Why Nobody Likes Safety Training

Perhaps it isn't the "safety" part of the training that they mind so much; it's the "nothing new" part they object to.

OF course, we're not talking about your training sessions. And we're not talking about mine, either. It's those other guys--it's their safety training sessions we're talking about.

But, I don't know whether you've noticed, those other guys have been busy. They must have managed to do a safety training session for almost everybody on the planet, and they must have managed to do a pretty bad job of it, too--because why else would everybody (or pretty much everybody) always try to get out of safety training whenever he can? Or, if he knows he can't get out of it, he shows up early so he can sit at the back. When the good seats are at the back, you've got to ask yourself, "What's up with that?"

This is especially interesting or ironic when you consider that nobody ever wants to get hurt. It's not as though we're trying to make them take piano lessons when they don't like music or forcing the millwrights to take ballet when they don't want to wear the tutu. Everybody does want to go home the same way that he came in.

So why does everybody look like he's going to the dentist when walking into the training room? And if you think there's any truth in the old "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time," then maybe, just maybe, there's a reason all of the people, all of the time, don't like safety training.

Perhaps it isn't the "safety" part of the training that they mind so much; it's the "nothing new" part they object to. Imagine how you would feel if you were (finally) given sex education at 60, or golf lessons after you had already played 90-95 percent of the golf you were going to get to play in this lifetime. Now, compare that to how you'd feel if you were given the golf lessons when you still had 90-95 percent of your games left to play. Understandably, there would be more resentment from the folks who only have 5-10 percent left.

Isn't that what happens to people when they get safety training? Think about it: How old would you have been by the time you had already experienced 85-90 percent of the injuries--the total number of injuries--you were going to experience in this lifetime? Keep in mind that little kids (ages 2-8) get hurt, in terms of a visible cut, bruise, or scrape, about 15-25 times per week, or 80-100 times per month. Eventually, of course (because the pain is motivating), you, me--all of us--started doing a better job with eyes on task, mind on task, line-of-fire, and balance, traction, or grip. But this did not happen until we managed to sustain thousands and thousands of minor injuries.

However, even though all of us have improved about 5,000 percent from the time we were children (15-25 per week vs. 15-25 per year as adults), we also have been increasing the amount of hazardous energy we get to play with and eventually work with. We learned how to ride a two-wheeled bicycle, we got to go out on the lake with the little aluminium boat, and then came snowmobiles, trail bikes, and eventually, at around 16 or 17, we got to drive a car.

Compare this improvement with the amount of hazardous energy we get to work with or play with, examine the interval between 15 and 25, and ask yourself, "How many serious injuries did I experience during this time?"

If you're like most people, a very high percentage (more than 50 percent) of your serious injuries happened during this time period. And when do they finally get some safety training? After they're 25. It's no wonder they're only so keen.

There are ways to overcome all of this. Or, if you will, there are strategies we could use to get them more interested in safety and safety training.

Taking the Message Home
Granted, it is not going to be easy to get people all fired up about safety if the statistical likelihood they'll ever experience another serious injury is very (very) low. But if we explain that the statistical likelihood is very (very) high that their children will get hurt seriously--stitches or worse--at least five to ten times during this period, then it is very likely they would be highly motivated to teach their kids how to avoid that period from 15-25 when most serious injuries or fatalities occur. However, we would have to have more to offer them besides "be careful" and "don't" (which is what we grew up with). To this end, there is more available now in terms of personal injury prevention and critical error reduction than ever before. This kind of safety training does not focus on the type of activity or work and the specific hazards associated with that activity. Rather, this kind of training focuses on human factors or states such as rushing that lead to injury-causing errors such as eyes not on task or mind not on task. Injury-causing errors are those that increase the risk of contact with some form of potentially hazardous energy.

There are four critical errors that can increase the risk of contact with hazardous energy. There are also only four states that cause the vast majority of these errors. The state to error risk pattern is involved in more than 90 percent of all serious acute injuries on or off the job (excluding contact sports). Teaching people about these state to error risk patterns is just one of the things they need to learn. Coincidentally, there are also only four critical error reductions techniques:


1. Self-trigger on the state (or amount of hazardous energy) so you don't make a critical error.
2. Analyze close calls and small errors (to prevent agonizing over big ones).
3. Look at others for the patterns that increase the risk of injury.
4. Work on habits.

Teaching employees these four critical error reduction techniques has helped more than 1,000,000 adults in more than a dozen countries reduce workplace injuries by more than 50 percent in two years, which is good. But how much more effective would it have been if these adults could have learned these techniques before they hit that high-risk/high-injury period from 15-25? If we could get the employees to teach these concepts and techniques to their children, if we gave them the tools they need to be able to teach these concepts to their children, we might be able (finally) to get them more interested and more involved in safety and accident prevention.

If they got more involved with teaching their children "how to be careful" instead of just saying "Be careful," it would also help them to keep these concepts and techniques in mind when on the job or on the road. In other words, it would be the classic win-win. They would be safer at work because they were trying to teach these concepts to their kids, and also they would be more interested in safety and safety training than they would be if it were just about them and their own safety. Perhaps they might even start to take other devices, training, and procedures home with them (safety glasses, harnesses, lockout equipment, etc.)--although if I were you, I wouldn't be holding my breath until I saw a job safety analysis in someone's garage.

Scaring Adults Doesn't Work
In summary, there are good reasons why people don't like safety training. And don't try to scare adults into being safer, either. If it worked, it would have worked by now. Instead, look for where the water is running downhill. They do care about their kid's safety, and this is not true only for mothers, either. Linemen, pipe-liners, hand fallers--you name it; when you ask them whether they worry about whether their kids will be as lucky as they were, all of them put up their hands.

So unless you are one of those trainers who actually likes to hear the sound of your own voice over and above the snoring and fidgeting in the room, turn the boat around and start paddling downstream, toward home. It's so much easier.

This article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the October 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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