HSE's position on realistic training in the military


Realistic training, or operational training, is essential to properly prepare military personnel for combat.  This statement confirms HSE's recognition of that essential truth, and outlines the principles that HSE expects the military to follow in order to comply with its criminal law duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 during these training activities. 

These principles have been discussed with the military before publication, are consistent with the military's own high level expectations, and underpin the various Crown Censures that HSE has served on the military following training and selection exercise fatalities.


For the purposes of this statement, realistic training is that which:

  • is necessary to properly prepare military personnel for combat or other work in combat zones;
  • deliberately includes exposing staff to appropriate degrees of risk, possibly on a progressive basis, for the purposes of their training, but
  • is delivered under managed conditions.

Realistic training options may also include simulation exercises – which enable participants to experience decision making in hazardous operations without endangering life or assets. This may be particularly relevant in the early stages training when exposure to fully realistic risks is too dangerous, and when access to the real thing is too expensive or impractical. Such applications include landing aircraft and parachute drops, for instance.

Value of realistic training

For the Armed Forces, realistic training provides the closest thing to operational experience.  The more realistic and well managed the training provided in advance of deployment, the fewer the likely casualties during operations.  A similar realistic approach is often included in military recruitment and selection exercises.

HSE has always recognised this.  For instance, the 2014 'General Agreement between the Ministry of Defence and the Health and Safety Executive' states:-

'In determining whether MOD has done what is reasonably practicable to reduce risk to employees and those affected by their undertaking, HSE will take into account the operational context in which defence activities are conducted: eg. HSE recognises the importance of realistic training and its part in ensuring that the Armed Forces are competent and confident to conduct military operations in hostile environments'

HSE's policy position

HSE fully recognises the importance of properly managed realistic training as an essential element in building and maintaining competence. HSE equally recognises that there will still be a risk of injury even when properly planned and managed realistic training is delivered in practice. This statement is concerned with outlining HSE's expectations around proper planning and management.

Key health and safety principles when planning and managing realistic training

Progression: exposing individuals to risk through realistic training should have a logical place within the overall training scheme.  Training should be carefully structured so that individuals are progressively introduced to more hazardous tasks (eg allowing skilled behaviours to become automatic in a non-hostile environment before the realism is added).

Proportionality: the level of realism and risk involved in the training should be justified by the specific benefits sought from conducting the exercise. 

Adaption: for part-time and volunteer staff it may be appropriate to adapt the realistic training they need to reflect any difference in experience, roles or circumstances from full time staff.
Planning: exercises should be planned or modelled in advance.  The planning should consider variable factors, such as weather, location etc., using the best available information, and consider contingencies (eg including holding points, and cancellation criteria if conditions are

Integration: the control measures to be taken in reality should be introduced during training.

Variation: if changes (and especially last minute changes) are required to training exercises deliberately exposing individuals to risk, they must be effectively managed and appropriately authorised – in an informed manner. Standing instructions should state who is authorised to make changes/amendments to training exercises, and be clear about responsibilities for reviewing risk assessments and the suitability of precautions. Further advice can be found in HSE Human Factors Briefing Note No. 4 Procedures.

Monitoring: the implementation and effectiveness of the training should be monitored to identify whether improvements are needed, including taking feedback from the participants. In particular, consider whether the degree of risk introduced and the precautions taken were justified by the training benefits, and whether the lessons learned are the right ones to be taken into active service.

Review: use the monitoring data and other feedback intelligence (from incidents, for instance) to review and revise the training arrangements where this is necessary.

Where might HSE be expected to take action?

Circumstances like these:

  • a cavalier attitude, failing to consider foreseeable risks beforehand;
  • training which is not appropriate to the experience of those being trained/assessed;
  • inadequate preparations – leaving individuals to carry out dynamic risk assessments when facing real risks where this adds no value to the exercise;
  • precautions that do not take account of the wider context - such as sleep loss, heat stress and fatigue;
  • training focused on unrealistic or outmoded activities;
  • changes made to the planned exercises, without due consideration and authorisation, which significantly affect the in-built controls;
  • training procedures are not followed in practice, and
  • lack of clarity in decision making over when to stop the activity.

Is this page useful?

Updated 2021-04-28