Safety Retraining as a Form of Discipline

We all too often use retraining as a way to correct noncompliance to a standard or company rule. Companies usually require retraining when there is an accident or incident, or when we observe someone being unsafe. Taking this discipline or punishment approach is much easier than getting to the real root of the concern.

In truth, the issue might really be embedded in the safety culture of the company. If the initial training was done properly, the employees know how to perform the tasks but choose to take the shortcut anyway. This is not a training issue, but more of an attitude concern. The employee chooses to be unsafe for a multiple of reasons, including the belief that bad things can't happen to him, he has done it that way hundreds of times, and it's just plain uncomfortable.

Think of the old gun-to-the-head argument. If you threaten trained individuals to perform a given task, chances are they can do it without fail. If they know what to do, can tell you how to do it, and can show you how it is done, then you do not have a training issue. If so, why do we force retraining on employees who really need to change their safety attitude?

Granted, retraining does have its benefits. It can place additional emphasis on the required tasks. Trainers can add task improvements and loss examples that have surfaced since the initial training took place. The top-down principle also come into play. If you want to change the safety culture of a company, you have to start at the top. Senior managers have to buy in, hold others accountable, and lead by example.

Retraining does not replace the management emphasis and employee accountability necessary to avoid loss. OSHA also requires retraining under certain circumstances. This assumes lack of training is the reason for the loss or near miss. Granted, there may be a few individuals who have forgotten or never learned the required tasks, but loss investigation usually points toward a lack of importance on the company's and employee's part.

If retraining is going to be prescribed, how effective is it going to be? Will it be the same exact materials used initially? Will it be presented in the same exact way? Are we not setting the company up for failure if, all things being equal, we provide exactly the same material the employee chose not to follow in the first place?

Retraining also does not reflect on management and system failures. Just like accident investigation, it is easy to stop at the immediate cause (requiring retraining) and more difficult to point fingers at management (changing the safety culture).

So the next time you mandate retraining for unsafe acts or conditions resulting in a loss or near miss, consider the reasons behind the noncompliance. There is a slim possibility that retraining is the key, but chances are there is more to it. If your company has raised the safety culture to new levels; management talks the talk, walks the walk, and leads by example; employees really believe management wants them to hold safety above everything else; and people are empowered to stop any and all unsafe activities, then retraining might be a distinct possibility.

Posted by Eric J. Andrews on Sep 05, 2012