Embracing Digital Training to Improve Dangerous Goods Compliance

Embracing Digital Training to Improve Dangerous Goods Compliance

It’s time for organizations to take a more strategic, engaging approach to training using e-technology and virtual reality.   

Safely and compliantly shipping and handling dangerous goods (DG) and hazardous materials (hazmat) has become increasing complex and challenging. This makes ensuring DG compliance across the supply chain a moving target-- one that requires proper training.

For many companies, hazmat training is the single (and only available) resource for building and maintaining compliance. This puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the training to effectively achieve some critical tasks. Unfortunately, for many organizations, their DG training is insufficient and ineffective—putting them at risk of  serious operational, financial and environmental ramifications as a result.

It’s time for organizations to take a more strategic, engaging approach to training using e-technology and virtual reality.

Today’s  Hazmat Training  Falls Short

It’s no surprise that, according to Labelmaster’s 2019 Dangerous Goods Confidence Outlook survey, almost 76 percent of DG pros utilize training as one of their primary sources of information and guidance to keep current with the latest DG regulations. But just because something is required, doesn’t mean it’s effectively implemented. In fact, 25 percent of respondents to a 2018 survey felt their company’s DG training did not adequately prepare people within the organization to comply with DG shipping regulations.

One of the major barriers to effective DG training is that many view it as simply a “necessary evil.” Consequently, minimal effort is directed towards it. Another barrier is that many companies lack the necessary infrastructure to put forth value-added training that supports compliance across the supply chain in the first place.

As a result, what training employees do receive can be ineffective and insufficient to add business value or drive compliance success, leaving organizations vulnerable to putting their brand and customer relationships at risk. In fact, 15 percent of survey respondents said “insufficient or ineffective training” is their greatest compliance challenge, and 53 percent ranked it in their top three.

But reinventing employee training can be a challenge, especially when it comes to DG training. The key to improvement lies in creating impactful, engaging content presented on interactive, intuitive platforms that make learning easy and convenient

The Need for Better Hazmat Training

Here are three key indicators that could signal a need for your DG training to be updated:

  • A high number of violations and interrupted shipments
  • Recent changes to your product offerings, your teams or the regulations your organization must follow
  • An increasing number of occasions where employees are unable to perform tasks correctly

If any of the above indicators are present, it’s a sign you need a training program that better prepares your supply chain personnel and enables them to train and recertify employees remotely.

Organizations must also continue to adapt their training progress to keep pace with the changing business environment—a fact spotlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, a 2020 survey found that 74 percent of DG pros agree more effective remote training is needed to adapt to today’s current environment. Online eLearning is one way to accomplish more cost-effective DG training on a remote basis that can positively impact operations.

Digital Training: A Modern Method with Real Benefits

One thing that helps streamline the process for trainers, and helps improve the quality and interactivity of hazmat compliance training is an online eLearning platform.

Online training has been embraced across many industries for years, but it can be especially useful in helping employees digest complicated DG shipping regulations. Specific benefits of embracing an eLearning platform include:

Cost savings. Companies spend less by eliminating travel costs associated with bringing employees to a centralized, in-person training location.

Greater productivity. Anytime, anywhere training access means employees spend less time away from the workplace and from performing job tasks.

Faster onboarding. Organizations can experience high employee turnover. Online learning makes it easier to train new workers quickly and effectively, without waiting until enough learners fill a physical training session.

Employee convenience. Workers get to follow the training materials at their own paceand can even re-review on-demand training materials as-needed.

Interactivity. Online training content is flexible, scalable and customizable to the specific compliance requirements of each worker’s role. Because it’s interactive, it encourages greater retention. It’s also easier to harmonize and standardize training globally while meeting compliance requirements.

Using Virtual Learning to Bridge the Generation Gap

Many organizations find themselves having to train four generations—Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials and Gen Z—in one class, with each generation accustomed to a different learning style. Adding digital eLearning to the DG training mix allows organizations to take a blended approach to instruction by offering an array of learning options from classroom (live or virtual) to webinar, eLearning modules to augmented and virtual reality applications.

