10 Tips for Delivering Good Safety Training at Work
If you own your business or hold a senior role, or even if you don’t, you’re likely to get involved in safety training in your organisation. You may be providing a general induction or you may be covering a specific topic. In principle, training isn’t that difficult if you know your stuff. Sure, it takes a lot of practice to become a polished trainer, but if you’re committed to developing your skills you’ll soon notice a real difference in your training sessions.
Training is often confused with presenting. Presenting is delivering information either by talking or with the aid of slides or a flipchart. That’s great for short sessions, but you need to mix it up a bit for anything longer. Presenting is just one part of training.
Here, we share our top tips on becoming an effective trainer on health and safety information. These tips will serve you well whether you’re delivering formal training in the training room or less formal training where it’s needed in the workplace (on-the-job training).
For reasons of consistency, people delivering the training are referred to as trainers and those undergoing training as attendees. But in formal settings you may also call these people teachers or tutors, and trainees or students, respectively.
Identify your learning outcomes
Good trainers dedicate time to planning their training sessions. Part of this is setting what are called learning outcomes; in other words, what you’re expecting your attendees to be able to do at the end of the training.
Thinking about these outcomes at the beginning can help you in the long run. If you’re clear about what your attendees need to know by the end of the course or session, you’ll be more focused on selecting the right teaching methods, teaching aids and assessments for the job.
It helps if you think about three basic areas in which attendees can learn. These are called domains of learning and you can think of them in the following ways:
Head: This domain relates to knowledge/understanding-based approaches to learning. For example, you may expect your attendees to be able to explain a concept, analyse a situation, calculate a result or define a term.
Heart: This domain relates to feelings, attitudes and values. ‘Heart’ tends to be ignored, but anything that requires co-operation or collaboration will have an element of this learning approach. In health and safety, nurturing the right values is related to creating a positive safety culture (where the people in your organisation have a positive attitude towards working safely).
Hands: This domain relates to the more practical and skills-based approach to training (it’s sometimes called ‘muscle memory’). You want your attendees to be able to demonstrate a skill, for example (such as correct technique).
Either way, phrase your learning outcomes so that they’re clear and easy to assess. You can then easily match your learning checks (assessment methods) to the learning outcomes. Different teaching approaches suit different learning domains.
For example, if you’re training people in manual handling, you probably expect them to be able to explain to you the principles of correct lifting (which is ‘head’ knowledge – an understanding that you can check with a test or by asking a question). You’d also expect them to be able to perform a lift – that is, show you how it’s done (the ‘hands’ domain). You can check this lift by observation (perhaps using a checklist of points that are considered good practice, such as bending at the knees, grasping the box firmly and so on).
Create a training plan
When you’re ready to create your training plan, you may already be armed with your learning outcomes. Before you get to work though, you may also want to consider the following factors:
Your attendees: What level are they at, and what do they already know?
Timing: How much time do you have available for the sessions?
Resources and methodology: What teaching approaches are you going to use (including the content, resources, aids and equipment you need)?
Assessments: How are you planning to check that your attendees are learning/have learned anything?
You can combine your answers into a short training plan – which is an aide-memoire for you.
A good and commonly used planning framework to organise your approach is known as the Present–Apply–Review (PAR) approach. You present new material (which may be a demonstration or presentation), apply it (through discussion, case studies or practical demonstrations) and then review it (for which you may use a summary, ask questions or provide a test/quiz). You can cycle round this approach many times in a session as you move from topic to topic.
Planning is a good thing, but don’t overdo it. Be proportionate – don’t spend 500 hours planning a one-hour session.
Prepare yourself in good time
If you don’t prepare for your training session, it isn’t going to go well. Part of this involves planning, but you also need to be familiar with your material and how it flows together.
You’re not on stage performing in a theatre production of Hamlet, so it doesn’t have to be polished to perfection. But if you aren’t familiar enough with your training materials, you may end up being too focused on what comes next and lose perspective on what your attendees are learning.
Set ground rules from the start
Ground rules are just rules of behaviour that the whole training group signs up to from the start. Common ones these days are agreeing not to fiddle with your mobile phone and listening to what others have to say. Usually you can set the ground rules at the start of the session – but don’t make too big a deal out of it. You’re simply reminding attendees to respect others and recognise that this time has been set aside for learning.
Be flexible here. In today’s connected society it isn’t practical (or welcomed) to ask people to switch their smartphones off altogether. But it is reasonable to ask attendees to put their phones on silent and to leave the room if they have to take an urgent call.
You may not be going on a date or meeting the parents, but if you get on well with people it can help your training sessions go with a swing because it puts people in the mood for learning.
Rapport is a two-way thing. It takes time to develop rapport with someone (or within a group), but you can help the process along. Here are a few practical things you can do for starters:
Be confident. Realise that you do at least have some form of authority, purely by virtue of the fact that you’re the trainer. So, act like it – move, talk and act with confidence, even if you don’t feel it.
Learn your attendees’ names and use them. If you don’t have name badges or name cards, you can just write everyone’s names down on a seating plan as they arrive to your training session.
Show interest and listen to what people say. You can demonstrate this easily by making comments in response.
Give feedback to individual attendees. This feedback can be especially effective in response to attendee contributions to your session.
Face people directly and maintain eye contact. In the UK at least, looking at someone you’re talking to shows that you’re paying attention.
Make your training sessions interesting and participative. Feelings of boredom in the room will erode any rapport.
Use a mix of teaching strategies
You’ve probably done at least some presenting in your time. You may even have been on a presentation skills course. If so, you’ve probably used a few visual aids (like slides) and you may even have tried to engage your audience with a few choice questions (rhetorical or otherwise) and a splash of humour.
