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Using Technology to Improve Safety Training
Any time employees step on a worksite, it’s important for them to know how to stay safe. Employees should be able to recognize if something isn’t being done in a safe manner, if doing something could cause them or other employees harm and if anything can be done to mitigate any issues. That’s where safety training can help.
In 2021, the number of fatal work injuries rose. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 5,190 workers lost their lives on the job in 2021, compared to the 4,764 workers who lost their lives in 2020. Although the number of fatal injuries in 2021 was lower than before the COVID-19 pandemic (5,333 in 2019), the fatal work injury rate in 2021 is the highest it’s been since 2016. Both years recorded a rate of 3.6 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers.
Safety training can provide many benefits for employers and employees. A study by Geetha M. Waehrer and Ted R. Miller published in 2009 found that “[s]afety training appears to be more effective in preventing severe injuries in large firms than in small ones. While overexertion injuries were resistant to safety training, toxic exposure events were reduced in manufacturing establishments with a formal safety training program.”
As technology changes with the times, so does an instructor’s ability to adapt safety training. No longer do instructors have to resort to chalkboards or pen and paper—though these methods still work. Now, instructors can use one of the many technologies available to further enhance safety training and, hopefully, help employees retain information longer.
So, what types of technology can instructors utilize to do this? Let’s take a look.
For starters, employers can use videos and films. In daily life, many people watch video tutorials of something they're trying to learn, like replacing plumbing, cooking a new recipe or picking up a hobby. These videos deliver information quickly and in an efficient manner, saving time and confusion.
This applies to workplace safety training as well. Consider this: An employer has a group of 20 employees they want to train in crane safety. Instead of finding a time when a worksite or location with a crane is not busy—if this is even an option—showing the group around the crane and explaining to them all the problems they could run into, the instructor can play a video, which can virtually walk employees through all of the elements they need to know. This saves everyone valuable time.
Videos can also illustrate the exact situations employees may face and address how to handle them. For example, one OSHA video illustrates two animated workers laying stones. Users can visually see what the workers are doing incorrectly and how these actions lead to sprains and strains. The video then follows up with the safer way to do the job. A presentation like this—especially one that includes heavy stones, concrete and volunteers who would have to incorrectly do tasks—might be harder to mimic in traditional classroom-style training.
Another benefit of videos is access to the information after the training. Some people learn better by rehearing or reviewing content presented during a training or lesson. Digital access allows them to do this. It also allows employers to pull up the information in an instant when they need it in the future.
Instructors can also utilize video in another manner—video calls. Employees can learn from other safety professionals, experts and other workers by connecting with them over a call. The employees and professionals can talk about their different experiences, discuss what safety issues they’ve seen at their worksites and describe what’s worked best to prevent any issues. This also has the potential to engage employees as they’ve not just listening to someone talk to them.
One thing to keep in mind when using videos for training is the length and timing. Over the past few years, many studies have shown that microcontent, or content that is one to three minutes long, allows the viewer to retain content and information more effectively as the content does not overload the trainee. Although microcontent may not be suitable for all scenarios, it may be good complete refresher training.
Instructors can also encourage the use of note-taking apps. There are many apps that go beyond text, which can benefit those who learn visually. Some apps allow users to draw illustrations, create flashcards and color code their notes. Taking notes in this manner on a phone or tablet also allows workers to go back and reread them at their convenience.
Consider allowing employees to record the training on recording devices or their phones. This way, they can re-play the training later on and in their own time if they choose, allowing them to reabsorb the information. If instructors want to take education beyond the classroom, they can recommend that employees listen to relevant podcasts or audiobooks on the topics covered in the training.
AR/VR and Simulators
Instructors can also offer on-the-job or hands-on training through technology. With new augmented reality (AR) or virtual reality (VR) training modules, employees can work through job responsibilities and tasks virtually. They learn through the modules what actions to take, and should they make a mistake, they can safely work through what went wrong and how to correct the actions. One study from the University of Maryland has even shown that the use of VR, as compared to a computer, led to people remembering information better.
Aside from AR and VR, which may not be feasible for some companies, there are simulators that can help train employees in fields that require a specific set of skills for operating complex machinery. Successful simulations can reflect actual work situations and allow trainees to solve issues they will likely face on the job.
As technology continues to change, we can expect to see some of these new advancements move into safety training. Although it may take time, adopting new methods and new technologies may help some employees learn and retain information better. After all, at the end of the day, employers want to make sure their employees are knowledgeable and as safe as possible.
This article originally appeared in the March 1, 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.
About the Authors
Alex Saurman is the Content Editor for Occupational Health & Safety.
Sydny Shepard is the former editor of Occupational Health & Safety.