Make sure your safety training pays dividends

If you’re managing a plant or factory, you’re surely aware of OSHA regulations and the broader framework of legal requirements surrounding industrial operation and worker safety. You may already see the value in some of these activities, where business interests and regulatory requirements coincide.


If you’re managing a plant or factory, you’re surely aware of OSHA regulations and the broader framework of legal requirements surrounding industrial operation and worker safety. You may already see the value in some of these activities, where business interests and regulatory requirements coincide. But sometimes these connections are less apparent. The difference depends on what kind of response your company makes. Is mandatory safety training adding value to your business?

Ask a frontline worker what they think of mandated safety training and you may hear some rather unflattering descriptions. Workers may believe that such training is irrelevant, boring, impractical and even unnecessary. Management might even feel the same way, but there is a better way to train.

Getting started

Begin by expecting more from your training time. As long as training is considered a liability and not an investment in your organization, it is unlikely that the results will indicate otherwise. Boring lectures or videos are not your only options: a broad range of training programs and styles are used to address safety issues. The cost of implementing new training methods must be weighed against the losses incurred by not using training time effectively. Before taking workers off the job to talk about safety, you need to know what the message is, and how you will convey the importance and content of that message.

Raising expectations does not just mean packing in information. This goal has more to do placing information in accessible contexts. One consideration is format. A lecture or a handout might tell your workers about safety, but will they retain the message? Involvement and interaction multiplies the chances for this to happen. The method has to get their attention and the content needs to hold it.

Safety training has to cover certain topics, but there is little value in listing them all off to meet a legal requirement if workers do not actually adapt safe practices. The challenge is in finding training programs and methods that reach your workers where they are without being condescending to them. Walking the line between relevant and overly casual might be difficult, but the rewards are there. One critical concern here is finding training that does not rely on a single instructional format. Classroom-only training is notorious for being perceived as unrelated to real work environments.

Evaluating a program

So how can your training go beyond compliance and give you measurable gains in productivity, reliability and uptime? Effective training doesn’t just cover legal bases, but changes the way your work force gets the job done. Some questions to ask when evaluating a proposed program or reevaluating existing measures include:

  • What is the format of the proposed training? %%MDASSML%% Look for training that engages workers on multiple levels. Flat text and traditional presentations are likely to lose the attention of your workforce. A better approach is training that uses multiple ways to get the point across. Not everything will reach every worker, but a net cast widely will ultimately be more effective than expecting all your workers to learn the same way.

  • Are workers being given compelling reasons to listen? %%MDASSML%% Employees will listen to information that they believe will help them do their jobs. Content rich material gives your workers something to learn, not just a list of don’ts. Look for training that provides substantive information on how to do the job right and teaches more than just accident avoidance.

  • How is management promoting the training? %%MDASSML%% Strong management support needs to meet worker interest to make training a real success. Getting input from workers before evaluating training can increase a sense of ownership in the initiative. Make it clear to first line supervisors that top management takes a serious interest in investing in safety training.

  • Does your organization promote a sense of pride in doing the job safely? %%MDASSML%% Do workers feel pressured to cut corners in order to meet goals? Training loses credibility if workers do not believe that safe practices are actually rewarded on the job. Unrealistic time estimates for job completion and management practices can undo your entire training effort and cancel out the gains of any safety initiative.

    • Measuring results

      The test of any training initiative is if it produces measurable results on the plant floor. Before you train, think about what kind of outcomes you will look for. Few businesses would plan to begin a project and not look for results, but some companies view safety training as a task to be checked off once done.

      Think about measurable goals to have supervisors looking for. Checking to see if new practices have been adopted, auditing use of lockout/tagout systems, and looking at safety equipment issued are some examples of observable benchmarks. Investments make sense when you can document the results.

      Going beyond the minimum and incorporating skills training can mean more than decreased exposure to legal and financial risk associated with safety incidents. The point is to see mandated standards not as the bar to be cleared, but a starting point for more comprehensive training that leads to better operation and maintenance results.

      <table ID = 'id3002270-0-table' CELLSPACING = '0' CELLPADDING = '2' WIDTH = '100%' BORDER = '0'><tbody ID = 'id3002280-0-tbody'><tr ID = 'id3002283-0-tr'><td ID = 'id3002285-0-td' CLASS = 'table' STYLE = 'background-color: #EEEEEE'> Author Information </td></tr><tr ID = 'id3002909-3-tr'><td ID = 'id3002831-3-td' CLASS = 'table'> Ben Wurtmann is the business management coordinator at New Standard Institute, a training and consulting firm specializing in industrial maintenance, based in Milford, CT. He can be reached at or (203) 783-1582. </td></tr></tbody></table>

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