Is Safety Training The Solution?

“Training To The Rescue…….Again!”     

When an unsafe behavior or action is observed, or there is an incident, a  common response is to re-train those involved.   The underlying assumption is that the error or behavioral choice was made due to a lack of awareness or education.  It’s my experience that this often isn’t the case.  Beginning today, we will introduce ANSI Z490.1 – 2009 and disect the safety training process to see how we can make it more effective. 

Recently, I was talking to a safety professional who is a friend of mine.  He had been at a conference and heard a speaker present on the “power of creating a positive work environment.”  Now, my friend understands that honey tastes better than vinegar, but he questioned what he heard.  As an experienced trainer, he knows to use positive methods to engage the workers and encourage participation.  He’s good with stories, humor, games, and other involvement techniques.   He also understands that the use of discipline in the education process can be positive as well.

A Picture Provides The Answer

During the presentation, the speaker discussed various situations and provided suggestions for intervening and correcting at risk behavior.  Twice the prescriptive corrective action was to re-train those involved.  Being both experienced and opinionated, my friend approached the speaker to present a situation and pose a question.   He began, “When I’m at a construction site conducting a review I make it a practice to carry a camera to document my findings and sometimes capture workers doing stupid things.  Several times I have taken pictures of workers standing on the top step of a step ladder.  When I went up to them to show the picture on my digital camera, how many times do you think they told me that they didn’t know better, or hadn’t been trained in ladder safety?  The answer is NEVER!”

It’s Really About Consequence

The point here is obvious.  Sometimes training and re-training aren’t the answer.  In situations like the worker on the ladder it is better to think in terms of consequences.  It’s human nature to ignore negative consequences.  We are invincible and won’t get hurt.   What is the self-talk that’s going on here?  “If I get down and go get the taller ladder it will take lots of time.  I’ve done this before and nothing has happened.”  Not stopping to get the taller ladder has become a habit, because taking the easier way out and getting the job done faster have provided positive only consequences.   

The next time you see a worker involved in at risk behavior ask the questions “Is this the way you were trained, and do you know better?”  When they say “yes and yes” it’s time to discipline.  It’s far better for the worker to experience the bite of the disciplinary process than to learn the hard way by falling and being injured.  Then, while you’re at it, discipline the supervisor and manager who have ignored the at risk behavior.  Their lack of intervention and enforcement created the culture whereby standing on the top rung of the step ladder is acceptable.   It takes two to tango!

In ANSI Z490.1-2009 one of the first steps in developing effective training is to ask whether training is the appropriate solution.  Over the next few months we will discuss this ANSI standard and provide useful tips on how to create clear learning objectives, develop course content, use engaging teaching methods, measure and manage the training outcomes.