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A well-designed and implemented workplace safety program has benefits far beyond a reduction in injuries. With fewer injuries comes fewer worker's compensation claims, meaning less paperwork and lower insurance premiums. Morale also improves in a safe environment, and production increases.
These are all excellent reasons for establishing your own safety program, even without the many legal reasons for doing so. Building a program from scratch, however, can seem overwhelming. While it requires a significant time commitment, creating a safety training program follows the same simple steps whether your work environment is a small manufacturing plant, a software-developing company or a large construction site.
Safety training doesn't negate all workplace hazards. In fact, some safety threats cannot be addressed with training. Therefore, your first task is to determine the cause of your safety issues.
Training is the best solution when accidents can be traced to employees lacking knowledge of safety procedures and equipment usage. If accidents occur due to a physical flaw in the work environment, training is less likely to make a difference. Instead, alterations to the environment may solve your problem.
Lack of motivation and employee attitudes can also contribute to accidents. To combat these issues, a shift in workplace culture is needed. Training can be part of this shift, but the larger issues causing your employees' negative outlooks will need to be addressed.
Training must focus on the specific threats your employees face. A job hazard analysis is the best method of determining these threats as well as any gaps in knowledge employees may have related to specific tasks.
A job hazard analysis will document each step in every task your employees complete and identify all possible hazards. The resulting report can provide a valuable foundation for safety training, clearly showing where employees have safety issues or knowledge gaps. You can then prioritize these gaps in your safety training.
Completing a job hazard analysis also introduces employees to your new culture of safety. Involve workers in the process. Ask them questions and listen to their concerns. Keeping employees motivated and interested is a vital part of any safety training program.
How you present training materials — and the form such training takes — will depend on your workplace, employees and the type of safety issues you face. If you're training a construction crew on the proper use of fall protection, your training materials might assume a large audience. In contrast, reviewing the proper steps for using a highly specific piece of equipment may require one-on-one training.
Who presents the training is also a consideration. For relatively simple procedures, supervisors may be perfectly capable trainers. In other cases, outside instructors may be a better choice.
No matter what type of material and presentation methods you choose, training should apply to specific jobs or circumstances, using lessons that mirror the step-by-step nature of the job process being reviewed.
The best training will include an opportunity for employees to demonstrate and practice safety skills during and after the training. Providing an overview at the end of the training also helps employees retain the information.
Whether you conduct training sessions in-house or hire outside consultants, be clear about the following:
As noted above, information should be presented in an organized manner and clearly related to employee tasks. When possible, provide real-life examples. Encourage discussion and participation during and after training, and follow up in the coming days to reinforce new skills and information.
Determining the training's effectiveness can be accomplished in a number of ways. In the days following training sessions, ask employees for feedback, either through discussions or a short survey. Periodically check in with supervisors and ask if employee behavior changed after training. Supervisors are often the first to notice any positive outcome. However, the ultimate test of training success can be found in long-term safety data. If incident rates or "near miss" reports drop, your training has been successful.
Whether or not your initial training resulted in positive change, you'll need to update and change your training program in response to new developments. Safety is not static. New employees, changes in equipment and other variables can affect how and when you train.
Revisit your safety program often. Was the training effective? Could the program be improved by modifying presentations or teaching techniques? Return to the job hazard analysis and look for gaps in the training, filling them in as you discover them. Your safety program will change over time, but once you have one in place, it's only a matter of fine-tuning the process.
A culture of safety doesn't develop overnight, but with careful analysis, employee involvement and an eye to avoiding problems before they happen, you can keep your workplace as accident-free as possible.
Trey Trimble is the chief technology officer of Transportation Safety Apparel. He is well-versed in both the transportation safety industry and the technology industry, having done all types of jobs with TSA, from customer service and marketing to Magento software development.