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January 18, 2005
Case Studies - How Effective Are They?

A case study should be more than just a story. Illustrating your safety message with a real-life example is generally a good way to make a point. But a true "case study" should go beyond giving an example—it should provide opportunities for trainees to test and apply their knowledge of the subject. The audience should participate directly by answering questions and discussing possible alternatives while you encourage them to reach the right conclusions on their own, with you as their guide.

Be creative in turning examples into case studies. If you're trying to make a point about the importance of wearing protective eyewear, for example, you could simply tell a story about an employee who was injured because he didn't wear the proper eye protection. But for a case study of the same situation, you can use your imagination to set up the circumstances behind the event. You can then go much deeper in exploring what actually happened, including such questions as:

  • What type of protective eyewear should have been used? (Glasses, goggles, or face shield?)
  • Why It Matters...
    • Case studies give people a way to relate your safety message to their own experiences.
    • Using "live" examples helps make your message real and concrete, rather than theoretical and abstract.
    • Interactive discussion and participation keep your audience engaged and attentive.
  • Why might the employee have failed to wear protective eyewear? (Perhaps it was lost, or damaged, or he wasn't sure that he needed it.)
  • What might the employee have done differently? (He could have asked for a replacement or asked a supervisor if he needed to wear it.)

Don't dwell only on the negative. Case studies can demonstrate positive outcomes as well as accidents and injuries. The example above, about protective eyewear, could be flipped around to describe an employee who avoided a serious injury by making the right choices and showing good safety awareness; you could then ask your audience to discuss what went right instead of wrong. Some other tips for effective case studies:

  • Don't make them too complicated—Limit the number of characters and keep the circumstances of the case simple and easy to follow.
  • Coach, don't lecture—Encourage discussion by asking questions, but let the participants find the answers themselves.
  • Summarize the main lessons of the case study at the end of the session.
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