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Best Practices for Engaging Workers in Health and Safety Training
One component of any health and safety program is initial and ongoing training. But where to begin? Often, industrial hygienists and safety professionals are not trained teachers/trainers. However, given that the workforce is comprised of adults, employers should follow key adult education guidelines to help make health and safety programs effective.
Adult learners, such as workers, should be trained with certain points in mind. A big training mistake is utilizing the same teaching tools that are used in a child's classroom. Those who help adults learn follow different methods than teachers of children or young people. When teaching children, the focus is on the teacher; with adult instruction, however, the focus is on the learner. There is an art and a science to teaching adults (andragogy). Without delving into an entire course of adult education study, this article will provide tips for structuring your content and for presenting health and safety content to adults. ("What is Andragogy and Who Needs to Know?" http://adulted.about.com/od/glossary/g/Andragogy.htm)
One strong approach for educating adults is gaining buy-in. Increase buy-in by using the following strategies:
1. Focus on what's in it for them. If a health and safety program's purpose is unclear or appears to benefit the company only, many workers will not take the subject matter seriously. The audience must understand how the training directly relates to their daily personal lives. An effective trainer presents how particular health and safety programs or topics impact workers. For instance, going home to families/friends safely may outweigh fulfilling the government’s safety requirement or documenting zero accidents/workplace incidents for the individual worker.
Benefit vs. burden
The worker's personal benefit must overshadow the training/requirement's perceived inconvenience for that person. For instance, some feel burdened following safety requirements (for example, the designated work environment's daily respirator wear or hearing protection products). They may complain that the company only wants to protect itself and that the employer is not concerned about their employees' health and safety—and might fail to see the employer as protecting each individual’s health and safety. Be mindful that the employee’s focus is not the benefits for the company, such as lessening production lost time or meeting rules set by various government agencies, but instead is his/her personal health and safety.
Provide relevant consequences. Consequences will assist in showing your workers what is in it for them. Discuss the real-life outcomes—for example, employers may find the following types of questions prompt more active engagement from their personnel:
- How many accidents may occur each year if the procedure is not followed?
- What are the short-term and long-term effects for the individual if the health and safety precautions are not taken seriously?
- How can hazards be carried home and affect a worker’s family if the protocol is ignored?
No one wants to believe something bad will happen to them or their family. Denial is powerful. As a result, if the danger is not obvious, employers may likely want the training to illustrate real threats with real-life negative impacts.
A stronger, more successful training program will thus focus on a) the individual worker's need from a personal perspective, b) the benefits surpassing the daily burden, and c) why compliance benefits each worker, as well as his/her family.
2. Be mindful of instruction time. Equally important to purpose is creating a training plan. During government-mandated training, some trainers may hear complaints such as: "What a waste of time!" or "Why can't I just get back to work?" Sometimes trainers may also see unengaged attendees doodling, texting, or leaving for phone calls.
Training is essential, however, and the session length will vary depending on the topic. Time is precious, and few attendees want a required training to last longer than needed. Eyes can glaze over—and when attention fades, critical points will be missed, compliance will not be achieved, and the training will be ineffective.
Retention ≤ 20 minutes
While an adult can sit through up to 90 minutes of lecture, be advised the average person retains only about 20 minutes of content that was presented. For dense, longer presentations, it is recommended that a training lecture last 50 minutes followed by a 10-minute break. Focusing on key messages/themes and including frequent breaks may improve workers' engagement and retention of the most critical details. ("How to Make Lesson Plans for Adult Students," http://adulted.about.com/od/teachers/a/coursedesign.htm).
Toolbox talks are an ideal way to break health and safety training into manageable parts. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has good examples of toolbox talks for 5-10 minute training opportunities, and the format could be applied to any safety training area. One example is the OSHA Fall Protection Training Guide available at https://www.osha.gov/Publications/OSHA3666.pdf.
3. Build behavioral objectives. Once the health and safety training's purpose has been crafted around the employee's needs and a reasonable timeframe has been determined, learning outcomes must be decided. Goals and training objectives are critical to the training process. One method for creating goals is to follow the SMART goal format. SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
Do consider using SMART goals in training program implementation. In addition to SMART goals, stronger training programs may also address a behavior change and/or enhancement and establish behavioral objectives.
Beyond SMART goals: Creating behavioral objectives
Answering the following questions can guide creation of behavioral objectives:
a) Who is the audience? The quickest way to lose an audience is to present content that is not applicable to their function. A sales group will have different behavior outcomes than manufacturing plant employees. Marketers need different content than technical service employees. Lab technicians' training will vary from machine operators. Clearly define the audience and, throughout program creation, ask whether or not the content matches the intended listeners.
b) What behavior needs to be changed as a result of the training? Survey the work area for skill deficits. Including the employees in the needs assessment can assist in buy-in, also. If health and safety training is needed, then an industrial hygienist or safety professional will need to determine the skills needed and those that should be enhanced.
c) Under what conditions will this behavior occur? Not all health and safety procedures are pertinent through the entire workday. Clarify when the behavior is necessary and unnecessary.
d) To what degree will this behavior need to be demonstrated? If the subject is health and safety, the employee should demonstrate expertise in the covered topic. If proficiency is not achieved, injury or death can occur; therefore, buy-in and high know-how are required in health and safety skills.
(Bayers, C., "ABCD Model for Writing Objectives" http://www.slideshare.net/cathiebayers/abcd-model-for-writing-objectives; "Effective Evaluation: A Toolkit for Evaluating Presentations and Trainings"
The Workforce Needs Health and Safety Guidance
Staying safe and healthy while at work is critical. Workers are adult learners who bring varied life experiences and should be actively participating in workplace training sessions. They should be involved in the conversation, preferably in a positive and encouraging environment. Employers are more likely to have a successful health and safety program if they relate health and safety expertise while focusing on the audience. Trainers should remind themselves of the employee needs and concerns. If the focus is on the workers, they may be more likely to decide to take the procedures that were shared and put them into daily practice.
Everyone wins when the health and safety programs are a success.
This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.