Safety training

A positive, proactive and preventative safety program will be appreciated by workers and improve safety culture, writes Dr Denis Boulais.

In the safety field, the difference between effective and ineffective training may be pain, injury or even death – in addition to significant cost losses.

Training is the cornerstone of the risk management process as research has shown participants are likely to remember 10 per cent of what they hear and 51 per cent of what they see and hear. Ninety two per cent are likely to remember what they see, hear and become involved in.

It’s for this reason that I am of the opinion competency-based training is very important. It is integral to explaining, demonstrating and observing what needs to be done, while also providing documentation of the training.

There has also been research to demonstrate that financial performance may be associated with safety achievement. In one study, 31 companies known for adopting high safety standards demonstrated higher stock market values compared to the market average where data was examined over a 13-year period.

Safety needs to be integrated into all operational processes as safety and productivity are strongly linked. A positive, proactive and preventative safety program with a focus on training will be appreciated by workers and improve safety culture.

I truly believe safety just doesn’t stop companies from losing money – it improves their ability to make money. An example here may be the presentation of certain certifications and innovations during tender submissions and presentations to win over a potential client.

Take training on how to mop a floor as an example – ideally training is not as simple as issuing a procedure. It is important to carefully explain the procedure with participants, then actually show the participants how to properly mop a floor (for example, with a figure of eight style motion).

It is important to observe the participant conducting the process and provide constructive feedback so the trainer can be 100 per cent certain the participant is competent in the process.

Training elements to consider

There are some important elements to consider in training.

  • Trainers should involve participants in the learning process and act as facilitators not teachers.
  • Life experiences of the trainer and participants should be encouraged and included to promote connectivity and relevance.
  • Training should be structured with defined elements which are consistent with the goals of the training.
  • Defined objectives should be set that the participants can relate to so participants can relate to the objectives and apply them to everyday life.
  • The concepts of ‘what and why’ should be focused on so participants can apply the elements most useful to their work environment.
  • Trainers should strongly encourage participants to add value by sharing their experiences through freedom of expression.

It is widely noted in the literature that human error is implicated in 75 per cent of incidents. My research indicates this may be in the ballpark of 65.5 per cent in the cleaning industry.

Further research I have conduced indicates 51.5 per cent of those incidents in the cleaning industry may be because cleaners move their feet before their eyes (complacency). It is important cleaners have extensive training in awareness to ensure they stay focused and look before they move.

There are plenty of movie clips on the internet showing live examples of complacency that can be used in training – some trainers refer to the more gruesome movies (bad accidents) as impact training. I often use impact training myself where I present a relevant movie clip and then explain the hazard and how it could ideally have been prevented.

Presentation tips

Safety training can get dry and this movie medium of training can certainly liven up a training session, make the safety message much more memorable and get everybody talking about the issue.

In my experience training is commonly used as a form of risk control in the cleaning industry. My analysis of 150 incident investigations indicated 87 per cent implemented training as a corrective action.

In the event of an incident then training is an effective risk control because it can immediately address a situation and document the fact the cleaner has been trained in the area that resulted in the incident. It is important all training is documented – where all training session details are noted on the training record.

One of the most effective strategies a trainer can use to improve their training is to select appropriate stories for inclusion in the training.

Stories grab the attention of trainees and make them more alert, noting that people tend to remember stories. The literature notes that stories are a powerful training technique because they:

  • Create an environment of trust
  • Empower the speaker
  • Engage thinking
  • Create a personal bond between listeners
  • Provide a way to learn from experience

A common technique speaker’s use in safety training and during presentations is telling a story about a tragic event. People tend to remember these stories because they make an emotional connection and management and participants are then more likely to implement long term and lasting changes.

I am aware of one conference speaker who always opens up with the same story about the death of close friend in a workplace accident, an event that inspired him to move into the field of safety. He believes his approach establishes a bond between him and his audience and in doing so, allows his audience to learn a lesson about how to reduce risk in the workplace.

Where well executed, these training objectives can become part of the safety culture and fabric of the organisation. As such where implemented with an integrated management systems approach then such a positive training strategy can become ingrained and self-sustaining within organisational culture.

On a final note, organisations that establish and implement an effective safety training system shall benefit from continuous improvement.

This article first appeared in the May issue of INCLEAN magazine 

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