What We Learn Through Spot-Checks – the Good and the Bad

By Nurul Azam and Quamrunnessa Babli

With our use of a Train-the-Trainer model to implement the Alliance Basic Fire Safety Training, unannounced spot-checks are very important for ensuring that factories are following through with their commitment to train all workers. Through our training program, each Alliance factory nominates representatives (consisting of both workers and managers) to be trained as Alliance Fire Safety Facilitators, who are then tasked with training the rest of their workforce. The quality of the training therefore relies heavily on the skills of these fire safety facilitators and the support they receive from management to conduct the training according to guidelines.

Spot-checks have become a critical component of our training program by allowing us to intervene in factories where training has not been implemented effectively and identifying best practices that we can share with other factories. During these visits, spot-checkers (both Alliance and member company staff) review training records, check for availability of materials, and interview workers, supervisors, and management to assess whether the training has been provided to all worker – and to assess worker retention levels.

During spot checks, we’ve been pleased to find many examples of good practices and outcomes in factories. In factories where Senior Management commitment is high (especially in the production department, as they need to allow time for workers to attend the training) or when management has been trained first, we’ve seen the best training results. Examples include:

  • Motivating workers. Management is taking specific steps to increase workers’ interest and engagement. For example, some are providing additional time for the training, snacks, and even rewards to encourage active participation. Others are incorporating simple practices like conducting trainings in the morning to ensure that workers have more energy to participate.
  • Offering ongoing training. Self-motivated factories are providing follow-up trainings on their own. One small, 80-worker factory has already conducted three such trainings! Some factories are also posting training materials (i.e. flip-charts) in the factory to remind workers of the key messages.
  • Demonstrating measurable results. Workers are taking fire safety (and fire drills) more seriously, and evacuation times have significantly reduced.
  • Building the confidence and capacity of worker representatives. All factories are encouraged to send worker representatives (as opposed to management) to be trained as facilitators—some worker representatives have developed the confidence and skill to lead training sessions on their own, rather than as assistants.
  • Opening lines of communication.  Management and workers, respectively, report that internal communication systems are improving, as workers are more aware of safety issues and channels for raising them, and management is encouraging workers to do so.

In addition to identifying best practices, our spot checks have also revealed some weaknesses in training implementation. Knowledge of these issues allows us to work with buyers and 3rd party trainers to get factories back on track. Examples of problems found include:

  • Training not completed according to guidelines. Typical problems include reduction of the required training activities or the time allotted for them, improper use of the training materials, too many participants per session, and not following instructions for some activities. A small number of factories didn’t conduct the training at all, and had falsified records.
  • Spotty retention levels among workers. In some factories, workers did not remember the training content very well, which usually indicates that the trainers in those particular factories needed to improve their skills and/or the training was not completed according to Alliance guidelines.
  • Incomplete training records. Training records were not being kept properly or were not regularly uploaded to the online weekly reporting system, so it was difficult for the factory and the Alliance team to track training progress.

Depending on the nature and severity of the problems found, factories receive support visits from 3rd party trainers, are instructed on corrective actions to implement, and/or are assigned to re-do the training. The most problematic factories receive a 2nd spot-check to verify whether issues have been addressed. When factories fail to fulfill their training obligation – particularly in the case of incomplete training or falsified records – Alliance members intervene by going to the factories themselves to motivate them, watch training, or accompany 3rd party trainers to give the impression to the factories that this is an extremely important program.

Overall, Alliance factories have been supportive of the fire safety training, and factory management has been satisfied with the improvements they’ve witnessed in workers’ knowledge about fire safety and participation in fire drills. We’re looking for ways to recognize our best-performing factories and fire safety facilitators for their hard work, and we will launch a refresher training (which factories are already asking about) in the next few months.  This refresher training will be launched across all Alliance factories and will be revised based on the results of a recently completed independent training impact assessment. A report summarizing the impact assessment’s results will be released shortly.