Industrial Safety / Career Development

Everyone can help improve safety training

Improved training programs can contribute to better safety performance, communication and camaraderie.

By J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

When employees have the knowledge and skills they need to do their jobs safely, the risk for workplace injuries and illnesses is reduced. Safety training is an important tool you use to help employees achieve safe performance.

A training program that merely tells workers the safety rules isn’t going to translate into a top-notch safety culture. Even good training can be better, and you don’t have to look very far to get help for improving your program.

Enlist managerial support

Everyone has heard that safety starts at the top. Successful safety training efforts have the support of managers and supervisors. The training program is created from investments of both money and time. Managers provide the training budget used to obtain audio video equipment, software and hardware, contracts with outside training providers and other supplies. Supervisors adjust work schedules so employees can attend training sessions.

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There are other ways to involve managers and supervisors in the training program:

  • If managers and supervisors regularly attend safety training sessions and always follow safety rules when they’re in production areas, their example inspires employees to take safety seriously;
  • If managers include evaluations of training program participation and overall safety performance on employee performance reviews, workers have more incentive to participate in and pay attention to training programs and other safety efforts;
  • If supervisors provide reports on employees’ safety performance to the safety trainer, refresher training can be targeted to where it’s needed most; and
  • When supervisors and managers have an expanded role in the training program, the program has a stronger foundation to support improvement.

Partner with employees

The safety training program doesn’t exist without employees. To improve training, let employees do more than just show up for class. Each worker has expertise and insight you can tap to improve your training program.

By using some readily available resources, your improved training program can contribute to better safety performance, communication and camaraderie.

If the same trainers always conduct the training sessions, recruit employees to serve as your resident expert speakers. These temporary teachers may not want to facilitate an entire class, but having them give short, informal presentations will perk up your classes. The trainees will pay attention to a fresh face, and they’ll be open to learn from someone who knows a job inside out.

Perhaps employees aren’t getting the most out of your training sessions because the material isn’t entirely relevant to your workers’ day-to-day experiences. Ask some of your local experts to review the training program content. They’ll likely have some suggestions on how you can update the classes to include job-specific information you weren’t aware of. Training that zeros in on the details of the job provides trainees with better information they can put to use.

A good way to evaluate your training program is to evaluate post-training employee job performance. Evaluations can be done shortly after the training program, but long-term retention and implementation of new skills is measured by evaluating employee performance several weeks or months after the training takes place.

Evaluations involve observations, and they take time to do. When you have a lot of employees, your resources are stretched pretty thin if you’re the only person doing the evaluations. One solution is to have employees participate in the evaluation program. Armed with checklists and instructions, they can provide you with valuable feedback on the long-term effectiveness of the training program. Another benefit to this approach is that the evaluation crew essentially gets refresher training while they conduct the evaluations.

Encourage lively discussions

If asking employees to help you prepare, deliver and evaluate the training program isn’t an option, there are still ways to increase employee involvement in the classroom. Employees learn more when they’re engaged in the learning process.

Some people learn by talking, so encourage classroom discussions. A good way to ensure everyone stays on topic is to structure the discussions around table top exercises and case studies. As you develop the training program, ask employees for suggestions on scenarios they’d like to explore. If you break up the class into small groups during these exercises, be sure to visit with each group to find out how well they can apply what they’re learning to the hypothetical situation.

Improve your classes by letting employees learn from each other, too. Schedule in some class time for employees to share their experiences with the topic. Don’t let your long-time veteran employees do all the talking. Newer workers can offer fresh perspectives on how things were done at their previous jobs.

Learn by doing

Let your classes continue in the production area. Improve the training program by conducting demonstrations, coaching employees as they practice new skills and setting up drills to gauge employee performance. These activities are especially beneficial if employees must learn to use new skills on the job.

Demonstrations give trainees the reference point they need to remember how to do something correctly. They see the big picture of how and why procedures are established the way they are. The lecture material starts to make sense.

Practicing new skills lets employees get the feel for how to do the job safely. They begin to develop muscle memory. They’ll probably make mistakes as they try new procedures, but they’ll feel safe because a coach is there to prevent a catastrophe, offer encouragement and answer questions. Consider asking experienced employees or supervisors to serve as coaches.

Everyone is familiar with the fire drill. When the alarm sounds, it’s a conditioned response to evacuate. Similarly, other procedures can lend themselves to drills. If the exercises are scheduled in advance, you’ll give workers the chance to review instructions and prepare for the event. This reinforces learning. If the drills are unannounced, you’ll see if your training program needs some improvement.

Embrace computer-based training

You can also improve your training program by taking advantage of your workers’ technical abilities. Computer use is no longer the domain of an elite few. Some of your younger workers probably can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a computer monitor on every desktop. Even if the trainees don’t use a computer on the job, they likely use one at home. There’s no longer any excuse for not using computer-based training methods.

There are a number of reasons why using computers improves training. For starters, people like using the equipment. There’s something about a keyboard and a glowing screen that grabs our attention.

Here are some tips for adding e-learning to your training environment:

  • Use stand-alone computer-based training programs to introduce safety topics. Employees can complete them before you hold classroom sessions to provide workplace-specific procedures and instructions.
  • Have trainees attend webcasts on relevant topics. Many organizations offer free or low-cost online seminars that can help you provide supplemental training.
  • Use video conferencing to help trainees at different locations share their knowledge.
  • Use digital cameras to film some in-house videos or take photos to show during your classes. Presentation software programs make it easy to share your home-made productions, and in-house examples can really drive the point home.

Enjoy the benefits of an improved program

Incorporating these techniques to improve your training program can lead to increased interest from the employees, supervisors and management. Interest leads to participation and practice. By using some readily available resources, your improved training program can contribute to better safety performance, communication and camaraderie.

This article originally appeared in EHS Today.  By J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc., the nation's leader in risk and regulatory management solutions since 1953.  For more information, visit www.jjkeller.com