Is Your Safety Training a Joke?

Do your employees take your safety training seriously? Our Safety Training Tips editor tells you how to get your workers to take heed.

It Starts at the Top

Getting employees to take safety training seriously begins with management taking it seriously. If management’s attitude toward training is that it’s an expensive nuisance and something the company is just doing because OSHA makes them, then employees are going to get the impression that they don’t have to pay attention.

Similarly, if management ignores employees’ safety concerns, doesn’t correct hazards, or fails to provide necessary safety equipment and controls, employees are going to think that management doesn’t care about safety. And, if management doesn’t care, why should they?

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On the other hand, if management promotes a positive safety culture, one that makes employee safety and health a priority—and rewards safe behavior—employees may have a more positive attitude toward safety. When employees and management are on the same side, working toward the goal of a safer workplace is easier to attain.

The bottom line: If safety training is important to you, it will be important to your employees, too.

Enforcement and reinforcement count, too

Safety rules and policies need to be clearly defined and consistently enforced. If safe and unsafe behaviors are not specifically spelled out in training sessions, employees might make poor choices when it comes to safety performance. If you’re lax about enforcement of safety rules, then your workers are going to think it’s OK to break the rules.

Remember, too, that reinforcement works hand in hand with enforcement. Employees need to be praised and rewarded for working safely. They need to hear constant positive feedback about safety behavior from their supervisors. And they need to get recognition for paying attention in safety training sessions and using what they learn on the job. Whether it’s a pat on the back, a good rating in a performance appraisal, a safe-worker-of-the-month award, an incentive program, or some other form of reward, employees need to know that by taking safety and safety training seriously, they’re going to get meaningful recognition for their effort.

Employees who ‘own’ workplace safety take training seriously

When employees take ownership in workplace safety, they come to realize that they are partners in safety, which means partners with the company and with OSHA. They see that by taking responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their co-workers, they have the power to prevent accidents and injuries. The more empowered they feel, the more enthusiastic and involved they’re going to be, and the more they’ll want to know about workplace safety. And they’ll look to safety training as the place to learn what they need to know to protect themselves on the job.

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Another way to get employees involved in your safety program generally and in safety training specifically is to invite experienced employees to help with training. For example, employees can perform demonstrations in safety meetings or they can help supervisors with the safety orientation of new employees. Not only will the employee trainers begin to take training more seriously, but so will all the other employees who see the most experienced workers buying into—and participating actively—in the training process.

You might try using the following approaches in your safety training program to help encourage your employees to take ownership in safety.
–Problem-solving teams give workers the chance to put their expertise to work to identify and correct hazards.
–Incident investigation teams help them understand the causes of work accidents and the preventive measures necessary to avoid future incidents.
–Safety committees provide employees with the opportunity to make suggestions and decisions about how to improve workplace safety.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the key role that safety committees play in a strong safety culture, which OSHA considers to have “the single greatest impact on accident reduction of any process.”

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