We’re all in favor of safety training. But even better, we’re in favor of EFFECTIVE safety training.
But what IS effective safety training? What does that mean?
Effective safety training is training employees understand and remember. It’s training they later apply on the job. And ultimately, it’s safety training that will decrease the number of unsafe actions, increase the number of safe actions. It changes behavior on the job. It leads to decreased incident rates for near-misses, injuries, and illnesses. And it even makes a positive contribution to the company’s overall-bottom line.
And that’s what all safety managers want out of safety training, right?
For a few tips of how to make this happen, read on. We’ve even included a Free 60-Page Guide to Effective Safety Training at the bottom of this article.
Below are some tips you can use to make your safety training more effective. If you follow these tips, you’ll definitely be heading in the right direction.
You’ll notice the first two steps aren’t directly related to safety TRAINING but to safety in general. But we think you’ll agree they’re logical starting points.
The first thing to do is inspect the workplace for hazards. Your safety training won’t be very good unless you know the hazards you’re trying to protect your workers from.
Performing a job hazard analysis is a great way to get started. During a JHA, a team of people investigate a work area and look for hazards associated with a particular job. They’ll then work to control those hazards, a point we’ll get to shortly.
For more about this, you can read our entire article about the job hazard analysis (JHA). There’s even a free guide there waiting for you.
It’s good to do a JHA and identify your hazards. But it’s even better to control your hazards. If you don’t talk “Safety Manager 101,” that means to make the workplace safer by eliminating or reducing the hazards.
How does that make your safety training better? By removing the need for safety training! It’s always better to eliminate or control a hazard than it is to train workers to be safe in the presence of a hazard.
You can use the hierarchy of controls to help control those hazards. The hierarchy of controls gives you a simple pattern to use when trying to control hazards. First, try elimination. Next, try substitution. Third, try engineering controls. Fourth, try work practice controls. And fifth, try PPE.
Note that PPE is always a last resort. Also, know that in some cases you may use more than one type of controls in combination (for example, an engineering control and PPE).
You can read our extended article about the hierarchy of controls here.
You should also know the safety training requirements that regulatory agencies like OSHA or MSHA place on your work site.
First, because the law’s the law, and compliance with the law is a good thing. But also because safety training regulations (a) help you make sure you’re not overlooking something and (b) help you set a “baseline minimum” for training that you can then then exceed with your own training.
Remember that this is about setting a minimum standard for your safety training. Always think of regulation as the bottom level of what you’re shooting for, not the peak.
It’s a good idea to follow a proven, trusted method for delivering your safety training. If you haven’t heard of ANSI Z490.1, the national standard for accepted EHS training practices, now’s a good time to get familiar with it. The standard provides a step-by-step method for safety trainers like you.
For more about this, here’s a free 60-page Guide to Effective EHS Training that we created. You can download it anytime you want. It serves as an introduction to ANSI Z490.1. and you can use at work to help implement Z490.1.
We also offer a short, 30-minute, on-demand recorded webinar that covers much of the same information.
Don’t rely on just one training delivery method, such as online learning, instructor-led training, or field-based training for all of your safety training.
Instead, ANSI Z490.1 suggests you use a “blended learning” solution. That means you’ll use different training delivery methods for different training needs. So maybe you’ll use online learning for one safety topic and classroom-style training for another safety topic, or maybe you’ll use both online training and instructor-led training for the same safety training topic.
For example, you might use an online eLearning course for your Emergency Action Plan training and use an instructor-led class for your respiratory protection training.
Or, maybe you’ll “blend” training delivery methods for one training need. For example, maybe you’ll use an online eLearning course to introduce some of the issues in respiratory protection, and then follow-up with an instructor-led session to handle questions, provide feedback, perform demonstrations, and check your employee’s use of respirators.
Just watch the short video sample below and imagine how this can help you set the scene for effective respiratory protection training with an instructor-led follow-up session.
Early in the process of designing training, you’ll want to create a set of learning objectives.
Your learning objectives are the things you want your employees to do on their job as a result of your training. It’s the whole point of delivering safety training–because you want people to work safely after the training is done.
If you create learning objectives correctly for your basic safety topic (for example, to lock and tagout machinery before performing maintenance), you can then design your training to teach employees to perform those actions and create tests that evaluate if employees can perform those actions during training. So in short, your learning objectives are what everything else in your training supports.
For more information, download our free guide on writing learning objectives.
There’s a much better chance that your employees will “get” your safety training, and it will be effective, if you create training with their characteristics in mind.
What are there work schedules? Do they prefer classroom-style training or training in the field? Do they like to start training with some eLearning and then talk about it as a group? Are they comfortable with written material, or is that a struggle for them? What is their level of previous knowledge on the topic? What existing knowledge can you use to make comparisons while introducing new knowledge?
The more you know about your employees, the more effective your training will be. And the safer your workplace will be as a result.
Here’s an article that introduces the Training Needs Analysis, a process that includes steps for learning more about the employees you’ll train.
Employees pay attention to training and care about it if they know why it’s important for them.
If you start by explaining how the training is related to their jobs, and how it will help to keep them safer, you’re off to a good start. If you don’t do this, and you leave the employees wondering why they should care, they probably won’t.
And remember to design the training so it’s focused on how your workers actually work. Don’t provide one-sized fits all safety training to all employees. When you do that, it means some employees will almost by definition by completing safety training that has nothing to do with their job. As you’d guess, they’ll tune out.
