The Future of Safety Training

By Carol Leaman

Sep 23, 2013

Safety training is finally taking the next giant step in the right direction.
Turn back the clock 150 years in North American labor history and you’ll see a very different picture than today, especially when it comes to workplace safety. What was primarily an agricultural economy was moving into the industrial age — a world of textiles, chemicals, mining, machining, and transportation, among other things. However, the machines and equipment that helped drive a new era of economic prosperity also got bigger, more complex, and more dangerous.

People were getting injured and dying in large numbers. There was little or no regard for safety and by the late 1800s, the problem was so alarming that organizations and governments were spurred to take action. New legislation, safety boards, and labor organizations quickly emerged to remedy a situation that had gone on for too long.

Manufacturers everywhere began to make changes by implementing awareness training, guidelines, and policies. Most importantly, they began to shift the way they thought about workplace safety. All of these efforts amounted to significant improvements. However, a hundred years later, those initial safety gains have now started to level off. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that in the private sector, the number of days away from work cases had decreased by 3 percent in 2011, yet the median number of days away from work was eight days for the fourth consecutive year. What’s the problem?

If we consider a typical, modern workplace safety program, it generally consists of four key elements:
1) Environment: Physical and social factors that contribute to a safe workplace;
2) Policy: Procedures that ensure practices are aligned with safety objectives;
3) Training: The delivery of consistent safety information to all employees; and
4) Awareness: Employees who proactively promote and live by all of the above.

Although workplace safety programs are contributing to far safer environments, most organizations still see the same old issues: back injuries, eye injuries, and slips, trips & falls. If you study OSHA statistics during the past decade, our efforts to curb injuries and fatalities are flat-lining, it seems. Why is that? Of all safety measures, training and continued awareness are the most difficult to make stick because they primarily rely on employees’ ability to learn, understand, and comprehend critical safety practices. They also require the employee to buy into the safety culture of an organization because the majority of workplace injuries are rooted in employees’ attitudes, behaviors, and culture, rather than dangerous and hazardous workplace conditions.

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