5 principles for improved safety training

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They completed a 30-minute eLearning. They went through 2 weeks of on-the-job training. They passed a 35-question multiple choice assessment. So why are your employees still getting hurt on the job?

There’s a reason safety was our first priority during my time at the Walt Disney World Resort – ahead of the Guest service (courtesy), storytelling (show) and financial (efficiency) standards for which the company is more often celebrated. Safety failures are EXPENSIVE! Lawsuits. Lost wages. Regulatory fines. Lessened productivity. And, worst of all, a person doesn’t get to go home in the same condition they came to work (if they get to go home at all). My point: if you don’t do your best to ensure the safety of your employees and customers EVERY DAY, you’re playing a dangerous game with your business.

How do we make people safer at work? No, I don’t have a simple answer, and I don’t believe one exists. Rather, a true commitment to workplace safety requires right-fit policy, effective management, proper tools and resources, etc. etc. etc. However, these elements won’t make a difference if employees don’t possess the knowledge and skills necessary to put good ideas into practice. Learning is of unmistakable importance when it comes to helping people keep themselves safe at work (see what I did there?).

Leading organizations have recognized the importance of learning as a core component of their workplace safety programs. However, they don’t just throw more content, marketing materials and rewards at their employees. Instead, they take a step back and assess their approach to workplace learning. By modernizing the ways employees are supported on the job, these organizations are not just saving money. They’re saving people’s lives! eLearning, posters and annual certifications just aren’t enough. They never really were. We just didn’t have better options in the past. To best secure the safety of our people, we have to reimagine the ways we support learning when it comes to safety topics.

Here are 5 learning and performance principles you can apply to strengthen your ability to keep your employees safe – EVERY DAY.


Start with a Specific, Measurable Goal

“Making people safer” can’t be the goal. To make an impact, you have to start with a solid understanding of safety-related behaviors and their potential negative outcomes. Identify the areas within the business that are experiencing the most critical issues and establish realistic but aspirational goals for improvement. Then, take the steps necessary to achieve this goal and continue to measure and share downstream impact within the organization.


Personalize to the Individual

Too often, we push irrelevant safety content onto the majority of our employees to ensure that we “covered it” and can therefore “pass the red face test” if something happens later. However, critical knowledge can get lost in a sea of “coverage” and ultimately make employees less safe overall. To drive optimal safety potential in critical areas, we must strip away the “nice to know” in favor of the “need to know.” We can then leverage right-fit technology and other methods to target safety content directly to the individual employees who will most benefit from these learning experiences (by role, location, experience, function, etc.).


Adapt to Find True Need

Let’s take personalization to the next level. Every employee has a unique background filled with existing knowledge. If a person has already mastered a safety topic, why should we waste their time “covering” it again and again when this time could be better spent focusing on a true area of need. Adaptive technology and the right data can help us gain better insight into individual employee knowledge gaps and provide the right experience for the right person at the right time.


Promote Continuous Awareness

Even people with the knowledge and skills necessary to keep themselves safe at work still get hurt. Why? Let’s explore a familiar story. You know the pan on your stove at home is super hot, right? So why do you often forgo the proper hand protection and just wing it to save time? The same thing happens at work. People become comfortable (complacent) in their knowledge and begin looking for shortcuts to save time, effort, money, etc. The shortcut may work the first time – or the first hundred times. But inevitably something will go wrong.

In addition to personalizing safety training experiences, we must continuously pulse messages to employees in new and engaging ways to eliminate bad habits. This content should include not only foundational knowledge but also specific value statements along with potential negative repercussions should safety procedures be sidestepped. Annual certifications should be eliminated in favor of ongoing knowledge reinforcement and as-needed refresher training that provides a true pulse check on safety knowledge in the workplace.


Connect to Real-World Performance

Knowing is great. Doing is SUPERIOR! Performance observations must be wrapped into the safety equation to ensure knowledge is being applied in the real-world. Not only should frontline managers be expected to conduct regular safety observations, but employees can also be empowered to provide feedback to one another in formal ways. These observations must then be combined with knowledge data and business outcomes to better target subsequent learning and communication strategies.


How have you addressed safety challenges in your workplace? Have you evolved your approach to safety training in order to achieve a measurable goal? 

JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. He has spent 20 years designing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. JD is the founder of LearnGeek and Chief Learning Architect with Axonify.

5 principles for improved safety training

by JD Dillon time to read: 4 min
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