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What Your Safety Training Needs To Be Successful

Plumber and apprentice

Safety training is broadly required in workplaces around the world, but not all training is created equal. What’s in safety training and how that training is delivered can make a huge difference in bottom-line safety results. In an article in Safety + Health magazine, Pandora Bryce, the Vice-President of Product Development at SafeStart, discusses some of the latest trends in safety training efficacy.

It turns out that when safety training happens can be a major determinant of success, and that increased attention is being paid to the timing of training and reinforcement. As Bryce says, “Ideally, learning is relevant and available ‘just in time’ at the location of need (for example, job aids attached to equipment, or job safety analysis templates on clipboards located and accessible where they’re going to be reviewed).”

Adding just-in-time elements to safety-related learning is a key aspect of managing human factors, as it helps combat the erosion of safety knowledge due to complacency. But part of doing so requires knowing where and when employees will most benefit from just-in-time reminders and aids. (One of the best ways to identify those times and places is by paying attention to previous incidents and establishing robust feedback loops, which are part of a larger human factors framework.)

Length is another crucial factor. Bryce notes that “Training in the workplace needs to be in short chunks of time to maintain attention, and be spaced apart so the worker gets to sleep between “doses” of learning to absorb the material.” Unfortunately, that is not the norm, and Bryce goes on to say that “Scheduling three or four training sessions in a single day is a recipe for reduced retention and lowered efficacy.”

It’s worth noting that while Bryce’s advice is specifically targeted at safety training, it has a much wider application in other sorts of safety activities. This means that whether you’re delivering a toolbox talk to a construction crew or having a one-on-one conversation with a material handler about the improper use of a hand truck, you’re best served by keeping it brief. These are cases where it’s often wise to prioritize quality over quantity.

Bryce is careful to note that while brevity is important to maintain attention, frequency is also vital. She says that “it takes practice and repetitions of a particular type for learning to be absorbed. Not only do workers need active learning when they’re in a classroom session, they also need supervisors and managers to follow-up with sustainability activities integrated into their regular workflow.” People are more likely to remember things if they’ve been exposed to them multiple times and had the opportunity to practice them in real-world settings.

Keep Bryce’s guidance in mind when you start planning your next safety training sessions. You can also use it as an informal checklist to evaluate safety training providers, whether you’re looking for compliance training to meet regulatory requirements, or human factors training that will help you meet your compliance goals while improving awareness and cutting down on incidents across the board.

Whatever you have in store for future safety training, don’t forget to keep it brief, keep it frequent, and provide it just in time when possible.

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