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Keep it Fresh, Focused (and Fun!) Revitalizing Your Safety Training

Originally created by the Minnesota Safety Council for publication in the Minnesota Counties Insurance Trust publication Wellspring. Used with permission.

No matter how great that safety training session was when you first created it, all lesson plans need to be revised and refreshed from time to time. So before eyes start glazing over at your next training, take some time to consider how you can re-charge your presentation. The first step in revitalizing your training is to make sure it's effective.

More than 100 OSHA standards contain requirements for worker training to help reduce the risk for injury and disease. Effective training can maximize the impact of this investment on worker safety, productivity, and profits.

A word about the difference between training and education. Training develops skills, modifies behavior, and/or increases competence. Generally training focuses on the how to do of a subject. The skill or knowledge should be related to job performance. Education explains the why of a subject. Education emphasizes the foundation of the material presented. Participants are not necessarily expected to apply the education directly to their job. This article will focus on training.

In order to have effective and efficient training, you need to follow a methodical process, starting with a needs assessment. Additional steps will include developing goals, objectives and content, and choosing the appropriate training method. You will also need to understand how the people that you are training learn, and what resources are available to you.

The Needs Assessment

The first step in the process is to determine whether a problem will be best solved by training. When employees are not performing their jobs properly, it is often assumed that training is the answer. However, it is often possible that other actions (such as hazard abatement, equipment selection, etc.) would enable employees to perform their jobs properly.

The training need can result from a lack of knowledge, skills, and/or attitudes. Determine the current level of performance, compared to the desired level. The difference is your training need.

Identify the Goals and Objectives

A goal is a statement that describes how the training will satisfy the need that you have identified, as well as the purpose. For example: Welders need to know how to properly use a respirator, in order to prevent disorders.

Objectives clearly describe what the learner will be able to do at the completion of the training. For example, instead of "Welders will understand how to use a respirator," a learner-focused objective would state: "Welders will be able to demonstrate how to properly put on the respirator and identify when it must be used." Objectives help you clearly define the content of your training.

In the case of OSHA mandated training, focus on a skill or task you want your employees to learn or improve on versus compliance.

Know your audience

Keep your audience in mind as you prepare and conduct your training. That will not only help ensure your participants can meet objectives, it will help you choose your training methods, as well.

According to the National Safety Council's Safety Training Methods Manual, there are four basic needs common to most adult learners. Adults learn best when:
  • They know why they are learning the information, i.e., how it relates or applies to their jobs. One method is to apply the new information or skill during the training.
  • They can relate the materials to their experience. Draw upon this experience in the classroom; recognize and respect the background students bring to class.
  • They have some control over the learning process. This could include giving participants a choice as to which session they attend, or having a say in the content. It also means having participants actively involved in the learning process using small group activities, discussions, or simulations.
  • They can see a direct benefit from the training, such as reduced potential for injury, (i.e., "What's in it for me?").
Another important principle of adult education is that the more senses involved with the training, the better the information will be retained. Adult learners retain:
  • 10% of what they read
  • 20% of what they hear
  • 30% of what they see
  • 50% of what they hear and see
  • 70% of what they say
  • 90% of what they say and do
Use visual aids, challenging exercises, activities etc.—adults learn best when actively engaged. However, people learn differently, so include a variety of methods in the training session.

Use Visual Aids to:
  • attract and maintain attention
  • reinforce key points
  • increase retention
  • talk to your visuals
  • read your visuals
  • keep them simple (one concept)
Address the audience at a level and in the language they will understand. Allow participants to practice. Be sure and give feedback on performance, recognition and approval.

Training Methods

Once you've outlined the content for your training session (see sources for content below), you must determine the method(s) you will use to deliver it.

Training methods include:
  • Role play
  • Discussions
  • Demonstration
  • Lecture
  • Presentation
  • Case study
  • Small group activity
Games or activities can make learning easier and more fun. Examples include crossword puzzles, "Jeopardy"-like games, work sheets, etc. Use games or activities to complement instruction—choose those that support the points you are trying to make and that help participants meet objectives. Be sure they'll fit the allotted time. Review how to facilitate the activity or game. They require as much preparation as other methods, such as lecture. Make sure that everyone participates. When finished, debrief the activity.

You, the instructor:

As the instructor, you must:
  • Have a positive attitude. Face it, safety is not always the most exciting training topic, especially annual refreshers. Enthusiasm and excitement must come from the instructor—get excited yourself.
  • Know the material you are presenting.
  • Use the most current information available regarding topic matter.
  • Keep the session alive by soliciting responses and assessing the amount of learning occurring. Use your personal background and experience and attendees' experiences.
  • Be flexible. Have an alternative plan if the training method chosen is not working.
Will your training session be a success? Ask yourself:
  • Does my approach meet the needs identified for employees to work safely?
  • Do I convey safety and health information in a manner that is meaningful to the learner?
  • Will it be fun, or at least interesting?
If you can answer "yes" to these questions, you're well on your way to effective safety training.

Content Resources:

Federal OSHA:
Minnesota Safety Council:
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