Making Safety Training Stick

Check out this article on Making Safety Training Stick in the most recent issue of Workers Comp Magazine.  (I’m quoted on page 24.)


What is your favorite way to increase the retention of the training material you present?


One way athletes are often taught to learn a new skill is by breaking it down into small chunks and then perfecting each of these steps.  In The Little Book of Talent, Daniel Coyle writes “Chunks are to skill what letters of the alphabet are to language. Alone, each is nearly useless, but when combined into bigger chunks (words), and … combined into still bigger things (sentences, paragraphs), they can build something complex and beautiful.”

Chunking is one way to help trainees to remember more. (See my earlier post on “Reducing” for more). If you are training a class how to do something, think about how you could break down (chunk) each part of the act and focus on each step separately. Let’s take an easy example – how to use a fire extinguisher (from OSHA’s website)

The first step shown is to select the appropriate screenshot_513.png

To chunk down this instruction, you could concentrate on the 4 steps listed as separate training “chunks.”

Pull the Pin – Can you set up a situation where trainees get to actually break the tamper seal and pull the pin? Is there anything else you assume they should know – or anything that you believe to be “common sense” but might need special reinforcement?

Aim – Can you do a demonstration that shows what happens when you aim at the base and when you aim elsewhere?  Can the trainees practice? How far away should you stand? What is a realistic situation for a workplace fire in your facility? It most certainly won’t look like the bonfire shown in the OSHA image. Will it be in a trashcan? If so, how do you aim at the base if you can’t see the base? When should a trainee attempt to put the fire out with the extinguisher and  when should they leave the area? (that question gives me an idea for a new training activity  – let me know if you want to see what I come up with). Think how you can break this step down to make the training as specific, realistic and applicable to the trainees’ work environment as possible.

Squeeze  – How hard does the handle need to be squeezed? How long? What if someone doesn’t have great hand strength? Do you need to squeeze fast or slow? Do you fingers go on top or bottom of the handle? What happens with it begins discharging? Is it easier or more difficult to squeeze the handle? What if they are wearing gloves? Is it more difficult? Can you have the trainees practice?

Sweep – How long and how fast do you sweep from side to side? How long will the extinguisher last? How will you know how long it will last before you use it? What should you do if the extinguisher runs out before the fire is out?  If the fire appears out, how long do you need to watch it? Should you throw water on it or do anything else after the fire is gone?

Do you get the idea? Each step in a relatively simple set of instructions can be broken down into a mini-topic. If you can’t see trainees face-to-face on consecutive days or weeks to cover each mini-topic (while referencing what was previous learned) maybe you could send out for emails or text messages with each focusing on one of the steps.

Four simple steps might seem just like four simple steps but as you can see by the random questions each step generated above, there could be a lot of questions zooming around your trainees head. If you don’t talk about actual fire possibilities in your workplace and specific conditions and challenges that might come with those fires, the training information will not stick so with every chunk you are able to create, make sure to integrate the real-world information your trainees need to know.


What Will You Learn This Week?

Copy of The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand

You have probably heard the phrase (or been told) “You don’t know what you don’t know.” This is one part of 4 basic stages of competence according to something called the Competence Hierarchy. Simply put, we either not know what we don’t know;  Are aware of what we do not know or realize there are gaps in our knowledge in that area; Know and are confident that we know something; or are so confident and competent in an area that we don’t even think about it or realize that we have mastered it.

I love this quote because to me, it means we start learning as soon as we realize we don’t understand something. If I attend a non-EHS conference and a word or concept totally foreign to me is discussed with ease by those around me, this is truly the first step in learning because knowing I do not understand something is the first step for me to learn something new.  Even if it starts with a simple Google of the term, that is the first step in making sense of new information.

In the world of safety and health, some people are experts in construction and others are experts in hospital safety regulations while others could talk for hours about behavioral safety or risk management. Safety professionals are not expected to know everything but it’s key to realize when we don’t know what we don’t know and take steps to at least move to the second stage described above – becoming aware of what we don’t know.

badge book coverIn the Safety Trainer’s Badge Book I created a few years ago, I listed 50 different safety training skills. (This is a free download on the SafetyFUNdamentals website).  If you glance at the badges, try to think if you know the basics about that badge topic. Next, read through the “badge requirements” and see if there is anything you don’t know. Now you “know what you don’t know” and can begin to work towards knowledge in that area.  As Safety Professionals, especially those trying to maintain certifications, it can be difficult to know where to focus our continuing education efforts and the first step is realizing what we don’t know.

Safety Training Recipe Kit

Yesterday, we talked about cake mixes and how by giving others the opportunity to personalize something off-the-shelf and make it their own, they are more likely to be convinced of its greatness.

How can you get those you work with, up and down the career ladder, to put their own touches on the finished product?

One way to create a personalized training class is to think of presenting something similar to a set menu you would see at a restaurant.  Pick one item from the appetizers section, one item from the main course offerings, two sides dishes and one of the dessert options. Of course all of the menu items are great but you get to personally put together your own perfect meal when you get to pick exactly what’s best for you. Here is an example of a menu you could present:

Safety Training menuOf course this is completely flexible and you can choose from many more options in each section but this should give you some ideas. Like any balanced meal, you also wouldn’t want your training class to consist of 5 desserts and no main course so encourage selections from each area.

