Making Safety Accessible


Making Safety Accessible

Everyone learns a little differently, so mix up your training. 

Some people gather information easily by reading, others more effectively through hands-on training, diagrams, photos, or even audio instruction. And there are many things to consider when it comes to learning techniques, from low literacy and language barriers, to learning and cognitive disabilities.

Unfortunately, knowing how each of your employees gather information can be hard to identify. “When they come to an interview we can’t just ask them ‘can you read?,’” says James Holland, safety coordinator for Clearspan Components. “For starters, it’s about dignity; we don’t want to embarrass them.” Plus, James explains, it’s really not that cut and dried because low literacy people can recognize some words, often important ones like “DANGER” or “CAUTION” because they’ve had to navigate that kind of language in other parts of their lives.

All of these considerations become particularly important when you’re trying to convey safety information. If people on your team have trouble understanding what you’re communicating, it could literally be the difference between life and death, or at the very least result in an expensive injury. 

“At the end of any training, I always ask if they have any questions,” James recalls, “but they usually say ‘no.’” However, it’s become obvious they’re just telling him what he wants to hear because they often come to him later and ask their questions privately. James quickly learned that at the end of the day, none of them particularly cared what he thought of them, but they didn’t want their peers to know they didn’t understand. For James, that meant exploring new kinds of training at Clearspan. 

“We’ve been practicing drills, recently,” James said while describing the work they’ve recently been doing on their Emergency Action Plan. Everyone at Clearspan gathered together in the shop and talked through the program. They associated each of the three main steps with an action: 

  1. Identify: Decide which alarm was sounding (long and loud = evacuate/short and not as loud = shelter in place).
  2. Determine: Can I shut my equipment down safely? If yes, do so. 
  3. Move: Evacuate or shelter in place.

The new program needed to be simple but effective, so they tried several iterations of the program using unannounced practice drills to test its effectiveness. That also gave the employees opportunities to do something physical to help them remember. 

In an industry where production numbers and manufacturing efficiency are top priorities, finding new ways to teach your team how to do their job safely can feel overwhelming, but the key is to keep it simple. Diversifying your training methods is a great way to be sure everyone can find a way to absorb the information and remember it when it is needed. 

Comprehending safety information shouldn’t be a barrier for doing something safely, just as doing something safely shouldn’t paralyze your personnel from getting the work done.

Here are some straightforward ways to change up your safety program:

  • Start with good tools: Having a formal, written safety program is an OSHA requirement, but building your own program piece by piece takes valuable time you could be spending on training your staff. SBCA’s family of safety programs provide an industry-specific foundation to build on, including Operation Safety, Forklift Certification, Housekeeping for Combustible Dust, and TRUCK.
  • Provide training in multiple languages: Safety training needs to be provided in a language that is easily understood.
  • Incorporate visual aids: Describing what you want or need someone to do is so much easier if they can also see it. Make training come to life with photos, charts, diagrams, video, and more!
  • Train “in place”: Rather than talking about a safety topic in a break room or safety huddle, do your training in various places. For instance, if you’re talking about saw safety, walk your team over to the saws and point out specifics or round up a box on the production floor and demonstrate proper lifting techniques.
  • Pick a new trainer each week: Studies show that people learn what they teach others to do, so choose someone new each week to be the teacher. This also fosters peer-to-peer interactions focused on safety and makes it even more likely your employees will look out for each other.
  • Wash, rinse, repeat: Don’t be afraid to repeat a training, daily if necessary. Choosing a topic to cover for the entire week at pre-production safety huddles or break-time toolbox talks is an easy way to drive home a new (or old) concept over the course of a week.
  • Schedule a Lunch & Learn: So much training is done on-the-fly that it can be helpful to slow down, supply something delicious to eat, and spend some quality time learning.
  • Hire an expert: Ask one of your personal protective equipment (PPE) vendors or a local OSHA expert to come in and share. Hearing from someone outside of your shop can be a refreshing change of pace!

Being new to his role in safety, James admits there have been growing pains along way, but he could immediately see that being a tough, angry “shop cop” wasn’t going to win anyone over. “I realized that I needed to create a place where my employees felt like they belonged and felt safe physically,” James explains. “But more than that, I want them to feel like they can feel safe mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, too.” It became obvious he needed to offer them security by giving them a voice and an open door to come to him with problems, whether about a broken machine or a problem at home.

Diversifying your training approach doesn’t need to be laborious or expensive. If you’re looking for something to implement immediately, start with the most basic strategy and engage your employees. Ask questions, facilitate discussions and ensure their voices are being heard. The outcome of James’s gentler approach has been that his employees feel more comfortable asking questions or letting him know when they’re not happy about something. Sometimes it’s something simple, for instance happening upon a person not wearing their PPE (personal protective equipment). “Now I can ask why they’re not wearing their gloves or glasses and show genuine concern when they suggest they are uncomfortable,” James said. Your production employees are experiencing their jobs in ways you might not even realize and it’s likely they’ll be more than happy to tell you what’s working and what’s not. “Sometimes they actually need different gloves or glasses, sometimes they just need someone to care.”

About the Author: Molly Butz searches for industry best practices that can help component manufacturers grow a stronger safety culture throughout their operations.