Shared values and consistent practices strengthen your company's safety culture, and a well-designed training program is a great way to nurture these (find out Why Creating a Safety Culture Is Better Than Relying on Compliance).

Here are six strategies to consider when designing a training program for your organization.

1. Identify Training Needs and Establish Benchmarks

This might seem like a strange step to start with. After all, shouldn't identifying safety training be more a matter of common sense than an explicit step in the process?

Perhaps it is common sense, but making this an explicit step ensures that you are thoroughly prepared before you start designing your training program. Whether you design it in-house or work with an external training consultant, you will need to know your current corporate safety record, including the number of injuries, lost time incidents, and near misses. Collecting and reviewing this material, as well as prior accident reports, is the first step and the most critical part of developing a data-driven safety training program that truly meets the needs of your organization.

Your accrued data and knowledge of your corporate safety history will give your training program more credibility with employees, which will improve buy-in.

2. Make Sure Everyone Knows that Training Is a Top Priority

Your employees must believe that your safety training program is the company's highest priority and in their own best interest. If company leaders appear to take shortcuts in the process, they will not give front-line workers the impression that your training program is an important initiative.

The idea that your safety training program is an investment rather than an expense should be conveyed to your entire team. You can get things off to a great start with a message from the CEO to every staff member, introducing and outlining the importance of the safety training initiative. Support this message by providing the best possible learning resources, whether by bringing in outside consultants, relying on in-house experts, or offering top-notch support materials.

It is also extremely important to allocate sufficient time in the workday for training, refreshers, and toolbox talk reminders (check out these 6 Things to Consider When Planning Toolbox Talks).

3. Trainers Must Know the Ropes

Whether your trainers are in-house or outside experts, they must be able to connect with those working on the front lines. They need to understand the nature of the work being done and how training will impact day-to-day operations.

Before training takes place, trainers should spend some time with the workers, observing them on the job, asking questions, and getting a first-hand overview of the work that is being done. This will allow the trainer to highlight specific site and occupational needs in the design of the program, start the training at a level that makes sense, and establish a sense of trust with the employees.

4. Select an Appropriate Training Style

A successful safety training program should make as much sense to a seasoned professional as it does to someone who is brand new to the job. It’s easy to overlook the fact that a 20-year-old employee might learn more effectively with the support of a smartphone app, while a 50-year-old might be better off in classroom situations. The training program should incorporate a variety of learning styles, and make use of appropriate teaching and learning technology whenever possible.

There are two main types of training: passive and interactive. Passive training includes classroom lectures and most online programs. It is best suited for large groups, since it is a more effective way of providing all learners with information at the same time. This can take place in a classroom setting, or through computer-facilitated instruction to a large number of individuals in dispersed locations. Although passive training is an effective way of connecting to many people at once, it often lacks the real-life experience offered in an actual workplace setting.

Interactive, hands-on training takes place on the job in either real or mock situations. This type of training allows employees to experience what they have learned in real-time. It offers better interaction between the instructor and employee and provides an opportunity for practical discussion (learn about Face-to-Face Safety: The Right Way to Build a Safety Culture). Interactive training allows employees to gain an immediate understanding of how their new skills can be applied to the work that they do.

Given that there are unique advantages to both passive and interactive teaching and learning, most successful safety training programs incorporate elements of both. Often, introductory material and testing are provided in a traditional classroom or online, while much of the core subject matter is supported through real or simulated workplace experiences.

5. Integrate Safety Training into Your Everyday Operations

Making safety training part of every employee’s regular duties will help ingrain a safety culture in your workplace. This can be accomplished by:

  • Stipulating safety training as a critical responsibility in recruitment advertising and job descriptions
  • Establishing training stewards who, in addition to their regular job duties, are responsible for being on-site safety experts and mentors to their co-workers
  • Working with each employee to create individualized learning plans based on their previous knowledge and work experience
  • Facilitating ongoing coaching and refresher training
  • Providing opportunities for recognition of team and individual accomplishments

6. Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Safety Training Program

Regular evaluation of your training program is essential. Although course surveys and anecdotal feedback may provide some useful information, the most important measurement of the success of your efforts is a reduction of accidents and near misses. Make sure that these are tracked carefully, trends are identified, and that improvements and setbacks are continually shared throughout the entire organization (see Empowering Your Whole Team to Improve Safety for related reading).

Building a Culture of Safety

A safety training program is a unique opportunity to shape both the attitudes and behavior of your workforce. By following these six steps, you can design a program that will have positive measurable outcomes, improve safety buy-in, and strengthen the culture of safety in your workplace.