Every company relies on third-party solutions to some degree—from sourcing new equipment or materials to engaging shipping companies or using contractors and temporary workers. Even within the safety department, consider the extent to which you rely on vendors for sourcing PPE, licensing EHS software, purchasing employee incentives, hiring a consultant for training, or subscribing to an association for access to a network of industry expertise. We all engage with different types of partners so much that we often forget how common it is and how hobbling it would be without them.
This means that for most safety folks, the question isn’t whether to use a third-party solution. Instead, it’s an issue of knowing when to use them.
Yet, when it comes to safety training, there seems to be a strong preference for going it alone and creating in-house solutions. According to Training magazine, total spending on outside training products and services is less than 10% of the overall training expenditures for most companies. Considering that safety professionals are notoriously stretched for time given everything they have to do, there’s the serious possibility of stretching themselves too thin.
Why is there hesitation in working with training vendors? You’re paying for training development one way or another, either with time or money, and it makes sense to capitalize on the investment with efficiency. Sure, there is a human tendency to feel ownership and pride in creating things yourself and to put a feather in your cap for a job well done. But several different kinds of feathers are available to take that feather’s place by recognizing opportunities for step-changes in improvements, achieving multiple objectives concurrently, and ensuring long-term success. When your lagging indicators look good, your strategy will look smart regardless of how you got there.
Time to look in the mirror
Creating in-house training programs does have its merits because you understand your employees, your site’s culture and your most urgent issues better than anyone. But it also has some extreme limitations. Most notably, it will take you a lot of time to create everything you need across your entire safety spectrum when that process could be expedited dramatically by experienced training partners who have already created and refined their solutions through hundreds of implementations. And when it comes to preventing injuries and fatalities, your slower, longer timeframe could be deadly.
All it takes is a simple change in perspective—from one of creating to one of customizing and applying what has already been created. You wouldn’t try making your own PPE, for obvious reasons, but the wealth of experience needed for effective training is no less intensive than the materials science advancements behind PPE manufacturing. Your safety capabilities are limited to your experience and your time. When you embrace third parties, you have access to perspectives, knowledge and resources that are orders of magnitude wider and deeper.
To that end, here’s a review of several other benefits of using third-party safety solutions.
Before you can begin your journey towards a desired future state you have to know your starting point. And it’s hard to get an accurate internal assessment of your company’s safety performance on your own. No matter who in your organization is tasked with taking a snapshot of safety, they’re sure to be influenced by internal politics or are likely to have sizeable blind spots on one issue or another. It’s tantamount to taking a picture with a finger over part of the camera lens.
Bringing in someone from the outside will allow you to get an impartial assessment of your safety program. It’s the quickest and most effective way to avoid the biased perspectives, legacy thinking and other baggage that invariably comes with internal reviews.
A third party also has the additional benefit of a wider range of experiences at other organizations. This can help put things in perspective, more accurately benchmark your current safety performance, and help put your safety management system in context with industry standards.
The grass is greener
One of the most slippery human factors to contend with is complacency—a sense of comfort and familiarity that can cause people to overlook hazards and other issues. But complacency isn’t just an issue for individual workers, as it can also have a notable impact on small groups and even entire organizations.
Safety training and other EHS initiatives are prime examples of how group complacency can compromise organizational safety culture. If your company relies solely on in-house trainers then a segment of workers has likely already started tuning out. Over time, this segment will grow until a sizeable portion of the employee population is unreceptive to safety messaging. This happens for a number of reasons, but the primary culprits include repeating the same presentation styles and formats over and over again, a lack of skill or expertise on the presenter’s part, and internal company politics.
Perhaps the most surefire way to counteract this type of complacency is to bring in someone from outside the organization. After all, the grass is always greener on the other safety presenter’s slide deck. Having a fresh voice delivering new material can dramatically improve safety engagement and long-term knowledge retention.
Not only does bringing in outside expertise upset complacency, but it also can circumvent any internal politics that have developed over time and signal to employees that this training session is different. It elevates the importance of the initiative by demonstrating management commitment with the visible investment of time and money.
Plug the gaps in skills and knowledge
As noted above, a lack of in-house training skills can affect group complacency and safety culture. But the problems are greater than just that. When in-house safety trainers and supervisors lack certain knowledge and abilities—because they have other duties, or don’t have the requisite training—they simply aren’t able to educate workers as effectively as someone who is an expert in the specific topic or in safety training generally. That’s not a knock on internal trainers but rather is the basic reality of the many competing demands on their time and energy.
Bringing in third-party training allows you to plug the gaps in your internal capabilities with the finely honed skills and knowledge that a specialized safety vendor can provide. It can be difficult, for example, to learn the fine points of what human factors are and how they function, all while mastering the nuances of how to integrate that knowledge into your safety management system.
Plus there’s the myriad work required to develop training geared towards human factors. Companies could try to do all that internally, or they could hire a safety consultant who has dedicated their career to mastering those skills and knowledge, and who has learned through experience which training techniques are best suited to human factors education (not to mention which pitfalls to avoid).
The right tool for the job
Use the right tool for the job and the right person for the task. These basic work principles apply in every job and in every industry, no matter how basic or complex the task. You wouldn’t hire an electrician to fix your plumbing, after all.
When safety directors and managers sit down for big-picture planning, what needs to happen is usually clear: mine safety data for insights, review incident reports for areas that must be shored up, integrate human factors into the SMS, and so on.
Wise safety professionals also take time to consider who should perform this work. These tasks can often be completed in-house, but in some cases, the right tool for the job is a third party such as a consultant who is a subject-matter expert or a safety vendor with a track record of success.
Safety vendors are an integral part of the safety supply chain—serving as a valuable source of materials and education, they provide everything from standard-use PPE to highly focused training and certification.
Securing training resources and working with partners, advisors and consultants on safety initiatives not only helps you fill a training gap but can also improve future training that you develop in-house. It can also help you get over a hurdle or two—like unlocking employee engagement or finally overcoming common injury challenges.
Beyond that, your organization can learn from these initiatives, and then you can integrate them and expand on them in your own processes and training down the road. All told, third-party safety solutions can help you complete essential training now while improving your internal abilities to get the job done for years to come.