Interactive safety training programs may be more expensive, but when the jobs in question are especially dangerous, they are far more effective than other forms of training, according to a study published in this month’s Journal of Applied Psychology, which is published by the American Psychological Association.

Researchers analyzed nearly four decades of research and concluded that at jobs where the likelihood of death or injury was highest, interactive types of safety training (i.e., behavioral modeling, simulation, hands-on training) was considerably more effective than less engaging training (i.e., lectures, films, reading materials and videos) for teaching about safety on the job.

“The primary psychological mechanism we can offer as an explanation for these results is something called the ‘dread factor,’” said the study’s lead author, Michael Burke, PhD, of Tulane University. “In a more interactive training environment, the trainees are faced more acutely with the possible dangers of their job and they are, in turn, more motivated to learn about such dangers and how to avoid them.”

For example, when hazardous events and exposures are extreme (e.g., fires, explosions, exposure to toxic chemicals or radiation), the action, dialogue and considerable reflection that takes place in more interactive training would be expected to create a sense of dread and realization of the dangers of the job.

This analysis offers practical implications for employers who may be hesitant to invest in the more expensive interactive training programs.

“Distance learning and electronic learning may appear to be more cost effective,” said Burke. “But our findings point to the value of investing in more hands-on training to help prevent the enormous financial and human costs associated with disasters like the Upper Big Branch mine explosion.”

For less risky jobs, less engaging (and less expensive) training was found to be just as effective in preparing workers to avoid occupational accidents.

Researchers analyzed results from 113 safety training studies conducted since the passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Act in 1971. The analysis included a total sample of 24,694 workers in 16 countries. The researchers used the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System to sort hazards into hierarchical categories that reflected the increasing potential for severe illness, injury or death. The hazards ranged from simple falls to fires, explosions and physical assaults. The article, "The Dread Factor: How Hazards and Safety Training Influence Learning and Performance,” by Michael J. Burke, PhD, Tulane University; Rommel O. Salvador, PhD, University of Washington Tacoma; Kristin Smith-Crowe, PhD, University of Utah; Suzanne Chan-Serafin, PhD, University of New South Wales; Alexis Smith, PhD, and Shirley Sonesh, Tulane University appeared in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 96, No.1.