And finally, keep the safety training task-specific. Make sure it’s directly relevant to job tasks the employee performs on the job. Avoid simply reading off a safety regulation–that’s too abstract. Make it personal.
This article on adult learning principles for safety training will help you with the “What’s in it for me?” issue (and more).
One of those adult learning principles we talked about earlier is the importance of active learning. The idea is that people don’t learn by passively sitting and listening to a lecture. Instead, they learn when they’re being active.
This can mean having employees lead the training session, actively participating in a Q&A session, sharing their thoughts and experiences, performing hands-on training, and similar “active” methods of learning. If you design training knowing that it’s important for the workers to be active participants, they’ll get more out of it and you’ll have a safer work place.
Here’s a great article full of tips from real-life safety managers about how to create engaging, fun, effective safety training, with an emphasis on active learning.
And here’s an article about scenario-based learning, one type of active learning.
One key aspect of active learning is providing feedback to the employees. Feedback is just one of the items covered in Dr. Will Thalheimer’s lists of things that improve training, which he calls the Decisive Dozen and Learning Maximizers. Check ’em out, we recommend them.
The “What’s in it for me?” issue, the importance of providing training that’s job-based and task-based, and active learning are all part of what learning experts call adult learning principles.
Adult learning principles are things that make adults more likely to learn, as you might have guessed. If your training includes these adult learning principles, it’s going to be more effective and lead to a safer work place than safety training that doesn’t appeal to adult learning principles.
Here’s a full article on adult learning principles, and here’s another about applying adult learning principles in safety training.
When you write training materials, or when you’re speaking during a training session, it’s important to use the right kind of language.
And for effective training, that means a few things. Primarily, of course, it means delivering training in a language your workers understand. If you have a multi-lingual workforce, providing safety training in multiple languages can be a challenge but is important.
But beyond the issue of speaking in a language your worker understands, this also means using casual, conversational language. The kind that the employees themselves use when they talk. Don’t fall into the trap of providing safety training in overly formal, academic language.
Here’s a longer article that gives more tips about how to write (or speak) for effective training. We’ve even got an article about formatting your written training materials to improve your written safety training materials (even if the writing appears on a PowerPoint presentation).
We’re visual creatures. Most of the information that comes to us comes from our eyes. And so it’s no surprise that training with good visuals (pictures, movies, real-life objects, etc.) can be very effective.
Even better, many studies show that training that includes well-designed visuals and words together is even more effective–this is because our brains have two “processing centers,” one for images and one for words.
Here’s a helpful article about visuals in workplace training.
And here’s a sample of forklift safety online safety training course from Convergence Training and our health and safety e-learning library. You can see how this blend of spoken words and visual images can be an effective learning tool for safety training.
Humans can only keep a small amount of information in our working memory at one time. Maybe only four bits of information at one time. That’s not a lot, is it?
Plus, if a person doesn’t move that new information into long-term memory quickly, it simply disappears and is forgotten or lost. This happens in a very short time period–as quickly as 15 seconds.
The solution to these challenges is to organize your training into tiny, bite-sized “chunks.” (Yep, that’s what it’s called in learning and development.) Doing this will give your workers a better chance of retaining the information.
Here’s an article about safety training and chunking.
And here’s a longer article with more details about chunking and training.
And here’s some of the background information about how people learn.
Training is good. But it’s also important to test employees to make sure they understand the important concepts or that they can demonstrate how to perform job tasks safely BEFORE you send them out on the floor to work.
Don’t forget to test or otherwise assess the skills and knowledge of workers as part of safety training–without it, you’re only hoping people have learned.
Testing is a good way to determine if workers understood the training. It’s also a good compliance measure if a regulator later asks how you determined if people understood training. But beyond that, testing is also good because it supports learning–this is called the testing effect.
For more on this, here is a series of articles to help you with testing issues for safety training:
And here’s one last thing you want to know about effective safety training. To know if it’s effective or not, you’ve got to evaluate the results–you can’t just assume it worked. Get out in the field and observe behaviors and see what workers are doing. Check your near-miss numbers and your injury/illness/incident counts. Make sure your training is having the effect you’re hoping for.
If you can get data of key performance indicators (KPIs) for safety both before and after training is held, that allows you to compare your data. You can then use the comparison to see if the safety training was effective. Here’s an article about training and KPIs.
You may also find this article on writing effective post-training evaluation sheets (also known as “smile sheets” or “trainee evaluation sheets”) helpful as well as this similar interview with Dr. Will Thalheimer on smile sheets.
Well, those were a few tips from us, but what about you? What tips do you have to share that we didn’t mention above? Or what thoughts do you have to add? We’d love to hear what you have to say–just use the comments section below.
One thing we didn’t mention in the “tips” section above, but that we recommend highly, is that you consider using a learning management system (LMS) to help administer your safety training. Read this article about LMSs for Safety Training to learn more, or watch the short overview video below.
And while you’re at it, why not download the free Guide to Effective EHS Training we’ve got for you below?
Finally, let us know if you’d like some information about our libraries of online safety training courses. They’re ready for licensing and/or viewing today, they’re available in many formats, such as streaming video, USB, DVD, and AICC and SCORM for importing into a learning management system (LMS).
Learn how to design, create, deliver, and evaluate effective EHS training by following these best practices with our free step-by-step guide.