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Why safety training fails to engage

12 May, 2021
Illustration of man at work with traffic lights saying stop think go - why safety training fails to engage employees

We retain 10% of what we see, 30% of what we see and hear, 90% of what we see, hear and do

Is there a stampede to get into your behavioural safety training seminars? Or is there more likely to be a stampede of people trying to get out? How many of us have sat through dull, turgid safety presentations, surreptitiously watching the clock, desperate for it to be over? Then, at the end, the trainer ticks your name off a list and that’s it. Safety training done for another year. Everyone goes back to their station and nothing changes.

One size safety training doesn’t fit all

The problem is, behavioural safety training is vitally important. Once seen as the realm of high risk industries only, successful behavioural safety programmes have been proven to provide benefits across organisations, not least in increased productivity. This is why behavioural safety training is now cascading down from the oil, gas and construction industries into lower-risk manufacturing and even retail. But for it to be successful, you first have to engage your audience – and this is where so many organisations fail. They carry out a few sheep-dip, one-size-fits-all workshops and expect everyone to understand. More than that, they expect everyone to be brimming with enthusiasm, just waiting to go back to work and put all these fancy new ideas into practice. So, why is this not the case?

Compliance or commitment?

Unfortunately, there has been a significant lack of investment and creativity in health and safety departments for many years. This is not a criticism of all you hard-working, dedicated, over-stretched teams out there. H&S managers are often frustrated at having to compete with a whole set of other agendas, often better-resourced and supported than they are. Many of our H&S teams are very lean, if, indeed, there is a team at all. Too often, health and safety is seen from a narrow, compliance-based perspective. A box ticking exercise. If the leadership of an organisation demonstrates that it sees H&S as an afterthought, employees will also dismiss it as unimportant – and that is your first massive hurdle in engaging them in any meaningful way. The leadership must also buy in to the programme. Yes, you can probably get people to comply when there is someone there to keep an eye. But what you really want is for them to constantly uphold your safety behaviours because they understand them, they believe in them and want to do them for the right reasons. You want them to change their own behaviours and inspire everyone around them. This is the big difference between compliance and commitment.

PowerPoint is not the answer

There are flashes of inspiration (and we like to think of The Big Picture People as one of those). There has been some great work involving virtual reality, but so many H&S training sessions are a variation on a tired theme. Yes, we’re talking about the dreaded PowerPoint presentation. Of course, they have their uses but they also have serious limitations if you’re expecting the full attention of your audience. Presentations such as this are very linear. You are broadcasting your message in exactly the same way to everyone in the room. You are talking at them, not with them. You are telling them what to think, not finding out what they think. Is it any wonder that half your audience switch off and don’t hear you, or that the other half don’t retain the messages they did hear?

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn”

Benjamin Franklin (or Confucius, depending on who you ask) hit the nail on the head. So many safety training presentations fail to engage because

  • They are not motivating or stimulating
  • They use technospeak and acronyms – not the language your employees use day-to-day
  • They are not memorable
  • They do not allow for interaction or the exploration of ideas
  • They do not lend themselves to sharing of knowledge between people at all levels
  • They do not explore What’s In It For Me
  • They do not encourage employees to develop their own understanding
  • They can be predictable and repetitive, particularly with refresher training
  • They do not take into account how adults learn
  • They are not fun

But Health & Safety training is not meant to be fun

Of course, H&S messages are serious but there’s nothing wrong with having fun learning about them. Something that is fun is more compelling and much more memorable (find out why). You want your delegates to enjoy the session and look forward to the next one. You want them to go away talking about it, passing on that energy and understanding to their colleagues.

Eat your greens

We often assume that because something is good for the organisation, people will automatically make the connection that it must be good for them too. This is not the case. It’s like being told to eat your greens as a child. Just because someone in authority says it, that doesn’t make you believe it or want to do it.

Fun, teamwork and TBBP bring H&S to life

At The Big Picture People, we specialise in bespoke, highly-tailored training games. They harness powerful, psychological tools to get your most important messages across. We use gaming mechanics that make games fun and absorbing, integrated into non-game environments to improve engagement. Played in small groups, these games allow for socialisation, promoting interaction between staff at levels of an organisation. They provide a non-pressured, safe-to-fail way of exploring real life scenarios and the consequences of different behaviours. Leaders are not only visible, they are part of the multi-way discussion. This means that they get true and honest feedback in an informal environment, something rare in conventional training methods. Our games take into account the way adults learn, which is most effective when we

  • come to our own conclusions
  • use real life, relatable scenarios
  • have the chance to explore concepts and ideas in a friendly, non-threatening environment
  • interact in small groups
  • tap into the knowledge of peers and colleagues
  • explore WIIFM
  • make the whole process fun

For more information and to see how real people play, pop over to The Safety Game® page. Or book a free 30 minute call with us and find out how a bespoke safety game could increase knowledge, retention, engagement and understanding.

The Safety Game® – a more natural way to learn

The human brain likes to work things out for itself. Adults prefer facilitators rather than lecturers, so training needs to involve interaction, problem solving and the chance to reflect on what has been learned. We need to immerse our employees in the H&S process, get their hands in and dirty. Your training should make them want to explore the whys and wherefores, how what they do makes a difference and, ultimately, how safety behaviours benefit them too. They are far more likely to retain what they have learned. They may even become your greatest behavioural safety advocates.

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