interests of workers vis-à-vis management, thereby legitimizing his or her own representative role. This may involve taking up an individual grievance over discipline or dismissal, or cooperating with management on a joint health and safety committee. Outside the workplace, many unions provide other types of benefit, such as preferential access to credit and participation in welfare schemes. The union hall can also serve as a centre for cultural events or even large family ceremonies. The range of services a union can offer to its members is vast and reflects the creativity and resources of the union itself as well as the cultural milieu in which it operates.
As Visser observes:
The power of trade unions depends on various internal and external factors. We can distinguish between organizational power (how many internal sources of power can unions mobilize?), institutional power (which external sources of support can unions depend on?) and economic power (which market forces play into the hands of unions?) (Visser in van Ruysseveldt et al. 1995).
Among the factors he identifies for a strong trade union structure are the mobilization of a large, stable, dues-paying and well-trained membership (to this could be added a membership that reflects the composition of the labour market), avoidance of organizational fragmentation and political or ideological rifts and development of an organizational structure that provides a presence at the company level while having central control of funds and decision making. Whether such a model for success, which to date has been national in character, can evolve in the face of an increasingly internationalized economy, is the great challenge facing trade unions at this juncture.