It’s tempting to think that teaching is only about the transfer of information. But if you present to an audience for too long you may get muted mutterings of ‘death by PowerPoint’ or ‘she’s really trying to make this dull stuff interesting, but . . .’.
Fortunately, teaching has far more tricks up its sleeve than that, so you don’t need to risk talking people to sleep. Although talking from the front definitely has its place, most people can improve their teaching simply by adding variety (different teaching approaches) and including more interaction between attendees (participative learning).
Some mistake this to mean more attendee–trainer interaction (like asking a few questions), but, while that’s better than listening to you talk without hitting the pause button, you can find some easy ways to get attendees to interact with each other. This makes for a far more enjoyable training session for all concerned – including you!
Here are some of the common approaches. You should try and mix in a few of these (rather than just relying on one) to help improve the participative learning experience:
Anecdotes/stories and shared experiences: These help people to connect with a concept by putting it into the context of a real, everyday experience that actually happened to someone – usually it’s the trainer sharing this, but the attendees may have stories to share too.
Case studies: These are useful to help people apply ideas. You describe a realistic scenario (such as an accident). You then ask some follow-up questions, where you require attendees to use the information in the description to respond (as well as making reasonable assumptions). In the accident example, you may ask attendees to try and work out the root cause of an accident from the information given, which simulates an accident investigation.
Demonstration: For example, you can show attendees how to check a ladder for defects before they use it or how to adjust their computer workstation properly.
Group discussion: The whole group (or smaller sub-groups) discuss a topic or question that you set.
Lecture/verbal exposition: The trainer talks from the front. This approach is useful for short periods, or longer if you use engaging, interesting slides (that is, more visual and less wordy) and especially if you combine this with a question-and-answer session.
Practical/experiment: This approach often follows a demonstration by the trainer – attendees can then try the task for themselves, with instructions (for example, you can explore how different a weight feels depending on how far away from the body you hold it to help attendees appreciate why you try and hold objects close to the trunk of your body when you lift them).
Problem-solving: You give attendees a task to do that requires them to investigate and analyse a problem and come up with a potential solution (such as working out the best way to enter a confined space).
Projects/assignments: These are usually independent activities but can be completed in groups (for example, asking attendees to produce a draft emergency procedure or safety poster).
Question-and-answer sessions: You ask questions and the attendees answer, usually verbally. You can direct questions at the whole group or at individuals.
Quizzes/games: These provide a helpful tool to assess and review learning.
Role play: This helps people to apply their knowledge in a realistic situation. For example, if you’re training people to deal with the press after an accident at your workplace, you’d probably have one attendee playing the part of a reporter and another attendee playing the part of the organisation’s representative.
Site visits: Get up close and personal with safety on-site! There’s nothing quite like seeing the real thing, so if you’re trying to explain the safety aspects of, for example, welding, taking attendees to a welding shop to see the issues for themselves may be helpful.
Small group work: Divide the group into smaller groups and set each group a task, such as reviewing a case study.
Don’t run before you can walk. By adding one or two more techniques to your repertoire, you can transform a lecture into something more exciting.
Don’t go to the other extreme and end up trying to make your training sessions some kind of frenetic happy hour. You need to provide an appropriate mix of approaches aimed at engaging your attendees so that they learn what they need to. Endless participative activities can be exhausting and disorienting.
As a trainer, you can use feedback to improve future training sessions. Attendees like to know how they’re getting on. You can do this formally (by marking a test, say) or informally (by telling them that they’re right when they answer a question – assuming that they are!). Positive feedback can also be very motivating.
You can use informal feedback to pick up on how attendees are progressing and, if required, you can adapt what you’re doing to maximise the group’s learning outcomes. For example, if people are struggling with a topic, you may decide to slow down and attack the topic from a different direction or use further examples.
Spend a few minutes after class reflecting on what went well, what didn’t go so well and what you may need to change next time you do the training. That way you can continually improve your training courses and better understand effective learning strategies.
You can combine evaluation with giving feedback. The most natural way to do this in your session is to ask questions as you’re teaching new topics or reviewing information you covered earlier in the session. It’s also a good idea to ask follow-up questions (probing questions), because the answer you get from your first question may just be a lucky guess, so can’t reveal much about true understanding.
Possible follow-up questions start with ‘Why . . .?’, ‘How . . .?’ and ‘What would happen if . . .?’ These types of questions require a bit more understanding than asking questions beginning with ‘What . . .?’ or ‘Which . . .?’ Your attendees’ responses then allow you to correct misunderstandings as they arise.
Be flexible and adaptable
Your training plan is a road map – it’s not set in stone. You’re aiming to teach and facilitate learning. There are some trainers who, knowing full well that things were going pear-shaped in their training session, felt that they had no choice but to stick to their training plan – a plan that their attendees hadn’t seen (so why stick to it?).
Don’t be afraid to make choices that favour people actually learning something – for example, if you don’t have enough time (realistically) to cover everything, concentrate on the important stuff. You’re in charge – don’t let the tyranny of ‘getting through the slides’ get hold of you because people probably won’t learn much if you give in to that.
Also, don’t be afraid to try something new. If a new activity in your training plan doesn’t quite work out for you, be prepared to adapt it or move on – after all, it may work with some minor adjustments.
Try to make the training enjoyable
Aim to inject a bit of humour into your training sessions. Much rot is said about humour not travelling and that it’s not appropriate for a serious subject like safety. However, used with good judgement, humour can help to motivate your attendees, engage them with your training and make your training memorable.
Try using a variety of activities to help get your training group into the swing of things, because people become engaged with what they’re doing rather than remain passive bystanders.