PETERSEN'S PAGE: What should be in safety training? Start by identifying your needs

September 14, 2006
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I became acquainted with safety many years ago. My first acquaintance was on my first introduction to industry — an aircraft manufacturer upon my graduation in industrial engineering in 1952. That job didn’t last long because in September of ’52 I was called into Army Construction as a Second Lieutenant and platoon leader. I spent almost two years overseas in Austria. Ninety-five of 100 of my friends headed to Korea, where the fighting was finally slowing down, but I headed to Austria.

In Europe we were asked to fulfill training roles while stationed there. I finally learned a little about what military soldiers needed to be trained on. I was appointed platoon leader and later company commander. In addition to construction (located in a small fort), I was given two other duties — Safety Officer to give the unit training, and Defense Officer, to provide security.

We trained in the stuff common in those years. I won’t report the results. Some 50 years later, I think we’ve learned some things about what safety training should consist of. I’m currently developing a training system that can be used anywhere. It consists of ten units or areas of safety that should be worked on every day. Above all, safety training today, to be successful, needs information to assess where a company is right now in terms of its training efforts. That’s the starting point.

Ten critical components

  1. Assess your current safety systems and assess your management, people and organizational culture. Analyze what programs are in place, what activities, what people are doing for safety. Are you actually doing the things that ensure you are getting better in safety, making daily improvements?
  2. Assure that your means of assessing systems and culture and management people use commonly accepted measures employed throughout your company.
  3. Your measures should actually quantify that you are making improvements in safety regularly. TQM measures, the Deming improvement measures, for instance, tell us systems are working on a regular basis. This will probably require a scorecard type of measure.
  4. Human error causes must be recognized as a regular part of the safety problem. These causes are usually different from the daily safety problems we are used to. Training here will concentrate on human error causes — they are different and serious.
  5. We need to make use of human error symposium information to give us information from different industries. We need to benchmark ourselves against safety training efforts in medicine, aviation, water safety, etc. Valuable data should be gathered regularly.
  6. Quality and safety training approaches should be studied for mutual problem-solving. In safety we have ignored too much in the way of non-compliance training. Management uses good problem-solving approaches, but we in safety have ignored too much of it.
  7. Safety behavior approaches need to be analyzed with a critical eye. They can be very expensive, and I’ve received many reports of poor use of behavioral training producing poor results.
  8. Safety behavior literature should be reviewed. Some work sites have grasped the psychological concepts and made very good use of them. But when management is not included in these programs, the results tend to be poor.
  9. I favor a safe behavior approach that acknowledges what has come before in the past 20-30 years, but the training content is hybrid material of my own. Discussions in training courses will review different applications.
  10. Training in the use and interpretation of safety perception surveys and other types of surveys is a must.
Each of these units could be presented in one-hour sessions, or a number of shorter sessions.

The key is to not keep safety training and programs isolated on islands within your organization. Some of the popular safety training programs are not easy to integrate with management ideas. Your training measures, surveys, goals, problem-solving approaches and topics (such as human error “traps” and system failures) shoul

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