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Building Effective Training, Safety

The Difficult Aspect of Safety Training: Addressing Attitudes

I don't know about you, but I have always thought that providing training to employees on safety rules such as proper lifting techniques, PPE, equipment use, etc. is the easy part. These are not usually difficult concepts. However, building safety programs that change employees' attitudes about safety as well as instill personal accountability is much more difficult.

Beyond making sure employees have the knowledge, skill, and ability, can training impact employee attitudes? I believe it can when it is designed with the audience and impact in mind, as well as when its concepts are supported afterward by managers.

The Science of Changing Attitudes

As individuals, there is a lot of factors that impact our attitudes towards any given thing. According to Dr. Bill Robb, there a few concepts we can focus safety training on to impact a change of attitude.

  1. Awareness & Concentration
    Honestly, I would not prefer to start with this. While I know it is important, my experience is that we often start and end with awareness and concentration. And when things go awry, we are quick to say it was due to "lack of situational awareness." However, awareness is an important concept in safety training but let's not stop here.

  2. Pressure
    Following safety rules can often feel inconvenient and seem to slow down trains and/or production. Employees feel this pressure. This is when manager expectations of safety are critical. What do you think employees will do if we tell employees we want them to take "the safest course" but continue to put pressure on them to meet unrealistic metrics? Companies should strive for performance metrics but not at the expense of safety. If the company culture is healthy there can be opportunities to come up with innovative and safe ways to meet company goals. However, effective safety training and manager expectations post-training should send clear messaging that pressure is not a reason to shortcut safety. 

  3. Fear 
    Fear or you could say a healthy respect for the risks in the environment, is an important element of attitudes towards safety. After all, there are often no small injuries when it comes to switching and railroading. Safety training should make sure employees are aware of risks inherent in their jobs and how to manage those risks by following safety rules. My daughter just finished driver's ed and had to sit through some pretty upsetting (and dated) videos to put the fear in her of the dangers of driving. Highly emotional and gruesome videos are not really my design ammo, but I have used NTSB case studies to encourage classroom discussion for this same purpose.

  4. Diminished risk
    The idea of diminished risk is that when employees get into bad habits of cutting corners, they lose sight of the true risk of the situation for the benefit of short-term payoffs. For example, they ride a car because it is convenient even though it breaks safety rules but they have done it dozens of times before without incident. There is a big opportunity for safety training and manager engagement with employees to address diminished risk because this attitude often leads to accidents.

Selfishly, I am about to kick off the design of a safety program, and writing this post helped me think about how I want to approach the activities for the program. While none of this content may be new or shocking, I think all of it is good reminders of the complexity of safety training initiatives. I know I am going to think about how I can weave these four elements into the program to not just teach content but change attitudes towards safety.

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