This helps ensure training evolves to be more inclusive so that each generation feels like you’re speaking their “language,” whether that’s a Baby Boomer who wants paper instructions or someone from Gen Z who prefers to learn via a smartphone app.

Turning to Virtual Reality for an Immersive Digital Training Experience

One particular type of eLearning—VR (Virtual Reality)—is gaining traction as a way to overcome many online learning challenges and better engage employees. VR, and its close counterpart the 3D online experience, creates an immersive environment that mirrors an employee’s actual workplace, leading to a more effective, realistic training experience than any book or PowerPoint slide can provide. This heightened interactivity can reinforce a faster understanding of training content, and caters to how the younger generations are already consuming content.

Major companies like Walmart, Chevron and Verizon are now using VR to train employees, with beneficial results. Another major company—Tyson Foods—has leveraged VR for safety training and as a result reduced injuries and illnesses by 20 percent.

How eLearning Amplifies the Value of DG Training

Whether your organization opts to conduct hazmat shipping compliance training in a classroom environment, as an eLearning curriculum that incorporates VR, or a hybrid of both, it must add business value and support engagement. The following are considerations when developing or revamping your training approach.

eLearning tech platforms reduce time and cost.

  • Changes in regulatory content can be updated immediately
  • Training records can be quickly accessed, ensuring up-to-date records are readily available
  • Training costs and goals are easier to plan and monitor
  • Training content is easily sharable across supply chain partners

eLearning platforms make it easier to develop consistent content relevant to a company’s unique needs.

  • Integrate your company’s unique policies, procedures, industry, products and suppliers
  • Add functionality, tasks and examples that are unique to your situation
  • Support adult-based learning principles

Common Challenges Associated with Delivering Effective eLearning

Despite the value online learning brings to the training process, there are a number of challenges managers routinely face when attempting to get a digital learning curriculum up and running. Here are the most common challenges and suggestions for overcoming them.

Challenge. Transforming “dry” technical material into a meaningful, engaging online experience

Addressing the challenge:

  • Compartmentalize materials into easily digestible “learning chunks”
  • Make it fun for to the learner – use lessons based on activities, games and scenarios
  • Embrace social learning tools

Challenge. Unrealistic deadlines

Addressing the challenge:

  • Be fully transparent about the process from the start
  • Work directly with those setting the deadlines in order to manage expectations
  • Carefully detail the level of work involved with the eLearning process in order to create a workable timeline

Challenge. Limited budget.

Addressing the challenge:

  • Create realistic estimates of design hours
  • Prior to the beginning of the project, create a detailed budget that accounts for all expenses to ensure costs remain within a pre-defined limit

Challenge. Keeping up with modern technology

Addressing the challenge:

  • Attend as many technology conferences, eLearning events and trade shows as you can
  • Make it a habit of routinely reading articles, blogs and case studies to stay up to speed on technology advancements
  • Join eLearning discussion groups for tips, tricks and suggestions on creating the latest eLearning protocols

Challenge. Designing eLearning courses for different generations

Addressing the challenge:

  • Learn as much as you can about your learner’s goals, preferences and backgrounds
  • Use data collected to analyze learner needs and customize eLearning curriculum

Challenge. Subject matter experts (SMEs) lacking instructional design knowledge

Addressing the challenge:

  • Give SMEs a list of online resources that can be used to brush up on the basics
  • Team SMEs with other content developers to streamline the process
  • Provide a short tutorial on your LMS that SMEs can model off of

Looking to the Future of DG Training

As shipping DG becomes increasingly complex and regulations continue to evolve, it’s clear that many organizations need training programs that better prepare personnel. This is especially true for organizations that have historically just “checked the box” with regard to compliance training.

Remember, it’s important to understand the shortcomings of your current training and evolve it to keep pace with industry and organizational changes.

Always ask yourself:

  • When was the last time you evaluated or updated your training?
  • How prepared do company personnel feel based on current training?
  • Does your training reflect your company’s current business operations or the market landscape?
  • How effectively can you train and recertify employees remotely?
  • What gaps exist within your current training program?
  • Are your training records kept up-to-date?

How you answer these questions will determine what steps are needed to improve your hazmat training program.

This article originally appeared in the October 2021 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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