When it comes the images and illustrations in your training content, this is one of the easiest places to let others add their own touches, or even as a way for you as a safety trainer to use off the shelf materials and customize them for your needs If you buy prepared presentations, make sure you can edit them. Nothing will turn off a trainee faster than showing them something that doesn’t apply to their particular situation. (See the earlier post on “Real World training” for more information). Location names, photos, images, procedures and anything else specific to your place of work should be included and not just generic versions of those items. If you absolutely must use slides you cannot edit, consider adding a few customized slides to the beginning and end. (Kind of like being given the cake and using your skills and materials to customize it). If you must show an off-the-shelf video, stop the video at key points and either show corresponding slides specific to your workplace that help the trainees to make the connection with what they are seeing on the video to what actually occurs in their day to day job or open a discussion about what they just saw and how it applies to them.

Do you use off the shelf training materials? If so, how to you make them your own?

Water and Eggs

make cakeJust add water and two eggs, stir and voilà! You have a “homemade” cake! Of course it tastes better than a store bought cake because only YOU could add that specific amount of water exactly the way you did or select and crack the two perfect eggs and of course no one else can stir that batter with the same amount of love that you can.

When instant cake mixes that required the addition of eggs first came on the market they water and eggswere a huge hit, not only because they tasted better than the original cake mixes that included powdered eggs but because it gave the cook more of a way to contribute to the success of the cake. Because the steps involved in making a cake mix were made simpler, the cook could concentrate on adding her own creative touches such as glazes, fancy decorations, and original fillings.  While many people believe that the cake mixes that required adding water and eggs were a hit because the cook felt like the cake was actually their own creation now, the success was really due to the extra time the mix provided to the housewife* to personalize it and make it her* own.

How can you make your safety programs similar to the “just add water and eggs” cake mixes? People tend to support projects and programs that they themselves created and somehow made “their own.” If you personally developed a new program and delivered it to your workforce, they will be less likely to be as excited as you are about it. It’s your baby and of course you love it.  How can you get your workforce or management to “add the water and eggs”? If you are responsible for multiple sites, can you offer a way for the various locations to make their own contributions? If they feel like they were part of the finished product, they will of course think it is better and are more likely to support it and be excited about implementing it.

Do you do this already or have some ideas for giving management, co-workers, union leaders, or other facility locations the opportunity to help create or improve upon your training content? Please share them in the comments section. Otherwise, check back tomorrow for the second part of this post where I will give you a few ideas.


 *I am not writing “housewife” or “her” because I believe that only women make cakes but back when the new “just add water and egg” mixes became popular (around 1950), this was likely the case.

Information Overload

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” — Herbert Simon

“A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”
Herbert Simon

I can relate to this quote personally. When I have 100 things to do, I often try to work on everything just a little and end up getting nowhere. Training content is similar. If too much material is presented, the trainees will spread their attention and focus out to all of it resulting in little attention actually being given to what’s important.

Many people have heard that Trainer’s should minimize the amount of text on a slide, not only because it is hard to read but also because it is too much information to absorb at once. Sticking to three bullet points per slide is a good goal but if you have 3 bullet points on each slide, and each slide has 3 completely different bullet points, and you have 60 slides – that still equals too much information.

Try reducing the scope of the content. Is all of that information really necessary? What can you eliminate?  If you were told you only had half of the allotted time, what would you remove? If every single one of those bullets was essential, can you break the class into two parts? If it will be difficult to get the trainees for two separate sessions and you will only get to see them once, what can you pull out and distribute as pre-work and post-work?  Sending pre-class prep work can help spread the content out over time so trainees can focus on less content during the actual class.

If you are planning a typical safety training class, you may be thinking, there is no way the people coming to my class would ever do any type of pre-work. I get it. Many of the people we deliver safety training to are not in a position or environment to do pre-class work unless it’s on their own time and that is not going to happen. How do you normally communicate with those employees? Would they open and read an email? Try sending just a labeled image or infographic out with instructions to review it before the class. You can even state that there will be a short quiz at the beginning of class on the information. (Don’t just say this – do it. The benefits of a pre-quiz are many. For more information read my post on re-evaluation). Even this little bit of pre-work will help reduce some of the content you feel you must present. during a single session.

Imagine each point you are presenting is a stick. If you give your trainees ten sticks to carry, they may drop one or two but will be able to handle most. Now imagine you gave your trainees 50 sticks to carry. How many of those sticks would they drop and leave behind? Thank of training content the same way. The more you give them, the more they will drop.  Take an objective look at what you are really asking trainees to pay attention to and reduce that “pile of sticks” as much as you can.

Next up…don’t overload the images. More on that tomorrow.

The 7th R

“The principal benefit of retrieval practice is that it encourages an activeexertion of effort rather than the passive seepage of external information”


The 7th R stands for Retrieval and is represented by the Golden Retriever in the illustration below. (I know – this is a stretch but it’s easy to remember and who doesn’t like to look at a Golden Retriever?)

