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January 07, 2011
Make 2011 Your Best Training Year Ever!

The renowned American sprinter Jesse Owens observed, “A lifetime of training for just 10 seconds.” For some employees one critical decision influenced by years of training will make the difference between life and death. Whether you’re hoping to save a life, prevent a costly accident, or improve compliance, training is an essential part of your work as a safety and health professional.

Between OSHA requirements, your own company regulations, and mandates from other regulators, your duty to train is ongoing. In this Compliance Report we get the latest on safety and health training trends from a nationally recognized expert. We learn why one small, safety-minded business prefers homegrown training. And we share tips for opening and closing training presentations from an award-winning consultant and author.


Cal/OSHA has established general rules that provide a useful benchmark for testing the appropriateness of training. Training should:

  • Be specific to the hazards of individual job assignments.
  • Clearly inform employees what conditions are infractions of departmental safety rules.
  • Give supervised work experience before allowing employees to perform hazardous operations on their own.

One of the most important decisions trainers make is how the content will be delivered. Options include:

On-the-job learning and one-on-one discussions with employees are often most effective when combined with on-the-job skills training.

Safety meetings can be a good setting for training when group cooperation is required—for example, during training on how to organize in an emergency.

Role-playing and using case histories are useful in group settings, and are more effective with some audiences (for example, a more verbal group) than with others.

Lectures are considered by Cal/OSHA to be the least effective means of training. Involving employees can help make the lectures more meaningful.

Demonstrations work best when they are interactive and encourage audience participation.

Audiovisual presentations and computer-based programs are an effective choice for refresher training or when live demonstrations are too costly or hazardous.

Printed materials are best used as a supplement when individuals already have a good grasp of the subject material but need additional information to fill the gaps.


James Johnson is a long-time consultant and project manager who currently serves as the National Safety Council’s (NSC) group vice president for workplace safety initiatives. He oversees the council’s safety training and consulting activities, among other duties.

Johnson says there’s no doubt that economic challenges over the past couple of years have required companies to think carefully about how they invest in training.

“Training unto itself is not the solution; it’s about training within the context of an overall safety management system,” he suggests. That means including courses that address leadership, employee engagement, and the cultural elements of the organization. Training should be part of an overall plan that encourages employees to have a voice in the workplace and “to be engaged in a meaningful way in the safety effort.”

Johnson also recommends courses directed at managers to be sure they understand their role in safety management, as well as sessions on hazard identification, elimination, and control. Job/task training is another essential part of a safety management system. The idea is to integrate “how to do it” with “how to do it safely.”

It’s important to integrate an organization’s different categories of training, including safety, LEAN (a production practice centered on preserving value with less work), productivity, and quality. “Then whether it’s a process engineer, a quality manager, or other function within the organization, they understand how to anticipate the hazards and risks associated with changes in the work process,” Johnson adds.

Electronic Evolution

Economic constraints and improved technology have led many companies toward electronic training. “We’re seeing increased spending and increased utilization of online training and other forms of delivery,” Johnson observes. Having said that, classroom/ instructor-led training either off-site or at a jobsite is still “a very important way to deliver training.”

He believes that offering students a way to interact with one another and with an instructor can have a positive effect on what they learn and can later apply. Webinars are an example of a cost-effective electronic strategy that permits interaction. A good balance of training methods should be based on such factors as the goal of the training, the audience, and the cost.

Johnson says online training can be quite effective when developing knowledge is more important than personal interaction. For example, he prefers online training for a particular OSHA regulation rather than for a session on leadership, where students learn how to engage others and motivate them to be responsible for safety. “Those kinds of things are harder to convey online,” adds Johnson.

Although it can cost more to send employees out for training, getting away from the workplace can encourage positive interactions with other employees and reduce the distractions of training delivered on-site.

Johnson encourages workplaces to develop an overarching training plan that goes beyond individual requirements and addresses broader organizational goals. The plan looks at purpose and delivery methods, how and where the training will roll out over the course of a year, and whether the sessions are time-based or if individuals can choose how and when to participate. The plan should also include means of measuring the effectiveness of the training beyond lagging indicators like numbers of injuries or recordable case rates.

Great Trainers

What makes a safety trainer great? For Johnson, it’s “someone who has the personality and energy to engage the audience.” He adds: “It’s not simply delivery, it’s engagement, and part of the way an instructor effectively engages is through real-world examples and case studies.” Top trainers help students participate in “nonconfrontational, nonthreatening ways, not by singling out individuals but by making them feel comfortable.”

A top trainer is one with subject matter mastery and a depth of technical expertise and work-related experience. An instructor is only as good and engaging as the content he or she has to deliver. That content should be current, relevant, accurate, and assembled in a manner that reflects an understanding of the audience and knowledge of the principles of adult learning.


For Jerry McGlynn, safety director for McWilliams Electric Co., bringing training in-house was a strategic choice. The family-owned business has about 90 employees and serves Chicago and the suburbs. McGlynn says that about 10 years ago his father, who owns the company, began to calculate what he was spending to send employees out for training. He decided to take it inside and put his son in charge.

The younger McGlynn earned certification as a safety training supervisor and construction health and safety technician. Today, he delivers OSHA 10- and 30-hour courses, and teaches employees confined space, fall protection, NFPA 70E, first aid, and other training topics.

Beyond learning what to train, McGlynn also learned how to train. “I make it personal,” he explains. “I talk about near misses, things I know and read about, and things that actually happened.” He reinforces the “real” element by using free YouTube videos, which he incorporates into PowerPoint® presentations.

McGlynn gains insight and tips from membership in the National Electric Contractors Association (NECA) and from participation on its safety committee. The company also belongs to the American Subcontractor Association, whose safety meetings and forums provide perspective from outside the electrical contractor community.

