3 Ways to Shake Off Safety Training Complacency

Why do workers suffer injuries after safety training? Is the material boring? Maybe the techniques are outdated? Here are a few ways to make safety stick.
By: | November 29, 2018 • 6 min read

Why do so many workers suffer injuries after safety training?

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It could be that the training was so boring they simply tuned out, or it could be that they were cutting too many corners and violated OSHA rules — or it could even be that they were inadvertently taught techniques that ultimately do more harm than good.

Safety training can be greatly enhanced by employing alternative techniques, like humor or predictive technology. Here’s a few ways these alternative methods work:

1) PowerLift training: a wide-stance lifting technique that takes the back entirely out of the lift.

“The problem with the lifting technique taught by most back safety programs — the ‘power squat’ — is that it puts the lifter into an unstable position on the balls of his or her feet and involves a deep knee bend that most people simply can’t do repeatedly,” said Joel Copeland, chief operating officer at KMI Learning in Columbus, Ohio.

“The consequence of this is that workers revert to simple back lifts, because the ‘bad old way’ of lifting seems easier and quicker than the deep squat.”

However, the problem with a back lift is that the lifter is not only lifting the weight of the load but also the weight of his or her upper body, all putting strain on the lifter’s lower back, Copeland said.

Dr. Mike Schaefer, creator, PowerLift back safety program

Dr. Mike Schaefer, who for many years had a practice as a chiropractor and was board certified in orthopedics, saw so many injured backs in his practice that he began to analyze body mechanics and came up with a set of lifting techniques and a unique and patented instructional design system: the PowerLift.

One case study involved two very similar road construction companies owned by one parent company that allowed local management latitude in choosing suppliers, including safety programs. One of the subsidiaries adopted the PowerLift back safety program and one opted for a traditional program that taught the “squat lift.” Over a 13-year period, the company that implemented PowerLift lost $325,000 while the other company lost $1,308,000.

Said another client, Kevin Fowler, safety director at the Dakota Electric Association: “The most impressive number associated with injuries has come from an $80,000 refund from our workers’ comp group.”

The PowerLift training system includes a library of more than 1,200 one-page safety talks to be used at start-of-shift meetings that cover on-the-job material handling challenges as well as at-home challenges, Copeland said. “These are critical in sustaining the program over time. We also have online courses, but we do not recommend them as the first contact.”

KMI Learning has since purchased the PowerLift company from Schaefer. The staff training module is intended to be used for new hires between live training sessions and for remedial use and the Train-the-Trainer (TTT) online course is intended for re-certification.

“We always recommend in-person TTT training as the first step in a client’s implementation of PowerLift,” Copeland said.

2) PEC Predictive: a compliance management platform tool that helps employers better predict risk and help prevent workplace injuries.

“Informed by more than 42 million data points, PEC’s proprietary predictive modeling system, built in collaboration with Predictive Solutions, gives owner clients monthly insight into the risk levels of their contractors,” said Colby Lane, CEO of PEC Safety in Mandeville, Louisiana. “That data is used to rank the likelihood of a recordable incident over a 90-day period.”

The algorithm evaluates risk based on a set of standard safety questions that could be asked for any worker in a high-hazard job, Lane explained.

The tool is especially useful for companies that hire contractors, such as large oil and gas companies that hire drilling companies, which need to verify and identify the contractors’ workforce risk related to OSHA, safety or insurance information.

Contractors are ranked into one of three categories — standard, elevated or high risk — based on machine learning technology that identifies patterns in the contractor’s safety questionnaire data compiled by PEC, which pinpoints when injuries are likely to occur, he said.

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Rankings are fed directly back into PEC’s contractor management platform, Compliance Pro, for hiring clients to view.

“Along with risk levels, hiring clients can view the top three contributing factors to the contractor’s ranking — sometimes it’s a lack of updated insurance coupled with a high volume of work or a number of OSHA violations within the past three years,” Lane said.

Highlighting these risk factors, as well as a contractor’s ranking compared to their peers, allows both parties to focus their limited risk mitigation resources where they are most likely to prevent a workplace injury, he said.

“For example, instead of conducting blind field audits, clients could require high-risk contractors to complete specified safety training or complete a risk mitigation plan,” Lane said.

PEC plans to expand the use case of PEC Predictive to allow more visibility and greater benefits to safer contractors, he said. For example, insurance agencies could leverage this data to better underwrite contractors and potentially offer discounts to lower-risk contractors based on PEC Predictive.

3) Gamification and the use of humor in training.

Jeffrey Dalto, instructional designer and eLearning advisor at Convergence Training in Camas, Washington, posted a question to safety professionals on several LinkedIn groups: “What do you do to make your safety training more fun and engaging for your employees?” One safety trainer wrote that the company used Jeopardy-style games, competition and candy bars.

“Training or reviewing OSHA standards can be dry and hard to swallow,” the trainer wrote. “We used the Jeopardy format and divided the sessions in half to do a review after the training.  … Competition is always there, and points and candy bars mark the win. When the first session goes through it, the word is out and people show up with thinking caps on.”

Colby Lane, CEO, PEC Safety

There are many ways to make training more entertaining so that workers are more likely to pay attention, remember the training and apply it to their jobs, Dalto said in an interview.

“One way is to use humor, which can also help reduce anxiety among learners, especially if the training requires people to be interactive,” he said. “It can be a good icebreaker and help learners feel like this is a safe place to interact and that they don’t need to be so nervous.”

Another benefit to using humor is “breaking the barrier” between the learner and the trainer, especially if the instructor comes from a third-party firm, Dalto said. It’s especially good if trainers poke fun at themselves, which makes them look more human and more comfortable to be around.

But trainers must be careful in using humor, he said. Don’t overdo it or else it just distracts people from the content — trainers shouldn’t lose their focus on the learning objectives.

Moreover, putting jokes into every learning objective can just result in cognitive overload, lessening the chance that the learner will retain the required safety skill.

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“Also, don’t make fun of the learners, because they could take offense and then not listen to the training,” Dalto said. “Above all, training has to feel like a safe environment in order for learners to best retain the skills.”

Dalto wrote another blog post using a zombie theme to entice safety professionals to buy Convergence’s training programs — “People DO enjoy Zombies and that’s always popular,” he said. Below are a few excerpts:

  • Bloodborne Pathogens: “Zombies tend to be biters. And we’re all familiar with the effects of a nasty zombie bite. So protect yourself from the Necro-Mortosis virus by avoiding those oozing contagions.”
  • Slips, Trips, and Falls: “Zombies are exceptionally messy. As their scattered entrails create serious slip, trip, and fall hazards, prepare yourself with this video that offers instruction on avoiding these dangers.”

Dalto’s Zombie post received a lot of comments from safety professionals:

“Too funny. Definitely an attention getter,” wrote one.

“Best post ever…” wrote another.

A third wrote: “May I remind everyone that zombies don’t eat brains, they eat flesh!! In any case, wearing hard hats to ward off falling zombie body parts from tall buildings would be a must!!” &

Katie Kuehner-Hebert is a freelance writer based in California. She has more than two decades of journalism experience and expertise in financial writing. She can be reached at [email protected]

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]