Retrieval practice is key in the learning retention process.  For trainees and for adult learners alike, being able to remember what was learned is the most important thing. The act of retrieving important information is fundamental to training. If it wasn’t, why do we do safety training at all?

7rs retriever

The ways someone practices to remember or retrieve information can make a big difference in how effective learning actually is. It has been found that reading, highlighting and memorizing information does not cause information to stay in your head as well as learning methods that cause you to come up with the answer. What this means is that instead of having and seeing the information in front of you, your brain will learn and remember better if it is forced to pull out the information already in there.  This is a very simplistic way of explaining some very scientific brain research but I am hoping you get the point. An example or two may help to make this clearer.

Example 1: If you provide trainees with a copy of all PowerPoint slides, they will have all of the training content in front of them. If you provide a worksheet based on the PowerPoint slides with key information left out, and space for the trainee to fill it in, you are causing the trainee to pull that information out and the trainee has to work harder at  remembering. This extra work will cause the information to be retained longer.

Example 2. If you provide the trainees with a multiple-choice quiz, all of the relevant information will be in front of them and they simply have to recognize the correct answer. If you provide a fill-in-the-blank quiz, you are again causing them to think more about what they have learned and this itself will help the learning stick.

Finally, an important concept of retrieval practice is that frequency is more important that duration. It is better to review something more often instead of for longer periods of time.  Think about how you can integrate that idea into your safety training classes. When researching the key ideas associated with retrieval practice, I became fascinated with the idea of flashcards as a training activity and I am currently working on a collection of them to share with other safety trainers. If you want to know when it’ ready,  just comment below or sign-up for the SafetyFUNdamentals Newsletter by clicking here.

The 6th R

The 6th R of Making Safety Training Stick is Recycle. When you think of recycling you likely think about putting your paper, plastic, glass and metal items into a special container so they can be re-used again. Recycling training materials is very much the same. You are taking the training content you already have and putting it into a different form to be used again. This provides your trainees with the opportunity to be exposed to the training information again (repetition) and it also provides reinforcement.

7rs recycle

For example, if you have a 10 question quiz for a safety training topic, you could break it down into 10 separate emails, each one asking one of the ten questions. You can also turn these ten questions into a flashcard activity.  You could also recycle the ten questions into images and post them in the work area as a way of reinforcing material already learned.

There are many more possibilities and you are only limited by your imagination.

Have you recycled training materials? What have you come up with?

The 5th R

The 5th R to increase retention of your safety training classes is Re-Evaluation.

7rs re-eval

Re-Evaluation also covers pre-evaluation, mid-evaluation and all other times you test the knowledge of trainees. Studies have shown that the more often you test trainees (and yourself if you are trying to learn something), the better they will remember the training content. Even if the trainees know none of the answers in a pre-evaluation, the mere act of testing them first will help them to remember the training content longer. Most Trainers will do some kind of evaluation at the end of a class, but what about the middle? An evaluation can take the form of a training activity or game during the class. This will allow you as the trainer to know what trainees understand and where you may need to provide additional information. Instant feedback on whether trainees are getting it! How cool is that? After the class has ended, sending additional short evaluations days after the trainees have left the class, will continue to help the trainees remember the information longer.

Test yourself now. What were the first 4Rs talked about in the previous posts?

The 4th R

The 4th R in the 7Rs of Safety Training Retention is Reduction.

7rs reduction

Reduction has other names and forms – chunking, micro-learning, learning bursts, etc.  Reduction means taking your training content and breaking it down into more digestible pieces. Think about it. If you spend two weeks putting together the content for a training class, how can trainees be expected to remember it after a two hour – even 5 hour – class?

Chunking has been a technique to help people remember things for a long time. Phone numbers used to be 7 digits because that was a good sized “chunk” for your memory. A ten digit phone number would have been much harder to remember. Micro-learning has gained in popularity in recent years for a variety of reasons. It is pretty well accepted that attention spans have gotten shorter for a variety of reasons so if someone has the choice to focus and pay attention to training material for 10 or 15 minutes instead of an hour, they will choose the shorter time span. Training provided in small bursts can be a great way to get active participation, and a great way not to overload the trainee with too much information.  Technology can really help to deliver smaller chunks of training but not everyone has access to all of the many options that are available. Micro-learning can still be done “old school” without all the bells and whistles. Simple emails with training content broken down into chunks, with links to online evaluations, can be very effective.

Gamification is also increasing in popularity and many of the gamification programs rely on breaking down content into smaller pieces. In games and other online platforms where you can earn badges, each badge generally represents a particular piece of knowledge. (I took a stab at creating a Safety Trainer’s Badge Book a few years ago to help guide self-improvement efforts of any safety trainer looking to do so, including myself. The Safety Trainer’s Badge Book is available as a free download on the SafetyFUNdamentals Bookstore). If you are interested in creating your own badge program, let me know and I can point you in the right direction.

Do you use games or micro-learning in your work place?