Step Change from the Bottom Up
Using peer trainers, you, too, can develop a grassroots Safety culture with bamboo-like impact.
- By Robert Pater
- Aug 01, 2008
Looking for a solid way to boost worker involvement? If
you’ve read any of my other writings or attended my presentations,
you’ve likely heard me extol the paybacks of
training workers as peer Safety change catalysts. I know this
from worldwide experience—we’ve trained more
than 20,000 such “Instructor-Catalysts” in our injury-
prevention systems and have seen results that
one senior manager called “miraculous” in both
Safety performance and cultural turnarounds.You
too can develop a grassroots Safety culture with
bamboo-like impact (measured as growing up to
four feet per day!).
What happens? Day-to-day behavior changes,
highly-resistant workers become motivated and positive,
apathetic employees gratefully take responsibility
for their own actions, people on all levels become
excited about Safety—and injuries plummet.
Why? Peer trainers/change agents are closest to
work and related Safety risks.When well-selected
and trained, they have high credibility with their
peers. There’s often less pushback when peers who’ve
done the work offer new methods, rather than when
changes are driven from expectations by safety professionals
or managers. Peer trainers are usually
more available than salaried staff to informally and
ongoingly coach, daily promote new Safety actions,
and reinforce these changes—and to train new hires.
Further, this process develops workers as higher-level
resources, who often expand to help their company in other ways.
You can realize these returns as well; that is, if you approach this
process strategically and rigorously. Contrarily, we’ve seen companies
expecting quick and easy fixes by shortcutting this process.
Transforming Peers into Catalysts
What we’ve learned? Better not even start up if you can’t do a thorough
job.Above all, avoid these nine intervention-killing mistakes:
Leaving supervisors & the bargaining unit (if there) out of the
selection and approval process.
Doing a poor job of choosing peer trainers (those who couldn’t
care less, those slated to retire soon, only by seniority). But it’s fine,
even desirable, to include high-profile, resistant people. Or include
Safety Committee members to give them tangible skills to transmit.
Not thoroughly training peer catalysts. Some companies naively
expect four or eight hours is enough time to train workers to learn
and assimilate new material, be able to answer a range of questions
or respond to objections, activate groups of their peers during
training they present, work with others on individual concerns, and
develop organizational methods for ongoing reinforcement.No
way. I’ve found that if you want someone to be able to move others
to Level G in new skills, the trainers have to be at Level M or N
themselves. If you don’t fully prepare them, they—and you—may
just be set up to lose credibility (and confidence).
Expect them to do too much. Training peer catalysts should be a
turnkey system, with all materials and equipment provided, so selected
employees can concentrate on knowing their objectives,
making strong contact, sharing anecdotes on why
they personally know these new skills and strategies
really have helped them and can help others too.
Not fully employing trainers. Make sure that
courses actually occur and aren’t cancelled at the last
moment.Make time for peer catalysts to meet with
fellow workers on the floor and with each other
monthly to reinforce new skills.
Not launching program soon and strong. Trainers
have to get going as soon as possible after their
own training (or else memory fades and confidence
Inadequate saturation. The “secret” to maximizing
results with peer change agents is less in their
courseroom teaching and more in their exciting and
informally coaching peers during work, in breakrooms,
etc. A critical mass of catalysts is essential,
ranging from one catalyst to every 35 to 50 coworkers,
depending on shift, age, and gender mix,
subcultures, and more.
Intervention, new skills, and methods not reinforced.
Nothing kills a budding program like either
“forget about that stuff and get back to work” or
“out of sight, out of mind” messages. Remember to
keep your worker catalysts excited and fresh through regular refresher
training (minimally once or twice yearly).
Management not involved, doesn’t actively support. It’s critical
to designate at least one interested upper manager as a sponsor
of peer catalyst intervention to smooth logistics and offer senior
Sure, I could tell you many stories and expound on this for
days. But the important point is real, groundbreaking, almost
beyond belief improvements in safety performance, safety
morale, communications, and personal outlook have taken root
in many other companies in many countries and can in your organization
as well. If you approach it the right way. If you plan
effectively. If you effectively enlist the power of engaging employee
This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.