Try Safety Training Plus, Expert Urges

A noted industrial safety consultant explains that the training can be about more than just accident avoidance. It can actually help workers do their jobs better.

When is safety training more than just safety training? The answer: When it also helps workers do their jobs better. That’s more than possible, says Ben Wurtmann of New Standard Institute, Inc., in Milford, Connecticut, a training and consulting firm specializing in industrial maintenance.

Wurtmann published his point of view recently on the Plant Engineering magazine website, And it put things so clearly and made such sense to us that we felt you might benefit from knowing some of his ideas. Hence, this summary:

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Put simply, Wurtmann says the first mistake a company can make when it comes to safety training is to consider it something that needs to be done but that does nothing to increase the value of the organization. Not so, he says. Such an attitude, he believes, is not only untrue, but also counterproductive. It’s also self-fulfilling. For “as long as training is considered a liability and not an investment, it is unlikely that the results will indicate otherwise,” he says.

Instead, he suggests that “effective training doesn’t just cover legal bases but changes the way your workforce gets the job done.”

If one is looking for examples of this, look no further than the study of ergonomics.

Ergonomic concepts have as a prime purpose protecting workers’ bodies from undue strain by placing tools and equipment where they naturally work best with the body. But an additional effect is the ability to get more done, and get it done better. A worker who needn’t reach as far to complete a task can do more of those tasks in a given time, or do them more completely. And the fact that he or she does not get as tired also contributes to quality.

Looking at safety training with an eye to improving the job as well as protecting the worker also is seen as favorable by the workforce, says Wurtmann.

“Employees will listen to information that they believe will help them do their jobs,” he explains. “Content rich material gives your workers something to learn, not just a list of don’ts. Look for training,” he adds, “that provides substantive information on how to do the job right and teaches more than just accident avoidance.”

Seeing safety training this way also brings smiles to management, given their interest in improving workflow and performance. Such support is crucial to a safety program, Wurtmann maintains. “Strong management support needs to meet worker interest to make training a real success,” he says.

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That’s particularly true when dealing with middle management. “Make it clear to frontline supervisors that top management takes a serious interest in investing in safety training,” he advises. This also will help in getting supervisors to monitor safety performance on the job, and to assure them that they won’t be pressured into taking shortcuts around safety measures on the job.

For all this to work, however, Wurtmann maintains that the right materials must be used. He advises using a variety of formats, and selecting materials that treat workers appropriately. “The challenge is in finding training programs and methods that reach your workers where they are without being condescending,” he says.

We’ll look at some of the other criteria Wurtmann seeks in a training program, and at some materials that seem to fit the bill, in tomorrow’s Advisor.