Safety training differs from many forms of education because it requires more than just information. Data and facts about regulations, requirements and work procedures are important, but workers also need to be able to do the things they are required to do and believe that what they are doing is worth the effort.

Effective safety training should do more just than transfer information — it should change thinking and behavior. This requires more than simply putting facts in a handout or popping a videotape in the VCR.

The most effective safety training includes these key components: relevance; different modes of learning; application; awareness; and reinforcement.

1) Relevant training stays with learners

Like all adult learning, safety becomes a meaningful topic when it is relevant to learners. This requires that their training be conducted in the context of their everyday work, containing information that they need to use and that they understand why it’s important for them to use it.

For instance, training about PPE is good, but it becomes relevant when you focus on the specific types of equipment that people are required to use in their workplace, the hazards that the PPE addresses, and the types of injuries that the PPE prevents.

2) Different modes of learning work for different people

Good safety training uses different modes of learning to ensure that all learners get information in a way that is understandable and meaningful. Educators have established that there are three basic modes of learning: visual, auditory and kinesthetic. In other words, some people learn best when they see or read information; others by hearing; others by doing. A balance of audio, text, video or graphic images, and hands-on learning will reach everyone at some or all points of the training.

In addition, use a variety of media for your training so you can tailor the delivery mode to the learning that needs to be accomplished. For example, learners may prepare for a class by doing some assigned background reading. They’ll come to class to see how that background information is applied to their work situation and practice some of the skills that they need. Finally, they’ll go into the workplace to try their new skills in the real world.

3) Use it!

Safety training should be active, not passive. Learners need to take the concepts and skills that they have read about or seen demonstrated and use them in their own work environment. This builds understanding and value for doing the job the right way. If you want people to learn how to properly use fall-arrest equipment, they should practice putting it on, attaching it and taking it off. Nobody ever learned how to ride a bike by reading about it.

4) An ounce of awareness is worth a pound of rules

It’s impossible to make enough rules to cover every possible safety hazard or problem, and then monitor all your employees to make sure they’re following all of them. Instead, use your safety training to raise their awareness of safety and make it part of their everyday thinking.

Once you become aware of something, it can be hard to ignore. It’s like being asked to notice all the blue things in a room. You may not have noticed anything blue at all until it was called to your attention. Then, once you’ve been made aware of it, you see blue everywhere. When you give people that kind of lens, or framework, for looking at safety, you are training them to be actively aware. Apply this approach to making employees aware of safety issues in the workplace. Employees will soon be asking, “What might happen?” rather than, “What do you want me to do?”

5) Applies to all

The best and most effective safety training is reinforced and lived every day. It’s not a set of rules that one group of employees has to follow. It becomes a way of working that everyone from every level of the organization adopts and lives. In this way, your training makes the transition from safety information and skill development to being part of the safety culture.

Management and executive staff need to know what safety training is being conducted, how they can support it, and how their behavior should reflect what their employees are learning. They should take the safety training themselves.