Improving Training

Achieving active two-way communication with the workforce and documenting responses to situations and safety inquiries may be what separates a good training program from a great one.

Today, companies of all sizes spend thousands of dollars annually to provide the training necessary to keep their workforces safe. Of course, this expense is not simply the cost of the training materials and the employees’ time. Their training expense more than likely spans anywhere from overtime production hours to make up for training downtime to total losses in productivity generated by classroom, computer-based, or even off-site training environments. Return on investment (ROI) is seldom considered when evaluating training, as it is mostly considered intangible or, at best, difficult to ascertain.

Is the training your company provides truly preventing workplace injuries? Can your training ROI actually be measured? If you are interested in turning your training from an expense to an investment, read on as we uncover what many leading organizations are doing to drastically change behaviors and corporate safety culture.

The Concept
Most of us can recall taking high school algebra and history, but more than likely, we lack the ability to recall the specific content that was taught. We spent hours in classrooms, doing assigned homework, and taking examinations, all to have forgotten the majority of the information several years (if not months) later. Why do we remember how to tie our shoes or recall phone numbers or e-mail addresses? The fact that we perform these activities every day leads us to the concept that retention is related directly to repetition. This simple concept is the foundation that is breaking the mold of current safety norms and causing a tremendous stir in the safety community.

During our research,we have documented hundreds of roadblocks and obstacles that prevent companies from achieving the impossible goal of an absolutely 100 percent safe workplace. Leading this list are three critical roadblocks that are not addressed by most industrystandard training platforms. How you deal with these three factors weighs heavily on the overall success or failure of your safety training efforts:

1. Language barriers are the most common cause of poor communication. As workforces become more diverse, so must our attempts at training and communication.

2. Productivity costs run a solid second, as every minute spent training is a minute less spent producing. Productivity vs. safety will always be a factor in business, whether we admit it or not.

3. The third stumbling block on our list is retention. Regular reinforcement of concepts and topics is typically avoided as a result of the first and second roadblocks.

Behavior Modification
“Healthy habits lead to safe behaviors.” Identifying ways to promote behavior modification will ultimately lead to a safer workplace and reduced costs. It may also come as no surprise that the best way to promote healthy habits is to deploy a process that communicates small amounts of information on a daily basis in an employee’s native language and then reinforce this information as frequently as possible.

Achieving active two-way communication with the workforce as described below and documenting responses to situations and safety inquiries may be what separates a good training program from a great one. If your training regimen does not address any of these items, then you may quickly find yourself behind the times.

In 2007, AER Technologies, Inc. in Brea, Calif., sought to promote safe behaviors and address the primary inhibitors to a successful training program. Rapid growth to 350 ethnically diverse employees and expansion to 24/7 operation caused AER’s existing safety program to fail miserably. The answer to AER’s dilemma came in the form of a relationship with a Southern California-based safety and education consulting company that was looking for the perfect opportunity to make a difference with a patented software application that specifically addresses the three primary roadblocks to achieving the perfect safety program.

Known in the safety community as ECS, for “Employee Communication System,”the application is cutting-edge employee education reinforcement and communication software designed to maximize training investment, improve information retention, and effectively incorporate company information into the company’s daily operation. The software is designed to act as a template for interactive communication in multiple languages. The topics are written specifically by the administrator—in AER’s case, the company’s safety coordinator.

The first challenge was to test the software and the general concept. The deployment was as simple as setting up a PC-based workstation at the employee entrance near existing timekeeping stations and spending 15 to 20 minutes configuring the software. Employee names, ID numbers, and primary languages were imported from Excel into ECS from the company’s HR records. A simple test question was entered into the system as a baseline to test the system. The actual question chosen was from material that was presented during companywide fire extinguisher training that had been conducted not more than three weeks before.

Question: “When using a fire extinguisher to put out a fire you should always aim the nozzle at the _________ of the flames.”
A. Top
B. Side
C. Base

Within 24 hours,AER management was presented with the reality that, of more than 300 responses to the question, no more than 20 percent were correct. It was quickly identified that the largest issue was the fact that the companywide training had been performed in English only with a 30 percent English-speaking workforce.Needless to say, AER was extremely disappointed with the ROI on training that was done specifically to promote a safer,more knowledgeable workforce.

We addressed this disappointment quickly. The software design requires that incorrect answers be acknowledged as such and the user be presented with the correct answer in his or her primary language. This rapid training correction is followed the very next day with the same question being asked. Immediate improvement was observed the next day,with more than 95 percent of the employees answering the question correctly.

The deployment of ECS since 2007 has lead to a greatly improved safety culture, as well as a documented reduction in losttime injuries for the company. AER has leveraged the data acquired from the ECS deployment to drive employee incentives, rather than the questionable method of no injuries equals a reward. Now, the safety managers are equipped with participation and test accuracy data in real time and on a daily basis to drive incentive and rewards programs that really get to the core of what safety is about at AER.“Awareness and safe behaviors make for zero injuries,” said AER President Mike McGroarty. “We feel we have done something incredible with AER’s safety program that I have not observed in any industry. We have actually corrected the root cause of our communication problems and have found a way to interact and communicate effectively with our diverse workforce.”

Progressive companies such as these are leading the way into the future of safety training and communication. Programs that not only document training, but also reinforce specific content and requirements, will ultimately become the standard. Communication to a diverse or global workforce is critical today and into the future for any business to achieve success and prosper. Regular, documented reinforcement will lead to healthy habits and safe behaviors.

Are you effectively training your employees on a daily basis and achieving actual return on your training investment, or will you continue to allow it to be an unknown expense?

This article originally appeared in the November 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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