When your incident investigation ends with 'Retrain Employees'

Katie Wohlust



How to turn a generic solution from your incident investigation, like "Retrain Employees," into valuable action items.

The purpose of incident investigation is to recognize the problem, analyze how and why the problem happened, and then to identify solutions that will prevent or reduce the likelihood of a similar problem from happening again. Sometimes when we develop solutions, the idea driving the solution can be great, but the language and execution of the solution can be not-so-great. Not-so-great solutions tend to be generic and may not prevent future occurrences. In this three-part blog series, we will examine the weaknesses of the three most common generic solutions that we hear and then offer ways to improve the language and execution of each solution: “retrain employees,” “remind employees to…” and “fix/replace broken…”.

Generic solution #1: Retrain Employees

Often, incident investigations lead to causes such as insufficient training, inadequate training, and/or training information not retained. These causes naturally lead to the solution “retrain employees” or “reinforce existing procedures”. The weakness of these solutions is that we do not know exactly what was missing in the training. As a result, we end up retraining our employees on a process which they know how to perform in order to emphasize a purpose they understand. Further, this results in employees being frustrated, often feeling like the training is a waste of time. Before we retrain employees, let’s be sure that the frequency and content reflect current process and procedures. Let’s also find ways to ensure that employees remember the content of the training in their day to day tasks months after the training was given. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these.

Training Frequency

Is the training frequency adequate? Some trainings are required by OSHA, EPA or other regulating agencies to be given to employees on a predetermined frequency. Are we meeting the training frequency regulation? What is our training process? Do we give training to employees only once when they are hired? Do we offer periodic refresher training? A company should review each training module and determine how often it should be given.

Content of Training

Does the content of the training reflect the company’s written procedures? Subsequently, do the written procedures reflect how work is actually performed? Standard operating procedures and associated training must be reviewed and updated periodically. If an incident investigation identified that training on a procedure was incorrect or confusing, then don’t retrain. Instead, review the procedure, if there is one, and evaluate adding more detail to the steps in the process. Problems don’t happen because tasks are too clear (MG quote). This is a great opportunity to involve the people closest to the work. They will have the best insight on how the task should be completed.

Content Retention

This topic is slightly more difficult than the other two. A company can have robust training content and set a great training frequency, but how do we ensure employees take that knowledge with them? First, try to eliminate as many distractions during the training as possible. One way to do this is to get employees actively involved in the training. We’ve heard of clients putting a procedure in front of their employees, asking them to read it, and calling that the training. This approach has minimal value. Instead, recreate real-life scenarios and have employees work through them according to the procedure. If possible, give hands-on training. CPR and first-aid are great examples. Participants practice many different first-aid scenarios.

Consider giving a quiz or test at the end of the training. This may not be a popular idea, but it can work. This idea has a twofold positive outcome. First, participants are more likely to pay attention if they know there will be a test. Second, it might help identify areas of improvement for the training itself. If the majority of participants answered a question wrong, then maybe that part of the training was confusing or missed. This can also help drive the development of the content of the training.

In conclusion, “retrain employees” is only a great solution if a deficiency in the frequency, content, or retention was identified and specific actions implemented. However, if no deficiencies were identified then retraining may not be the best use of time and resources.

Read the next two blogs in this series:

Establish an Organization Wide Problem-Solving Process | Schedule an Onsite Cause Mapping Workshop


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