Mind blowing idea: Not all training is created equal
You probably already knew that, though.
Imagine a simple idea that would lead to better employee engagement, improved training, and safer behaviors. Sadly, it is a commonly overlooked aspect of health and safety training. The answer is to let people know they are receiving training that is for their safety.
I am a huge fan of the research conducted by Dr. Kristina M. Zierold. Some of the works focus on the young workforce as they enter into the labor market for the first time. They receive training, usually on-the-job-training. They are told these are the ways things should be done. But there is no distinguishing the safety aspects of the training from just the way to do the job. In some cases, there is no safety training at all. That, though, is for another time.
So, imagine entering the workplace for the first time. You are given training that is based on the work that you are doing. This is not a bad thing. It helps in building real world cognitive learning of how to perform the job. But, there is not distinguishing what parts of the job are there to protect you, what parts of the job are to help in quality to the customer, or what parts of the training impact other functions. This is where things get sticky.
Safety is not an inherent trait. Safety is something that is learned and observed. With later generations not as much working manual labor at home, being part of shop classes, working on farms, etc. there is a loss of that “common sense” approach to knowing safe from unsafe. As they enter the workplace there then has to be a focus on teaching safety.
For someone new to the workplace, safety systems and protections can appear to slow work down or even seem cumbersome if one does not understand why they are doing it. For a new employee if they do not know it is a safety system, then it is something that could be ignored. They may hear the talk that safety is the most important thing they do every day, and that may very well be true. The trouble is that if they do not know that something is in place for their personal health and safety, then how do they know that they need to always use it.
That is why it is absolutely critical that when training is conducted, the safety features are pointed out. The trainer has a very important role is setting the new employee up for success not only productively but in creating that first feeling of the safety climate. In some places, the standard work can be posted right in front of the workstation. The safety items can be highlighted in green or have a green cross beside those important protective steps. They still need to be trained, educated, and understand why it is a safety feature.
How do we make our safety training more effective? Make sure that as we conduct the training, we communicate effectively the procedures, processes, equipment, and PPE that is place to help protect our employees. Safety training has to exclusively dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our team.
There different paradigms that are all parts of the overall cognitive dissonance theory. This post will focus on the Belief Disconfirmation Paradigm. This aspect focuses on belief. When someone believes in something and yet is faced with facts that do not support their belief, they have two options. They can either change their beliefs or they can find ways to not only reinforce their belief. Usually the reinforcement of the belief leads them to find people and groups with similar beliefs and leads to attempts to persuade others to join the group. Essentially, they are disconfirming the facts through a stronger belief.
In a non-occupational safety item, the use of seatbelts is an interesting evaluation of this paradigm. Studies show that seatbelt usage will decrease the risk of death or serious injury in an automobile accident by up to 50% (CDC Information). I will use the state of Kentucky as an example. As of 2011, it was estimated that only 82% of the state’s residents used seatbelts (NHTSA Information). It should be noted that Kentucky is a state with a seatbelt law. Since the time of the law the state has seen an increase of 16% greater usage of seatbelts.
So why is it that we know that seat belts save live and is a law yet approximately one in five choose not to wear them? Now for a bit of personal commentary: I have noticed when facing someone who is non-seatbelt user they will instinctively tell a story of a time where they think a seatbelt may have created a situation where someone would have been seriously hurt while wearing one. They may also give names of other people who do not wear them. This is an example of Belief Disconfirmation.
This occurs also in occupational safety. There are ways that this can be overcome. Education is key, overwhelming information that will help in giving people the facts and truth about the risk and how to mitigate that risk. People need the right tools to make the right choices. As a safety person, I cannot assume that people are simply choosing to make the unsafe choice. The first plan should be to make sure they have been equipped with the right information to make a informed a proper decision.
This can also be a case where safety rules do come into play. The makes the choice for compliance clear. Like in seatbelt usage, Kentucky saw the greatest increase in usage once compliance was a law. With that said, a rule alone is not enough. Education is still the critical path. There has to be an understanding of the benefit of the rule and how the rule helps in keeping people safe.
Overall, the process is to help not only present information that would reduce dissonance but also help equip others that might be influence by the belief. The goal is to create opportunities for people to see the facts and understand the process for personal and organizational safety.