McWilliams employees complete an evaluation form following each training session and are asked to suggest ideas for future sessions. These are often incorporated into weekly toolbox talks. Each week, employees receive a yellow toolbox content sheet in the envelope containing their paycheck. They bring the sheets to the toolbox session where the content is reviewed. Afterward, employees complete questions on the back; McGlynn collects and tracks these responses. Correct answers translate into incentive points, which employees use to purchase safety-related gear.

Safety Always

Among other cost-effective training techniques at McWilliams Electric:

  • McGlynn regularly visits jobsites, focusing especially on areas of concern, including any raised by the general contractor. He uses this information for future training.
  • All forepersons attend a quarterly safety meeting where they receive required training and discuss safety and health issues.
  • McGlynn uses online training as a backup in case employees are not able to attend live sessions.
  • At the conclusion of a training session, participants are asked to write down safety goals and lessons learned, place the sheet of paper into an envelope, and address it to themselves. McGlynn mails these to workers’ homes about a month later to help remind them of what they have committed to work on.
  • A game such as Safety Jeopardy is incorporated into quarterly employee safety meetings. Popular prizes, including tickets to sporting events, are earned when employees demonstrate their safety knowledge.
  • McGlynn encourages employees to think about safety as a constant state of mind by using the slogan Safety Always, which he prefers to the more traditional Safety First. He uses it on gang boxes and on signs that accompany McWilliams crews to jobsites.


Linda Tapp is an award-winning consultant and Certified Safety Professional. She’s the author of Safety FUNdamentals–77 Games and Activities to Make Training Great and the creator of the website Tapp goes beyond the old saying “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” by adding, “But did you know that you can’t teach an uninterested dog ANY tricks?!”

She believes two of the most important parts of a safety training class are the opening and the closing, which she refers to as the warm-up and the wrap-up. According to Tapp, many trainers like the idea of starting out with an icebreaker that helps trainees get to know one another better. But she urges caution as some of these can actually have a negative impact by making the trainee feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.

When it comes to icebreakers and openers, Tapp urges trainers to keep in mind the law of primary and “recency.” Trainees are going to remember what you do first and last. Choosing the wrong activity at the beginning can throw off the entire class, she adds.

Among her ideas and recommendations:

  • Millionaire for a Minute. When trainees enter the room they see instructions that ask them to think about the following question and be prepared to share their answers: If you had a million dollars to spend on safety at your plant, what is the first thing you would spend it on? These are shared as a way to get people engaged and ready to learn.
  • Grab Bag. As trainees enter the room, they’re asked to choose an object, without looking, from a bag, and then come up with at least two ways that item could be used in relation to the class topic. Each trainee presents his or her answers as a way to kick off the session.
  • Make it musical. Music has been found to provide an emotional connection that helps retention, says Tapp. Consider welcoming trainees with music alone or with music as part of a slide show featuring relevant photos, comics, or messages.
  • Cutting through. When choosing an opening activity, especially if the session is in the middle of the day, pick one most likely to break through workers’ preoccupation with what’s going on back on the line or at their desks.

Before You Go

It’s important to close a session in a meaningful and memorable way. This can be tough because participants know the session will soon end and may have trouble staying focused.

Tapp says the wrap-up is one of the key opportunities to reinforce the concepts presented. She recommends strategic closers that not only summarize but also motivate participants to practice what they’ve learned.

“One of the worst presentation mistakes you can make is to say, ‘Well, that’s it,’” Tapp suggests. “Let’s review” isn’t much better. Among her suggestions is an activity she calls Brain Dump. Divide the trainees into teams of 2 to 4 people. Give each group a sheet of paper on which someone lists numbers from 1 to 20.

Each team gets 3 minutes to write down as many key items or phrases as possible that relate to the information presented. No word or phrase can be repeated and coming up with more than 20 is just fine. When time is up, the team with the most words or phrases wins. Share lists with the class.

Another effective closing activity is to divide trainees into groups of 4 or 5. Team members work together to come up with a set of 10 test questions. These are traded among the groups, which work collaboratively to answer them. The completed tests are collected and shared with everyone.

Says Tapp, “Safety training is one of the only opportunities we often have to get the undivided attention of the employees we work with.” A strong opener and a memorable closer can have a big impact on what trainees take away from the session.


Smiles and thanks following a session don’t mean your job is over. A successful training program is a work in progress, and the cycle isn’t complete until you’ve evaluated the effectiveness of the training.

Consider these steps for assessing how well you, or another trainer, have done.

Ask trainees what they think. Probably your best source of information about the effectiveness of the session is the trainees themselves. Make anonymous evaluation forms available immediately following the session.

Ask participants to rate the session on a scale of 1 to 5. For any response below 5, ask for an explanation of what it would take to bring it up.

Another assessment tool is your own observations during the session. Think about the degree of participation, number of questions, and overall enthusiasm.

Use pre- and posttests. Simple true/false pre- and posttests can be an effective way to determine what participants knew before and after the presentation. If practical, ask trainees to explain principles, procedures, or rules they’ve learned. Have them demonstrate skills presented to give you an idea of skill gaps you need to fill before ending the session.

Check to see if the lessons are being learned and used. Keep an eye out for employee behavior. How well are workers incorporating the safety principles, skills, and knowledge into their jobs? Continue observations for several months after the training.

Evaluate the impact of training on overall safety performance. Is your workplace safer as a result of training efforts? Is your organization’s compliance program better as a result? Have the numbers of accidents and near misses, and related costs, gone down?

Whether you’re training for daily improvement or for that one critical moment that can save a life, training is one of your most important roles. Good luck making 2011 a great training year for you and your employees.

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