HAVE YOU EVER KNOWN ANYONE who was fatally injured because of a training issue? Bird and Germain (1996) tell the story of a 19-year-old who died on the first day of his job because he was not adequately trained to operate heavy equipment. Inadequacy issues with safety training include safety training that
is not conducted;
is conducted but ineffective; or
is delivered well but not integrated into the workplace and thereby has no real impact on performance.
This article poses some pointed questions and cites related research in order to explore leading training strategies and methods. The expectation is that effectively practicing these strategies will result in significantly higher levels of performance.
Some believe that training is the answer to all safety performance problems. They jump to implement training as the solution to every safety issue that arises. This perception is counterproductive, however. It not only fails to solve the real problems that exist, but it also contributes to overtraining and irrelevant training, both of which should be avoided. Overtraining and irrelevant training lead to frustration and loss of credibility for both management and the training program.
Training is commonly proposed as the solution to a problem when other solutions would be more appropriate. Some organizations treat safety training as a panacea, believing that "training is the hammer and safety problems are the nails." Various interventions other than training may apply in specific situations, yet training may still be the intervention selected. For example, suppose a site experiences an increasing number of injuries. Rather than simply institute additional employee training, site management may need to address environmental hazards, focus on enforcing salient safety rules, or implement proper rules and work procedures. Or, perhaps the problem is poor employee motivation. Depending on the reasons for the lack of motivation, strategies such as job enrichment and/or worker engagement could be more effective than training. In fact, training for motivation may be counterproductive, whereas individual coaching, employee participation and improving working conditions to facilitate safe behaviors likely would be more successful. This practice is akin to prescribing without diagnosing. In the medical profession, physicians determine the diagnosis before prescribing the prescription. Along this line, Machles (2007) notes that training often is used as a quick fix to performance problems. In some case, training is prescribed before the diagnosis (i.e., needs assessment) has been established. He suggests that training be the last consideration, not the first, in solving performance problems.
In On the Practice of Safety, Manuele (2003) observes, "Training … is often erroneously applied as a solution to problems, with unrealistic expectations" (p. 77). He emphasizes that organizations have learned, especially from Deming (2000), that most problems in any operation are systemic and, thus, many workplace problems and risky work methods can be resolved only by management. Keep in mind that problems in the system can only be corrected by redesigning the system. Manuele notes that workers are "handicapped by the system" and offers this quote from Deming: