Scheduling is one of the most common challenges in implementing a new safety training initiative. Time is an issue for some—it can be tough getting the production manager to agree with you on when safety training should happen. For others, budget constraints can make it hard for stakeholders to pull the trigger on committing to scheduling (and paying for) training.
There’s no question about the value of safety. OSHA examined places that have safety and health programs in place and found that injuries and incidents were lowered in some cases by more than 60% and fatalities were reduced by 31%.
But sometimes safety managers need to find ways to adjust how training is delivered and be more forceful in showing how safety training can improve the bottom line rather than just take employees away from their work.
Here are three ways to overcome the most common challenges of scheduling safety training.
Smaller safety classes
There’s no getting around the need to provide mandatory training. But if you’re able to control how that training is delivered, you may find it more effective to have more training sessions with fewer workers in each session.
The downside to this approach is obvious—safety training facilitators have to run more sessions, which brings with it additional financial and other costs. But this may be offset by a few notable benefits.
Smaller safety training sessions mean fewer people putting down their work at any given time. In some industries, this could reduce downtime and minimize safety training’s impact on productivity. That could make training seem much less unappealing to production managers and operations staff who are primarily focused on work output. Providing safety training to fewer employees at once can also make it much easier administratively to book workers for each class.
It’s worth noting one ancillary benefit to smaller class sizes—the ability to provide more hands-on safety training right off the bat. It may not help address any safety training scheduling problems but it’s a nice extra benefit of one potential solution.
Demonstrate the financial upside
Often the biggest challenge to scheduling safety training isn’t in finding the right time, but in getting management to agree to provide sufficient time (and budget) in the first place. That’s why it’s important for EHS professionals to get leadership’s buy-in and secure the budget needed for safety training initiatives.
But after approving the budget, upper management can still drag its heels on getting training scheduled. Should company leaders prove to be reluctant to schedule training, it’s time to remind them of the initial arguments for why the safety training is necessary, including the fact that there is a heightened risk of injury for every day that goes by and training isn’t conducted.
However, it’s worth noting that the problem is rarely caused by a CEO suddenly forgetting why safety training is important. Rather, it’s often a result of the fact that there is a very clear cost of taking workers away from their jobs for a few hours—and it can be just enough to make leaders hesitate to sign off on a training schedule. In many cases, the most effective solution is to remind managers that safety training can improve workers’ ability to do their job.
For example, as GH Metal Solutions discovered, taking employees away from their work temporarily is worth the benefits—the metal fabrication company found that quality and productivity both went up after their new safety training sessions. Putting workers through safety training may cost a few dollars in lost productivity, but that money can quickly be offset by increases in employee efficiency and reductions in human-error issues like defective parts and damaged equipment.
Train for shorter lengths of time
Long training sessions can be impossible to shoehorn into a workweek. No matter how you try to adjust the schedule, it can feel like there’s no way to run a half-day training session that can accommodate everyone and won’t significantly disrupt production.
The solution is to break training up into smaller pieces. Just because you’re mandated to train for a certain number of hours doesn’t mean those hours all have to be consecutive.
Running several short training sessions can seem more palatable to operations managers who don’t want to see workers pulled away from their jobs for long periods of time. And it could make the safety training stick better too. That’s because knowledge retention goes down as the length of training increases.
This means that if you’re providing half- or full-day training then workers are potentially forgetting a great deal of what they learned simply because they’ve received more information than they can absorb in one sitting.
If safety trainers want people to remember what they’ve been taught, they should restructure safety training into smaller sessions that are geared to improving knowledge retention. In an article for Safety + Health, Dennis Carnrike argues that certain types of training exercises are a lot more effective than others:
The single most important contributor to knowledge retention is putting what you’ve learned into practice. Either you use it or you lose it. In the classroom, this means presenting each concept and then reinforcing it with workbook exercises, discussions and storytelling.
(He goes on to emphasize the need for skills repetition, motivation and organizational support. If you’re interested, you can read the entire article here.)
None of the classroom teaching techniques listed above take a lot of time. So by running shorter safety training sessions, you’re not only making it easier to schedule but you’re making the training more effective too.
Final note—don’t overestimate
One final piece of advice: don’t overestimate how much training can get conducted in an hour. Humans are notoriously unreliable in their ability to accurately determine in advance how much they can get in the future. Many trainers have planned to blast through an entire checklist of items they must cover in safety training, only to find themselves bogged down by questions and unexpected delays when it’s time to actually deliver the training.
There is one exception to overestimation. As Scott H. Young points out, it’s possible to use past levels of performance to accurately gauge how much can be accomplished in the future.
Two big lessons can be drawn from this when it comes to safety training. The first is that safety managers, trainers and anyone else responsible for planning training should look at past safety training sessions to see how much of the material could actually be covered in an hour. If less material was taught in prior sessions than perhaps you’d like, that may be disappointing but it’s also probably realistic.
The second big lesson is to partner with others who have a great deal of experience in the subject matter. A safety training consultant or vendor is likely to be a specialist in the topic at hand and will be able to provide an accurate assessment of how long the training will take. And some training providers like SafeStart, who specialize in human error reduction, have finely honed their delivery methods to squeeze as much learning as possible into every hour of safety training.