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Risk in Context

Five Approaches to Safety Leadership Training

Posted by Larry Pearlman February 08, 2016

Safety leadership training is essential to ensure the health and wellbeing not only your company’s workers, but also its financial standing. Consider that the most disabling, non-fatal injuries caused US companies more than $62 billion in direct workers’ compensation costs, according to the 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.

Although most organizations have implemented traditional safety programs, they often fail to generate desired behavior changes. One of the major challenges for safety professionals is to identify training needs that target organizational weakness. These needs are often mistakenly determined based on senior leadership’s review of incident investigation findings rather than examining the underlying issues.

Effective safety leadership training is based on a formal needs assessment that looks at job requirements, how critical those requirements are, and how well they are executed. Training should focus on developing the critical knowledge and skills that increase safety in areas of weakness.

Training: One Size Does Not Fit All

Identifying the right teaching method for safety leaders is equally as important. Too often, companies buy prefabricated programs and send all of their leaders to the same training, regardless of their role. Strategic, effective training programs are designed with the learner in mind and use a variety of approaches.

Here are five approaches to consider:

  1. Simulations and case studies: Present local and relevant case studies that allow your learners to practice their skills in a safe environment and receive real-time feedback.
  2. Action learning: Establish formal programs that take on a project or tackle an issue that requires the use of the new skills in order to engrain new behaviors and learning.
  3. Field observations: Try the newly acquired skills in the real world. Subsequently, conduct post-activity reviews to help identify areas of strength and opportunity.
  4. Feedback: Provide direct feedback to your learners so they can perfect required skills and behaviors.
  5. Supervisory review: Observation, questioning, and feedback will go a long way to prevent learning decay while reinforcing new, positive behaviors.

The more action- and field-oriented approaches will have the greatest impact. A 2010 CDC study found that newly trained skills will “not be practiced on-the-job if trainees either have no opportunity to perform, or they experience constraints against performance.” As your colleagues apply their skills day-to-day, they should receive feedback from a supervisor or coach — be it professional or peer — to reinforce positive behaviors and correct imperfect ones. And feedback should be direct, specific, and suggest an alternative positive behavior.

This reinforcement will help the newly acquired safety leadership skills create long-term change. Remember: Effective training not only bolsters employee safety, but also helps reduce associated costs.

Related to:  Marsh Risk Consulting

Larry Pearlman

Larry Pearlman is a senior vice president with the Workforce Strategies Practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, located in the Chicago office.