Tips for Better Construction Safety Training

Tips for Better Construction Safety Training

Every safety professional in the construction industry is dedicated to improving safety and health, and part of that includes designing and delivering safety training. But not every safety professional has a basic grounding in some of the instructional design principles that make training more effective.

And that's where this article comes in. We'll introduce you to some ideas that will improve your safety training and link you to resources, including ASSP national standards and OSHA materials, that will help all the more.

We hope you find this helpful--let us know if you've got any questions.

And don't forget to download the Construction Safety Training Guide we've got for you at the bottom of this article!

Key Tips for Better, More Effective Construction Safety Training

Following these tips will GREATLY improve your current safety training programs.

Know Your Hazards

Every worksite, and every construction worksite, has its own unique hazards and risks. So there's no single, easy way to create a list of hazards to create training around.

Instead, you'll have to do what you're good at--conducting job hazard analyses, doing inspections, getting safety observations from workers, reviewing your incident records and data, and so on--so you'll know what the hazards are that you're dealing with. And then you'll need to keep on top of things in case things change, and keep in mind non-routine emergencies and create plans and training for them, and be ready to do it all over again at the next job site.

That said, there are some general trends when it comes to construction safety and health hazards. Two resources we recommend you check out are OSHA's Fatal Four of construction safety hazards and the AIHA's Focus Four of construction health hazards.

According to OSHA, the fatal four construction hazards are:

  • Falls
  • Struck-by-object
  • Electrocutions
  • Caught-in and/or caught-between

And according to the AIHA, the focus four construction health hazards are:

  • Manual material handling
  • Noise
  • Air contaminants
  • High temperatures

Additionally, OSHA's document for construction safety management programs, OSHA 3886-Recommended Practices for Safety & Health Programs in Construction, includes the following list of common construction hazards:

  • Falls
  • Stairways and ladders
  • Scaffolding
  • Electrical
  • Trenching and excavation
  • Motor vehicle safety
  • Highway work zones
  • Hazard communication
  • Hand and power tools
  • Silica
  • Concrete and masonry products
  • Cranes, derricks, hoists, elevators, and conveyors
  • Welding, cutting, and brazing
  • Confined spaces
  • Residential construction
  • Steel erection
  • Fire safety
  • Emergency action planning

But we'll repeat again, no two construction sites are the same and neither are the hazards.

Consider Your Entire Safety Management Program/System and the Place of Safety Training Within It

Your safety training program should be in a disconnected silo, separate from other aspects of your safety program. Instead, you should use a well-designed, integrated "systems" approach to safety in which your safety training and other safety measures complement each other hand-in-hand.

The OSHA safety management in construction document can help you with that, and of course there's also the ANSI/ASSP Z10 standard to consult as well.

For more on this, check out our tips for construction safety management and our recorded discussion with safety professional Pam Walaski talking about systems approaches to occupational safety and health.

Also, download these two infographics:

The Place of Safety Training within the Hierarchy of Controls

This is perhaps a subset of the point we made above, about ensuring your safety training program is integrated into your safety management program/system as a whole, but it's important to keep in mind the position of safety training (which is a lower-level, administrative control) within the hierarchy of controls.

You're safety professionals, so no doubt you understand the hierarchy of controls, but the basic idea is there are different ways to control a hazard and, when you're brainstorming and implementing hazard controls, you want to try some controls (these are referred to as "higher-level" controls) before trying other controls (referred to as "lower level controls"). For example, it's better to eliminate a hazard entirely (the highest-level control there is) than it is to give a worker PPE to protect against an otherwise uncontrolled hazard (the lowest level of controls).

Safety training is a lower-level control and is often grouped in the category known as administrative controls. That's not to say that safety training can't be helpful and doesn't have a role, but you've got to keep in mind the best ways to truly keep workers safe and healthy.

If you're new to this idea, read up on the hierarchy of controls here.

OSHA's Safety Training Requirements

As a safety professional, simple compliance with OSHA or other regulators should never be the end goal. It's the floor, not the ceiling.

That said, compliance IS a reality for employers. You've gotta do it. Plus, even if compliance shouldn't be the end-all of your professional life, these requirements were created by well-intended people and they can help keep people and healthy.

To that point, you might want to check out this helpful OSHA Compliance Guidance on Training webpage, and in particular you might be interested in OSHA 2254, Training Requirements in OSHA Standards.

