Everything is more exciting when it’s fresh and new—believe it or not, that includes safety training. Companies recognize a noticeable difference in workers when a third-party solution is introduced or a new type of training is delivered because they are excited by it. The most common misconception with safety training is that once a safety course has been delivered, workers will be safe. But simply completing a training course (even if participants get a certificate) does not guarantee people will be safe because people need information delivered more than once, and in more than one way, to successfully change the way they work day-to-day.
Employees are often more engrossed and involved immediately after safety training has been completed but once the honeymoon phase is over the drop-off of engagement and compliance is palpable. Safety training programs should serve as the basis of the company culture to positively impact the way employees collectively think and act. In order to really make a change in company culture, safety training needs to be ingrained in every facet of the business.
Snohomish County Public Utility District (SnoPUD) has found great success with SafeStart. Rob Beidler, a retired law enforcement professional who recently joined SnoPUD as their Senior Manager of Safety, Security and Emergency Management, knew coming in that safety programs should be used as a foundation for success, not a solitary solution.
“Experience has taught me that it’s great to have a safety program or a safety system that you can use as your foundation,” said Rob. “Here at the PUD, that’s what SafeStart is. SafeStart is that common ground, common foundation that will put everyone on the same starting page.”
Establishing a common language throughout your facility is an essential first step to shaping your company’s culture into something positive and beneficial. Since culture is the sum of the values, expectations and behaviors that emerge within your organization over time, introducing a one-and-done program is not going to help change it.
In companies like SnoPUD, where there are several different departments with separate job functions that only come together under the safety umbrella, you need a safety program that will not only complement your existing safety management system but also one that has broad applicability and sustainability solutions built-in. When a process or program doesn’t feel relevant to people or is not easy to sustain, companies end up spending more money over time to continually retrain workers.
Snohomish County PUD is integrating SafeStart training into all of its programs. From fall protection to a driver safety program and even first aid, all safety initiatives will use the SafeStart language and concepts to unify them under one safety umbrella. Employees recognize the language, they feel included in the safety initiatives and most importantly, they feel supported. Sustainability resources like posters are often designed to be a quick reminder of safety training and meetings—they need to be changed out regularly to keep employees engaged by them. The best way to ingrain safety into the company culture is to have different reminders of the safety message throughout the facility. This will help with the learner’s recall as they are continually triggered by familiar material.
Relevant toolbox talks can also help continue to deliver that safety message and embed the subject into the culture. These five-minute talks or quick-view videos help reemphasize key points that were delivered in the original training. This type of repetition is a major learning factor that helps the brain make connections to previously learned knowledge, forming new ways of thinking and new patterns of behavior. And because toolbox talks are conducted in small groups with relevant context, all members can validate this new knowledge with their peers while building a common view and common understanding around the already-established common language to create new norms and new ways of working together.
In 2021, SnoPUD had the lowest recordable injury rating that the district has ever had (they started recording 40 years ago). In the 8 months that Rob has been in his position, SnoPUD has integrated SafeStart into at least a dozen programs. Not only does this keep the learning top of mind but it is a proven technique to boost retention and participation. Their recordable injury rating improved and they’ve noticed a huge change in their culture. Integrating new and relevant information into existing programs gets people’s attention, makes them think a little more deeply about human factors and helps them see things in a new light, all of which increases engagement.
As people engage with the common language and concepts in more places and in more ways, a consistency develops that demonstrates the company’s long-term commitment to the process and forms the basis of a culture that prioritizes safety. Check out our webinar The Science of Workplace Attitude to learn more about how a common language can spill over into workplace culture and start on a path similar to Snohomish County PUD.