The “problem” with health and safety
Unless you are in the health and safety industry, health and safety is rarely a favourite topic in the workplace, particularly when it comes to training. Any trainers or managers who have ever delivered classroom-based this type of compliance-based training before, may have experienced a lack of enthusiasm, regardless of how interesting they’ve tried to make it.
It doesn’t have to be this way, though. It is possible to transform health and safety training and communications into something that employees actively and enthusiastically participate in.
Making health and safety fun might sound like quite a leap from where you are at the moment, but here’s the thing: by moving away from the compliance approach to health and safety and adopting innovative communication methods, it is possible to make health and safety training (and indeed any other type of compliance-based training) engaging, interactive, and, yes, enjoyable.
Compliance approach vs. hearts and minds approach
The starting point is to move away from a compliance-based approach to health and safety. This is where health and safety is something the business does begrudgingly and to the bare minimum in order to comply with legislative requirements.
A hearts and minds approach, on the other hand, is where health and safety is ingrained in everything the business does. It is where health and safety is of strategic importance, so is the responsibility of everyone from the board down to people on the “shop floor”. It is also an environment where good safety is seen as “good business” and the organisation appreciates its moral obligations too.
This is an important step as one of the features of a compliance-based approach is “box-ticking”, i.e. training staff so a box can be ticked. When doing this, there is often little focus on whether the people being trained understand and/or buy-in to what they are being told. Also know as “sheep-dipping”, this approach to training in areas like health and safety leads to cynicism and negativity from those who give up their time to design, deliver and attend such programmes.
When there is a hearts and minds approach to health and safety in the business, compliance remains important, but it is secondary to getting a meaningful result, i.e. a proper understanding and buy-in from the team.
Of course, this takes greater effort from everyone in the company as well as additional company resources.
That leaves the big question – how do you get the health and safety buy-in and understanding you need? How do you ensure people are engaged when taking part in health and safety training? How can you make sure they are not just going through the motions? How can you ensure they take onboard health and safety messages and not just forget them?
Getting everyone onside with innovative communication methods
When designing a health and safety communication or planning training and in addition to good technical content, there are three things you should ask yourself:
- Is it designed to be engaging?
- Is it relevant to the employee and do they know why it is important to them? Have we factored in the answer to the “why” question and that goes beyond saying “because we have to”?
- Is the training or communication consistent with hearts and minds approach or is it compliance orientated?
The first of the above questions is often the hardest to answer positively. For example, if the training will be in a classroom using a PowerPoint presentation, it is unlikely that people will feel enthused by it.
To break the boring mould that health and safety training often gets stuck in, you should do something different, innovative, and unique. An effective way to achieve this is through adding gamification to your training… more on this below.
On the second point above, it’s critical that any health and safety training includes context and builds understanding as to why people have to follow processes, procedures and behave safely. This has to engage participants on an emotional and not just rational level. The default for this in the past has been gory safety videos but people get desensitised to these “shock” tactics. We have to be smarter in the way we do this and engage learners to think for themselves and consider the consequence of ignoring what we are asking them to do.
The third point above raises the question of what we are doing after the training… will the words be backed up by action? Will peers, managers and senior leaders be demonstrating a commitment to everyone working safely through their words and deeds after the training.
Making health and safety fun through “gamification”
The “gamification” of learning is more than just throwing in some games and activities into learning. It is a systematic process of using techniques that are based on the principles of good game design. It is a learning methodology where you create a game or use game elements to deliver and/or enhance training so employees learn through play. Gamification is a serious concept in business. Many organisations are using it by taking the elements of what makes games so interesting (a shared sense of purpose, challenge and reward), decoding the mechanics that make them work and then applying these elements to a range of business needs to enhance performance.
Good gamification tools also encourage interaction, problem-solving, scenario-based thinking, and effective communication. This is ideal for relatively “dry ” subjects like health and safety. At The Big Picture People, we have created numerous game-based health and safety tools for our clients. A recent project we completed for Tesco Maintenance involved creating an interactive, classic board game with a detailed representation of a Tesco retail store at the centre. Over 3000 Tesco Maintenance employees too part in the process of playing the game. Participating in small team, they competed with each other for points by demonstrating health and safety knowledge and skill, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of ‘unsafe acts’ and ‘unsafe conditions’.
The competitive element of the above example is very important as it makes the process even more fun and encourages participants to get more involved. The more involved they get, the more they will learn and the more they will remember in the weeks, months, and years that follow.
Crucially, we find participants become more active and engaged in the company’s health and safety efforts as a result of this approach to engaging them in safety. Whether this is reducing risks, avoiding unsafe working practices, learning from near misses to make improvements, or anything else that enhances the safety of your workplace.
So, we would contest, health and safety training and communications can not only be fun, they can be more effective too.