ADDIE or Similar Training Development Models

Most fields have models to help people work through processes in a step-by-step manner. For example, we just referred to the hierarchy of controls, which fits that description for safety professionals who are trying to select appropriate hazard controls.

The same is true in training development, as you'd guess. Good trainers don't just make things up on the fly, and if they were creating safety training they wouldn't just look at a regulation and transfer some key parts of it to a PowerPoint presentation.

Instead, they often work through models, and ADDIE is the most common one. Each letter in ADDIE stands for a different step or phase of the process: A for analysis, D for design, D for develop, I for implement, and E for evaluate.

Here's a quick overview of the analysis phase of ADDIE:

  • Know a business goal the training is aligned to
  • Learn the actual job task the employees will perform
  • Know the employee's current ability to perform the job
  • Know as much about the employees that will affect the training as you can
  • Begin a training evaluation strategy now, including finding the KPI the business goal is tied to and beginning measurements of that KPI

Here's what happens during the design phase of ADDIE:

  • Write learning objectives for your training (more on this below)
  • Determine what the employees must do to successfully complete your training
  • Create tests/assessments for after training (yes, before you create the training itself)
  • Select the best instructional methods
  • Select the best training delivery methods
  • Chunk your training down into smaller, related bits

Here is a list of what to do during the develop phase of ADDIE:

  • Workbooks or similar materials for the employees to use during (and after) training
  • Guides for the instructor
  • PowerPoint presentation or similar materials
  • Other visual aids
  • Any materials/supplies/tools/PPE needed for hands-on training

Here's what you should do during the implement phase of ADDIE:

  • Work with employees and their managers to schedule the training
  • Inform managers/supervisors what the training is about and how they can continue to support the training on the job after the session is over
  • Get the room or computers or whatever you'll need
  • Deliver the actual training (consider a beta test if possible)

And ADDIE ends with the evaluate phase, which typically includes evaluation at four different levels:

  • Level 1–learner reactions
  • Level 2–learning (tests)
  • Level 3-On-the-job behaviors
  • Level 4-Organizational results

The four-level training evaluation model, which is the most common in the training industry, is not the only model you can use. We've listed the names of some more below and you'll find links to helpful videos on these other models a little further down in the article.

  • Brinkherhoff’s Success-Case Model
  • The Kaufman Model
  • The Phillips “ROI” Model
  • The Thalheimer LTEM Model

Now, ADDIE's not the only instructional design model out there. There's SAM, Llama, Agile, Design Thinking, and more. And there are actually different ways to "do" ADDIE, depending on what you include in each phase. But if you get a working knowledge of ADDIE down, you'll be well-ahead of where you were if you were a novice on this topic, and you're still plenty young with plenty of time to investigate alternatives and add-ons.

You can read more about ADDIE here.

Evidence-Based Training Practices

Beyond simply knowing a process for designing effective safety training, you should know that we are fortunate enough to live in a world with learning researchers who have studied what really makes training effective (in terms of comprehension, retention, and later transfer to the job) and what does not. Thanks to them, huh?

So that means we should focus on the so-called evidence-based training practices they've figured out for us. There are a LOT of these evidence-based training practices, and we'll link you to a more comprehensive article specifically about them right below this bulleted list, but here are a few of the easiest and most impactful ones to begin integrating into the training at your construction sites:

  • Know the current level of knowledge of the employees and design your training to fill gaps
  • When training begins, activate their existing knowledge on that topic (ask questions, ask what they know, begin a discussion, etc.)
  • Use learning objectives
  • Remember that less is more
  • Use simple, conversational language
  • Tell stories
  • Provide demonstrations with explanations
  • Allow for practice with constructive feedback
  • Use examples and non-examples
  • Ask employees to summarize what they've learned
  • Ask employees to reflect on what they've learned
  • Provide multiple trainings spread out over time on the same topic instead of one-and-done training or once-a-year training
  • Provide training in a variety of different methods

Read more about evidence-based training practices here.

It also means we should avoid "learning myths"--things people THINK make training better even though they don't or even though there's no evidence behind the belief. Read more about learning myths here.

Learning Objectives

At the heart of any good training design is the issue of learning objectives.

Your learning objective(s) is/are what you want the learners to be able to DO when training is over. It's the reason you're developing the training.

