How to Find Training that's Right for You

Your employees want direction, not grades. They want to learn easy-to-do, easy-to-remember, common-sense things.

OSHA has given us standards for industry. Confined spaces, trenches, scaffolding, forklifts, high steel--you name it and there's a standard written for it. There are good reasons for these standards: They do, in fact, save lives. OSHA's standards have made us aware of both long-term and short-term dangers. The standards have helped Americas' legitimate businesses and industries become better employers because of the education and training those standards necessitated, and the standards have forced many "less than honorable" businesses to stop killing and maiming their employees.

Many in business, especially those in smaller companies, feel OSHA's and other agencies' standards place undue financial burdens on their businesses. But most have never looked into the financial burden a major incident could impose. A single debilitating injury could have the potential to strain or even devastate some small businesses. That has been proven time and again.

Even large corporations can be strained, considering insurance costs, legal fees, the costs of settlements, possible fines, and the cost of additional training as the result of injuries or the death of one or more of their employees. But most businesses do not look at costs they could incur because they do not provide proper training for their employees. Others do not understand that they have been and/or are currently providing their people with inadequate or substandard training.

Every month I pick up this magazine and others, and I see ad after ad for video instruction, Web-based instruction, or complete courses on CD. "Learn on your own time!" "Learn at your own rate, learn quickly," they say. "Our programs are the easiest way to become competent," they promise. "We have workbooks to complement our videos," others advertise. Their ads reach out and grab your attention as your thumb through the pages.

What have most of us learned since the inception of "modern" safety regulations? Or maybe I should ask, "what should you have learned?" For one thing, in this precarious economic period you must get the best training you possibly can for your money. But it must be training that actually benefits you, your company, and your employees.

There's a lot to consider if you want quality, usable training. What is good training? How do we know whether it is good training or not? Are the cheapest courses no good? Is the most expensive training the best? What criteria do we use to find this so-called usable training?

The cheapest may not always be the best, but this doesn't mean you shouldn't look at what that company offers just because of its low price. Evaluate it, give it a chance--the quality of training may surprise you! But always check that training against the same criteria you use to check all the other training opportunities. Surprisingly, there are times when the most expensive course you look at can't hold a candle to one of the lower-priced courses you evaluate. It's worth the time and effort to check all of them out. There really are big differences between most instructional groups. Even state-sponsored facilities aren't always the best. Compare, because you might be surprised.

What's Your Motivation?
What do you want to accomplish with your company's training? Are you honestly concerned with helping your employees understand the compliance issues, the dangers and how to deal with them? Do you want to teach them right from wrong? Do you want them to respond safely and appropriately if an emergency occurs? Or is it easier to just eek by on minimal training and paperwork magic? Are you just trying to accomplish compliance . . . and that's it?

Do you want your employees, your plant, and your outside contractors to have basic, appropriate knowledge of your confined spaces, of fall protection, of storage area collapse, etc.? Do you want them to know what to do in those first few moments after an accident occurs?

Maybe you want to take it a step or two farther and train your people to be a competent in-house response team. Perhaps you don't have enough people to accomplish that but want to know you have a "team" ready to respond. How about providing training to the local "first in" fire company and then providing the appropriate equipment at your facility for those personnel to use? How about buying the equipment for them, as a donation? The important thing is to decide. You must know in what direction you and your company are heading; you must know what you want to accomplish with your safety training. Then, you can figure out the best way to accomplish it. In the long run, this will be the least expensive alternative.

Defining & Providing Suitable Training
You need to find suitable training. What is it? We can answer that question by looking at how the average American employee learns. Adults relate to what they already know. They will base what they learn in classes on what they've learned in the past. They will learn the most by doing.

The more a student (employee) actually gets to do, the more he or she will actually remember when doing "compliance necessary work." More importantly, the more they will remember during times of duress, during an actual emergency. Remember that your employees want guidance. They want direction, not grades. They want to learn easy-to-do, easy-to-remember, common-sense things.

What about those educational tapes, "easy to learn" videos, texts, CDs, and other programs? They're easy! Schedule each employee for an hour or two, get them some coffee and donuts, and let them see the program. As for the night shift, just get them pizza and free drinks out of the machine. Take some time and discuss it among the group: bingo . . . you're compliant!

On the other hand, look at a quality instructional program--a confined space program, for example. That training might be 40 hours long: 16 hours of technical skills (rope/and other mechanical systems) as a prerequisite, followed by 24 hours of actual confined space training. The confined space portion should be about 4-6 hours of classroom and about 18-20 hours of hands-on simulations; in-plant planning, discussions, and evaluations; and scenario planning and practice. And lots and lots of practice. Just think of the possible scheduling nightmares, the overtime, and the costs involved.

Ponder this: What will it cost you if one or more of your employees are injured, disabled, or die? How will you feel when employees you've known for many years are among those killed because you provided inadequate training? How will it affect employee/employer relations, future contracts, your insurance costs? How many upgrades and safeguards will have to be immediately installed in your facilities? How much will an accident cost your company in fines? How will the incident affect future production? It might create a public relations nightmare from which your company never recovers, simply because you weren't prepared to provide and justify 16 to 40 hours of good employee training.

"How can we afford a full length, hands-on type course?" you ask. How can you not afford to provide it? The cost of scheduling a 30- or 40-hour course might be minor, considering the consequences of not scheduling a course or two. The considerations listed above most certainly will cost your hundreds of thousands of dollars. The total cost might be millions of dollars. You and your company can't afford to not have the appropriate classes.

