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Five Safety Training Pitfalls to Avoid

Aug 22, 2018

Five safety training pitfalls Seventy percent of employees in a recent survey admitted to forgetting what they’d learned within 24 hours of training.

That’s according to corporate learning platform Bridge, which evaluated the responses of 1,000 U.S. employees last year. “The Employee Forgetfulness Index” findings are bad news for employers, especially since Bridge claims that at least 10,000 productivity hours are wasted annually when companies with at least 1,000 employees have teams asking questions related to what was previously covered in training courses. While the survey sample size was relatively small and the platform’s marketing objective is obvious, the research speaks to an experience with which nearly every worker is familiar: Sitting in a chilly conference room for hours of mandatory training, listening while an expert reads from a slide presentation, heading home, then going back to business as usual.

“This happens time and time again in safety,” says James “Skipper” Kendrick, CSP, ASSP past president, Fellow, training facilitator and safety consultant at Kendrick Global Enterprises. “Many facilitators just cram as much text as they can onto a slide, then read it out loud word-for-word without tying the material back to people’s lives.”

Most employers understand that providing educational opportunities that “stick” is a critical part of maintaining a safe, effective and competitive workforce. However, they also understand the considerable costs and are eager to get the most from their investment. U.S. companies spent approximately $1,273 per employee per year on average for training opportunities in 2016, according to the Association for Talent Development’s most recent State of the Industry report. For the country’s largest companies with 300,000 or more employees, training workers could come with a price tag upwards of $382 million.  

To reduce training expenses, some employers try to change the structure and location of the classes they offer. Some take on-site courses and adapt them for the web, lowering the expenses related to instructor travel and training materials. Some bring off-site courses back to home base, which can significantly cut travel costs and save event coordinators countless hours searching for a venue and securing meals, transportation and lodging.

Both strategies can work well, depending on the company and the subject of the course. But, according to Joel Tietjens, CSP, CSHM, ASSP Fellow, training facilitator and president of T-JENS & T-JENS INC., it isn’t a decision employers should take lightly.

“No training option is one-size-fits-all,” he says. “Sometimes webinars and e-learning courses are useful because of the topic or maybe people are in different places. But in my opinion, nothing replaces the eyeball-to-eyeball contact between the participants and the facilitator. And with on-site, attendees get more personal attention and a customized experience; there’s no doubt about it.” 

When it comes time to decide between on-site, off-site and e-learning options for worker education, Kendrick and Tietjens agree that companies should make knowledge retention the priority. Sometimes that means investing more time and money upfront, but focusing on long-term returns is likely to make training initiatives more successful. After all, why spend one cent on training employees if 70 percent of them won’t remember your efforts tomorrow?

If, like most employers, you’re concerned that the professional development opportunities you offer aren’t helping your workers learn and grow, here are five common problems to identify and solve.  

1. Facilitators can’t engage audiences.

Talking heads don’t create memorable experiences for employees. That’s why it’s critical for the people leading your training sessions – even those who teach e-learning courses remotely – to make personal connections with participants.

“I have been in this business for a long time, and I have never seen a regulation, rule or training model that says you can’t have fun doing it,” Kendrick says.

However, because safety has serious implications for employees and their families, it can be challenging for training facilitators to combine playfulness and an honest assessment of work-site risks. He says in those instances, sharing his individual experiences can go a long way.

“I have a certain picture of me with an injury that I often lead with to make it personal,” he continues. “The message is that if it can happen to me, it can happen to you.”

2. Employees can’t fully disconnect from work during training.

Whether a course is taught at a work site or somewhere else, senior management should signal to participants that during the designated training period, learning is the priority. When workers are called out of a seminar to address an internal issue or when they’re expected to have laptops and smart phones nearby to respond quickly to work requests, Tietjens says it impairs their ability to absorb new information.

“The distraction of work can be a real problem. I’ve had clients request that people not bring electronic devices into a seminar, but unfortunately that’s not always enough because they still feel like they’re on call.”

3. Course participants can’t access the equipment they need to learn.

If workers are learning to perform an action on a machine or are enrolled in an online course that requires a computer with video capability, for example, they need those tools to be free and readily available to them. Never assume that employees already have what they need to be successful. Since it can be difficult or impossible to bring large equipment to employees off-site, Kendrick says in those instances it’s beneficial for companies to consider bringing in an expert to help teams learn using the tools they’ll need day-to-day.

“Learning by doing solidifies people’s knowledge because they have to not only understand, but also have to do,” he adds. “In five days, I can get people to a score of 90 or 95 percent on the written part of the exam to be a carpenter, but do I really want to turn them loose with tools to build a house at that point in time?”

4. The company culture doesn’t embrace change or expect excellence.

Cultural issues are often deeply rooted, hard for senior leaders to recognize and even harder to admit to employees. But part of acknowledging the need for continuing education is acknowledging the need for new and improved perspectives on subjects key to safety, health and the bottom line. When companies have deeply ingrained cultural systems that help maintain the status quo and are not open to new methodologies, it’s hard to blame employees who show up to training seminars with a cynical attitude. 

“What I hear a lot is the phrase, ‘You don’t understand,’” Tietjens says. “That’s code for, ‘I understand what you said, but it will never work in our environment because nothing ever changes.’ The problem is not rampant across industries, but I still think people could benefit from looking at problems holistically and imagining new ways to work.”

5. Courses are not customized to meet employee needs.

If you want workers to step outside their comfort zones and put energy into learning something new, honor their efforts by providing course material that addresses their real needs. According to Kendrick, a great way to successfully work with a trainer and customize the content of a seminar is to begin with the end in mind.

“What I ask is, ‘At the end of the seminar, what results would you like to see?’ They should know this, and based on the answer we’re able to decide on an appropriate location and training method.”

Another aspect of customization is scheduling flexibility, which could help employees get more out of learning experiences, according to Tietjens. E-learning courses allow workers to train on their own schedules, which can be a helpful option, depending on the topic and circumstances. Off-site options often require more rigid planning and scheduling due to the need to accommodate vendor and venue restrictions. But when Tietjens facilitates on-site courses, he says he can be more open to a company’s requests.

“If workers normally get off at 4 p.m. and the course is scheduled to go until 4:30, we can make small changes so the timing is more reasonable for them. As long as we cover the material, get the same hours of contact and teach them something, that’s all I really care about.”

Related Links 

The Top 10 Fall Protection Misuses and What to Do About Them
Why It’s Time to Rethink Cargo Truck Tank Safety
How to Recognize and Prevent Occupational Heat Stress


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