Achieving compliance is obviously a top priority for safety professionals. And while compliance training is an important element of reducing injuries, it’s not sufficient to fully protect workers from harm.
Compliance training generally does a good job of teaching people rules and procedures, but it doesn’t help prevent injuries off-the-job, which is where the vast majority of people are hurt. It also doesn’t deal with human factors that can influence workers to take shortcuts or cause them to be distracted.
It’s also worth noting that compliance training can also be slow to adapt to rapidly changing workplace realities. If changes are introduced to the work environment, or public health emergencies like COVID-19 cause sudden disruptions to regular operations, there may be a gap between the information conveyed in compliance training and the reality in the workplace.
What influences whether people follow safety rules
At its core, compliance training is about informing workers about the rules and procedures they need to follow in order to avoid getting hurt on the job. But there are a lot of factors that contribute to whether people follow the rules, including:
- ability and habits
- PPE, tools and equipment
- employee engagement
- safety climate
- safety communication
- supervisor effectiveness
- management leading by example
- systemic influences like workflow or production demands
- amount of change and how change is managed
- complacency, distraction, forgetfulness and other human factors
While hardly a comprehensive list, these bullet points demonstrate that information is only one of several elements that cause people to follow—or break—workplace safety regulations.
Clearly, compliance training is not enough to ensure that workers follow the rules or procedures. If, for example, workers don’t believe there’s a need for certain rules or they see that management ignores them, it would be nearly impossible to get employee commitment to safety.
There are also human factors to contend with. When someone is rushed or fatigued, they are more likely to take a shortcut or circumvent safety procedures. The same is true for workers who are complacent in their work—when people get used to a task and too comfortable with the amount of risk it involves, they will become less careful and less focused because they no longer perceive the procedure as hazardous.
Improving safety training
Compliance training is an essential element of safety training, but it should be supplemented with several other programs that fill in the gaps. One of the most notable ways to round out compliance training is to offer human factors training that helps workers learn to recognize and address states like rushing, distraction and fatigue in real time, and helps supervisors recognize their influence on their team’s actions when directing work. When workers are aware of their state of mind and remain conscious of the hazards involved, they will be more likely to remain compliant. The end result of an effective human factors safety program is that workers are more attuned to their personal safety and less likely to ignore procedures.
Human factor training, when done right, can also contribute to building a healthy culture where voicing concerns about a safety issue does not get the worker in trouble, where management is actively involved, and where workers look out for each other’s safety. It helps avoid the wrong approach and rids the safety culture of problems such as lack of encouragement or negative reinforcement. It also allows the company to avoid injuries at home or on the road, and proves to employees that management cares about their safety wherever they are.
Basic compliance training provides much-needed rules and structure to workplace safety. But it doesn’t solve the problems of human factors, culture, mistakes made in the moment or off-the-job injuries. This is where human factors and compliance training can work in tandem to build a healthier work culture, prevent injuries and ensure stronger safety compliance.