Hands-On Instruction
A number of studies have shown students remember:

  • 10 percent of what they read.
  • 20 percent of what they hear.
  • 30 percent of what they see.
  • 50 percent of what they see and hear.
  • 70 percent of what they say when they speak.
  • 80 percent of what they actually do.
  • 90 percent of what they say as they actually do it.

University studies have determined the average student (employee) has a "rate of forgetting." One study showed some students might forget as much as 47 percent of what they just learned in the classroom, in as little as 20 minutes. The same student may forget as much as 80 percent of the same knowledge, attained during the same type of classroom session, just 31 days later.

If you've shown your employees a tape or CD and they only remember 50 percent of it, what will they really know one month after you've shown it? Would you trust your life to them? Should you trust the lives of your other employees to the ones you've "trained" using those tapes or CDs?

You have to find a better way to teach the employees so they retain more usable information and skills. If those same employees have had the opportunity to have several hands-on experiences where they remember 90 percent or more, they will remember a lot more at the end of that same month. Back it up with some brief, refresher-type courses as positive reinforcement in a practice-type environment, and you will have safe, conscientious, competent employees. Any type of hands-on/mind in gear experience will teach your employees the most. Your employees will remember more information to begin with; not surprisingly, if the class is not only informative but also fun, they will retain even more.

Achieve to make training a memorable experience. Put all of this together and they will remember that same information for a longer period. As the months pass, provide refresher courses and/or practice and they will retain it. It's that simple.

Now, about those tapes, DVDs, CDs, and other courses. Buy them and use them next month and every couple of months to reinforce what your employees have learned from the classes. These products are great for that. They are terrific when used in conjunction with hands-on training or to reinforce what students already have learned from a previous hands-on course.

If you find a tape or CD has bad information, use it. Let those you've trained find those mistakes and discuss them among the group. Reverse the learning methods for a change: This keeps the training real and helps make learning interesting. You might be pleasantly surprised how much excitement this type of classroom session generates.

Finding a Training Partner
Actual, practical training is in fact better and actually less expensive in the long run. It probably will alleviate pain and suffering from long-term injuries and/or employee deaths. You will probably see that it keeps your overhead down and your employee morale up. Production may increase.

What should you look for when searching for a company to train your employees? There are in fact a number of things for you to consider:
1. Does the company offer proper, accurate, appropriate training? (This is important. The next 10 questions will help you answer this one.)
2. What is its safety record? Is it safe? Does it promote safety?
3. What are its qualifications? (Not just the instructional group or company's, but those of the instructors who would be coming to your plant or facility to teach.)
4. What will they teach? Can they tailor a course for your facility? Don't be afraid to ask for an outline/timeline. Ask them how and why it applies to your facility(s).
5. Where will they teach it? Can they teach it in your plant, or do they teach it on some rinky-dink simulator? (Simulators usually do not simulate anything in your plant. They are just toys. They're usually impressive. They are fun and a great sales tool, but they are not effective learning tools.)
6. Does the company provide the majority of the equipment to be used for the class? Don't be afraid to ask for an "equipment inventory list" and make sure there is a clause in the contract about the instructional group's providing the appropriate equipment for the class. The instructional group should have more than just 6/8 harnesses, 10/12 carabiners, a tripod, etc. The group should have enough equipment so that everyone in your group gets to participate and to try different styles, types, and equipment from various companies and suppliers. Make sure it's quality equipment in good condition. When an instructional group brings along a wide array of equipment for your employees to use during a class, it prepares your group to make intelligent future equipment purchases. The class should help you buy the best equipment for your needs and not waste your company's money on inappropriate or wrong equipment. You should never have to buy equipment to have a class.
7. What will the student-to-instructor ratio be? Emergency managers have long recognized that the "span of control" is five to seven people. If there isn't an instructor for at most every seven people, during those hands-on evolutions there may be safety concerns. More instructors means more people are participating.
8. What do the students receive as reference material? Ask to see handouts, books, drawings, etc. What quality are they--seventh-generation copies or high-quality, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand illustrations and text?
9. What are their references? Don't be afraid to ask.
10. Ask other companies, rescue teams, and/or individuals (references) how their class was conducted. Did their employees like it? Was it productive? Was it appropriate instruction for the subject? Did most everyone get to do most everything? Did the students have fun while they learned, or did only one or two "guinea pigs" get to do things as everyone else just stood around and watched (or shot the bull)? You don't want that. If that's what is occurring, they're not learning. Last but not least, would they bring the company back to teach them other courses?
11. What's the value? The most money spent does not guarantee you the best class. Follow your instincts after the first 10 qualifiers have been answered to your satisfaction. It seems like a lot of work, but it is not. Your employees' lives, your conscience, and you livelihood are worth a little effort.

Making a Real Difference
As with most other things, if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right! If you want to save money in the long run, take the time to find the best courses you can find, ones that are taught by good instructors. Spend some time, spend some money, and involve your employees.

Spending a few thousand dollars for one or more classes, spending the time, and paying out the overtime will pale in comparison to the cost of lawsuits, fines, judgments, additional insurance money, and bad employee/company relations. Plus, if you've provided the best training you possibly can, you might find trust and cooperation improving between employees and management. Better production and better production quality may result, and on top of that, you just might get a genuine feeling of satisfaction--because you have provided something to your company and its employees that can really make a difference.

This article originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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