Why Your Safety Training is Not Working

As professionals, we try our best to deliver effective training. However, we find that time and again that our safety training is not working to prevent workplace injuries and young workers are most at risk. The evidence is in the ongoing workplace injury and fatality statistics. So to address this issue, do we train more or do we look at why the message is not getting through?

For this article, we look at research that investigates young workers learning processes about safe manual handling. In doing so, we gain insight into how we should consider delivering training to our up and coming employees. The study looks at the competing demands of work and safety requirements. Once again, the age-old dilemma of production versus safety rears its head. The research discusses the importance of learning work health and safety skills as opposed to being taught to work safely.

Young Workers are More Likely to be Injured at Work

Young workers are more likely to be injured at work than older workers, mainly due to their inexperience and when asked to perform an unfamiliar task. Workers who perform manual and unskilled tasks are more at risk of a workplace injury. Young workers who leave school early or those with learning difficulties are more exposed to workplace hazards.

Much work health and safety training is focussed around shaping new and young workers attitudes and behaviours to follow safe work procedures. We often deliver training as a one-way transfer; that is from the trainer to the worker. There is usually a minimal emphasis on learning; instead, the focus is on the exchange of knowledge and leads to times when your safety training is not working.

However, there is a new take on safety training in that we are recognising the importance of learning work health and safety skills through action and interaction with other workers, as opposed to being taught about safe work practices. There are several areas that we need to understand about the work health and safety learning process to address why our safety training is not working. These include:

  1. Integrating injury prevention strategies within an organisational context,
  2. Recognising the work conditions and practices of supervisors, co-workers and young workers,
  3. Understanding how training, supervision, safety practices and employer attitudes affect learning for young workers, and
  4. Determining how social relationships at work affect safety and learning.

Impacts on Young Workers Safe Manual Handling

The type and amount of work activities in a changing environment can impact workplace safety.  Employee characteristics also have a bearing, including experience, age and gender. Other factors, such as fatigue and fitness add to these variables.

To balance the variables, workers need to self-regulate as they complete their work tasks. They need to be trained and understand the types of safe practices that they should use. We need to give workers sufficient time to complete the work safely.

For example in the case of manual handling risks, when we don’t give a worker enough time to move a load, they may try to handle the load in one move, even if this makes the load too heavy to lift safely. This example is a clear case of when your safety training is not working because you haven’t given enough time to apply safe manual handling practices.

See our article, Manual Handling Injuries Are a Top Safety Theme

Impacts on Young Workers Learning About Safe Practices

It can be challenging to weed out health and safety skills from general job skills. In the study, the focus was on a blend of learning skills around safety while at work. The study investigated the safety knowledge of experienced workers compared to that of apprentices to determine young worker’s learning and understanding.

The experienced workers expected a level of common sense from the apprentices. They did not instruct or coach them about issues that seemed obvious. However, for the apprentices, these issues and procedures were not apparent. The experienced workers viewed safety hazards as obvious and therefore not requiring discussion with the apprentices. This lack of clear communication is a reason why safety training is not working when we train young workers.

The apprentices often had trouble completing the assigned tasks. The experienced workers thought that they were obvious everyday tasks. Practice and repetition are necessary to gain the skills to complete the tasks. During the learning period, apprentices need more time to complete tasks, even if these operations seem simple to experienced workers.

Experienced workers do not share professional jargon about critical tasks to the apprentices. They do not consider that it is essential to share this information with the apprentices. Several reasons explain why experienced workers are reluctant to give apprentices more responsibility or share more details, including a lack of trust. Failing to share information and communicate with inexperienced workers does not help them to learn in a real-world setting.

Learning by Accident in the Work Situation

Knowing what you are supposed to do, and being able to do it, are two separate things. Apprentices hesitate, are slow-paced and appear fearful and cautious, especially when learning new tasks. Showing a worker how to do something is not learning. Real learning is where they know how to do something using a variety of approaches to meet different conditions.

The workplace is an ever-changing environment that requires changes both subtle and extreme depending on the day. Apprentices encounter diverse working environments across all areas of production. However, experienced workers typically teach only one technique. It is generally their preferred approach that they apply to one typical case.

This method results in apprentices learning by accident and by experiencing minor injuries. In this study, this approach was supported by the experienced workers who feel that this way of learning is probably more efficient than being taught to take care to avoid injury. We question this reasoning. If these practices regularly occur, this is why safety training is not working to prevent workplace injuries.

Apprentices who have access to different working techniques and diverse environments increase their knowledge. However, being left alone to solve a problem without any help can be highly hazardous. They must be supervised and mentored.

Breaking Rules to Work Safely

There are times when experienced workers break a safe work rule to complete a job. Both the apprentices and experienced workers in this study discussed situations where a rule was adapted to do a task correctly and safely. Generally, experienced workers were able to develop proper strategies to manage production and safety. For young workers, these adoptions were not always obvious.

Typically, risk-taking attitudes or rule-breaking is considered something to be avoided or punished. However, sometimes doing so can help to prevent injuries. In this study, the side-stepping of rules occurred when work conditions changed so that the usual rule placed workers at risk. This strategy appears to be an inevitable part of the learning process of apprentices. Experienced workers appear to master side-stepping and have fewer accidents.

Training dollars could be reinvested in learning programs that consider the development of self-regulatory strategies as a normal process to gain experience and become competent.

Workplace learning processes need to involve learning not only to reproduce a work technique but also to develop a variety of strategies to cope with unforeseen or atypical situations. We should try to integrate learning about injury prevention strategies within organisational contexts.

Tap Into Safety takes training seriously. We provide engaging methods to train how to manage workplace hazards using critical control measures. We understand that relevant and engaging safety training is crucial for the transfer of knowledge into practice. The training uses gamification to improve the trainee’s experience when using our software; however, we never trivialise the training content. Each piece of training has a purpose.  Contact Us for more information.

See our article, Key Work Health and Safety Messages.

To Conclude

This study looked at why safety training is not working by comparing young workers learning processes to experienced workers safety knowledge. The findings included a lack of trust by experienced workers, an unwillingness to expose apprentices to different work contexts, a limited transfer of knowledge about obvious hazards and safe practice and a reluctance to teach about safety jargon. The apprentices were given limited exposure to varying work environments and only shown one way to do things.

Rule-breaking occurred as a response to the changing work environment and experienced workers had developed self-regulatory strategies. However, the apprentices did not. Apprentices were encouraged to learn by their mistakes and after they receive minor injuries.

To facilitate learning it should be integrated with learning prevention strategies within different environments. Young workers need support and supervision and a variety of work contexts so that they can apply their skills and adapt their responses. Perhaps if we communicate, support and supervise them more, we will no longer have cases when our safety training is not working.

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