Using Technology to Improve Workplace Safety Training

Companies often turn to technology to ensure they’re providing accessible and continuous safety training.

Any accidental or preventable loss of life, whether it’s on the job or at home, is nothing short of a tragedy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were over 5,000 fatal work injuries in the United States in 2021, an 8.9 percent increase from the year before. This increase in workplace fatalities illustrates a growing need for robust safety training in professional and commercial settings.

A lack of time, resources and availability of training are major drivers of insufficient safety education. Issues with communication, engagement and employee turnover also contribute. Companies therefore often turn to technology solutions to fill in the gaps and ensure they’re providing accessible and continuous safety training to diverse groups of employees completing a wide range of safety-critical activities.

Here are six important trends regarding the use of technology to improve workplace safety training:

Leveraging Learning Management Systems

Online safety training and the learning management systems designed to deliver digital safety content are essential across multiple verticals and within different types of organizations. Customers continue to purchase a wide variety of online safety training courses focusing on OSHA compliance topics, including: 

  • Hazardous Communication
  • Bloodborne Pathogens
  • Hearing Conservation
  • PPE

These courses correspond directly with OSHA’s focus areas and regulations. Their utilization occurs primarily across organizations subject to OSHA regulations and compliance, such as manufacturing, industrial, facilities maintenance and construction and engineering companies.

The pandemic and OSHA’s continued recognition of online safety have contributed to the increased reliance on online safety training. As OSHA requires organizations to maintain records of their safety training for a significant amount of time, learning management systems that deliver and track this training are just as important as the training content itself. Businesses have thus come to the realization that using technology to maintain and update their employees’ training safety records is essential to achieving safety compliance.

The Power of Microlearning

Humans forget 70 percent of new information within 24 hours of ingesting it. As employers continue to embrace learning management technology as a means to deliver vital safety education to their staff, it has become clear that lengthy, monotonous training sessions are not as resonant or effective with employees long term. As such, microlearning—or the method of providing employees with short, 2- to 3-minute bursts of refresher training—is growing in popularity.

The use of microlearning to learn key safety topics parallels our increased consumption of short videos on social media platforms. This has become a core means of accessing and processing information for business and for pleasure. Surveys show that consumers consider short-form videos to be 2.5 times more engaging than long-form videos. Furthermore, two-thirds (66 percent) of consumers report short-form video to be the most engaging type of social media content in 2022, up from 50 percent in 2020.

While employees need vast amounts of information to understand their job and its required skills early on in their role, refresher training via microlearning helps keep important safety information top of mind via digestible, accessible modules. This is especially important when working in hazardous environments. Workers need an intimate understanding of best practices to ensure they’re protecting themselves and their co-workers from potential risks.

Bespoke Learning Paths

LinkedIn’s 2023 Workplace Learning Report found that skill sets for jobs have changed by around 25 percent since 2015, and the change of skills set for jobs will increase to 50 percent by 2027. As the amount and pace of information required by employees to conduct safety-critical tasks increases, employers should consider creating learning paths tailored to individual employees and/or smaller groups. Learning paths ensure every employee has the requisite continuous training they need to add business value and maintain safety.

Due to this pace of change and need for individualization, employers are deploying technology solutions for safety training that allow them to map and store individual learning paths and courses for each of their employees. When the time comes for upskilling and re-training, these learning paths make sure employees receive the vital training they need to not only protect themselves and others, but also to advance their careers.

The Multi-channel Approach

On a similar note, frontline workers—especially those in younger generations—have indicated that they want to receive safety training and other communications via multiple channels, including text, email and mobile apps. The 2023 State of the Frontline Worker Survey revealed that for younger generations, email and text are among the most preferred ways to receive information.

Workplace safety technology should therefore allow the delivery of safety training notifications and microlearning classes via mobile applications and email to address younger generations’ preferred learning style. Workplaces must continually provide safety training and communications over multiple channels to meet the preferences of their workforces and the ever-changing ways in which we communicate with each other.

Closing the Skills Gap with 3-D Technology

According to Deloitte, the manufacturing industry is facing an unprecedented skilled labor shortage, with as many as 2.4 million jobs projected to be unfilled between 2018 and 2028. While there are several factors that contribute to this skills gap, like mass retirement and the so-called “brain drain” of intellectual capital that occurs as a result, there is one factor well within employers’ control: innovations in onboarding, upskilling and cross-training.

Without the appropriate skills, workers are more prone to injury and illness. Ensuring that safety training covers niche technical skills like inspecting rigging components or properly securing a cylindrical load is therefore imperative. The most powerful learning management systems on the market have incorporated 3-D graphics technology into their training modules to cater to visual learning styles. These graphics grant employers the ability to provide detailed training on:

  • Small objects (chemical reactions, mold)
  • Large facilities (buildings, sites, large machines)
  • Fast equipment (high-speed manufacturing lines)
  • Areas workers can’t normally see (guarding/walls/floors)

3-D graphics illustrate critical points without introducing additional safety risks, as virtual 3-D characters cannot suffer real-life injuries. This method also eliminates the need for shutting down or disassembling expensive equipment for training purposes. Given its proven efficacy, we can anticipate that the use of 3-D technology to demonstrate more minute, technical aspects of safety training will continue to grow.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has emerged as a shared obsession across nearly every industry in the past year or so. AI has the potential to become a disruptive force in the creation of safety training, but it still requires a significant amount of human intervention to provide compliant, engaging and accurate content.

For example, AI can be used to translate training content to ensure content is available in multiple languages for today’s diverse and global workforces. However, in describing technical safety terms or content, AI translations can make key mistakes, like mistranslating “electrical shock” as “emotional shock.” It’s thus an absolute necessity for AI translations to have thorough human review so no important fact or procedure gets lost in translation.

Conclusion

As technology and workplaces continue to evolve, employers and workers will need to adapt their safety training in tandem. The pace of change and the amount of information required by employees and stakeholders in the workplace to conduct critical tasks safely will also increase. 

Employers and employees should continually utilize technology to assist with their safety training, but the type and amount of technology they use will evolve as well. The trends above are just a piece of the ever-changing puzzle for employers and employees to be aware of as they continue to use technology to improve workplace safety training.

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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