It's important to keep in mind that learning objectives should be a measurable behavior--something you can see, watch, or witness someone do. They shouldn't be something vague or fuzzy or non-observable, like "know this" or "understand that." Think, instead: operate a forklift.

Once you've got your learning objectives, then create your tests/assessments and then your training content activities and you're pretty much done! Of course, make sure your tests, assessments, content, and activities are all directly mapped to those learning objectives, but you guessed that on your own, right?

For more on this, check out our recorded discussion about learning objectives with well-respected learning research professional Dr. Patti Shank and download a copy of our learning objectives guide.

Tests & Assessments

You also will want to create tests and/or assessments to determine if the learners CAN perform the learning objectives when the training is over. Remember, the key here is to make sure your test or assessment directly measures the learner's ability to perform the learning objective.

So, if the learning objective is to operate a machine, don't have a test that asks people to list the steps of operating the machine. Do you see how those two things aren't the same? Are they being paid to go to work and operate a machine or to go to work and list the steps of operating the machine? The former, right?

For more, check out our recorded discussion with Dr. Patti Shank on creating learning assessments and multiple-choice questions in particular.

Blended Learning for Safety Training

One thing to know about any kind of training is that people learn better from a diversity of training experiences.

One way to provide that kind of diversity is to offer a blended learning solution to employees. This means to deliver training in multiple different delivery formats--maybe classroom, plus online, plus virtual reality, plus microlearning, plus a community of practice, for example.

So when you're thinking about your safety training program, mix it up a bit.

For more on this, get our Blended Learning Solutions Guide.

Evaluating Safety Training Effectiveness

A final thing to think about is that once you've delivered your safety training, you want to evaluate it to see if it's been effective.

The most common training evaluate method is the Kirkpatrick Four-Level Training Evaluation Model, in which you evaluate training at the following levels:

  • Level 1, reaction: surveys from the learners right after training
  • Level 2, learning: tests/assessments right after training
  • Level 3, on-the-job behaviors: observations of later performance on the job to see if the training "transferred"
  • Level 4, effect on business goals: how did the training, learning, and on-the-job behaviors affected a larger business goal

You can read more about the Kirkpatrick evaluation model here.

If you REALLY want to take a deep dive, check my interviews with learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer on Four Common Training Evaluation Models and Dr. Thalheimer's LTEM Training Evaluation Model.

Add Some Online Safety Training Capabilities

Although face-to-face training can be GREAT, and we encourage you to use it when it's appropriate, if you're not yet using online safety training, it's a good time to start.

Consider the following:

Even better, see if you can find a solution that includes complementary:

Keep in Mind Special Considerations of a Construction Workforce

Training in the construction industry isn't the same as training in the software industry, at a bank, or even in a manufacturing facility.

In the United States, at least, many construction workers speak something other than English as their first language. Often times, this will be Spanish. And in some cases, these workers won't be conversational (or able to read and write) in English at all. You're probably already aware that OSHA requires you to provide safety and health training in a language the workers can understand, but here's your reminder.

Additionally, the construction workforce is a mobile one that's often spread out over space (and working at different times). You're going to need to think outside of the box a little more than a compliance manager at a bank who simply has people walk into a conference room or log into a desktop computer at their workstation to complete training. An effective blend of field-based training and online training can help here.

And finally, construction is unique because of the multi-employer aspect of it, including the use of contactors. Check out our contractor LMS for more on this.

Additional Resources to Improve Your Safety Training

We'd be remiss if we didn't mention the ANSI/ASSP Z490.1 national standard for EHS training and the ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard for online EHS training (note: the author of this article helped to create Z490.2 and is currently helping to update Z490.1). Go check those two standards out.

In addition, check out the following recorded webinars we've put out:

We hope you find this article helpful. Let us know if you need help or have questions, and have a great day!

If you're interested in online safety and health training, check out the guide below, too.

Jeff Dalto, Senior Learning & Performance Improvement Manager
Jeff is a learning designer and performance improvement specialist with more than 20 years in learning and development, 15+ of which have been spent working in manufacturing, industrial, and architecture, engineering & construction training. Jeff has worked side-by-side with more than 50 companies as they implemented online training. Jeff is an advocate for using evidence-based training practices and is currently completing a Masters degree in Organizational Performance and Workplace Learning from Boise State University. He writes the Vector Solutions | Convergence Training blog and invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn.

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