Human beings are natural storytellers and story listeners. We learn very early that stories not only entertain us, but also give us the "rules" about what is expected of us and how to make meaning of our experiences. Stories are integral to our lives, and have great power to change or influence how we think or how we react. They are an innate part of how we learn, and have obvious benefits to trainers or educators who are trying to impact what and how we learn. This paper and presentation discuss the social and cultural power of stories, and how they have been used to develop training for skilled blue-collar workers. Included will be examples as well as suggestions for trainers on where to find stories, what type of stories to pay attention to, and how to use them to improve occupational safety training.
Most of this story takes place within the backdrop of the U.S. mining industry. In the late 1990s, mine safety trainers participating in NIOSH stakeholder meetings in the West divulged that lack of modern, relevant or interesting training materials was a major concern for them. The law, specifically 30 CFR that pertains to the mining industry, requires health and safety training for all miners. This includes "New Miner Training," specifying at least 40 hours of training for new underground miners and 24 hours for new surface miners, and "Annual Refresher Training" for every miner which is mandated to be 8 hours every year. Mining is one of the few industries that has a federally required training component this stringent, yet the trainers themselves felt that even though they were complying by assuring that their miners spent the necessary time in training, they were not sure it was making a difference. They were, in their opinion, meeting the letter of the law, but not necessarily meeting the intent. In fact, several of the trainers shared that the miners themselves dreaded their "8-hour training," referring to it as "Safety Jail" and considering it little more than an opportunity for a free donut and a nap. They begrudgingly spent the required 8 hours of "seat time," but making them pay attention was another matter. Trainers believed that there was a need for more and better training materials that would get and keep the attention of the workers, and that would be remembered by them after the sessions were over. They asked us if NIOSH could help, by creating "effective" training materials for the industry.