“It is the sum of our contributions to safety management that determines whether the people we work with live or die.”  Sir Brian Appleton

Okay, I’m not a mind reader, but I think I already know what some of you may be thinking “A training blog? Come on! I’ve seen this before. Don’t safety people care about anything other than training? I already know how to do my job.” As a safety consultant, I have experienced three distinct types of reactions to my profession:

  1. Safety consultant? What does that even mean? What do you do?
  2. Oh, that’s terrific! What a wonderful opportunity.
  3. So, you’re going to be one of those people that comes in here and makes me do training?

I want to discuss this third reaction. Training. As a safety professional, I have a toolbox that includes several tools. Training is just one of those tools. It isn’t my focus. My focus is on, well, safety. Training is a tool I can use to cultivate safety. Further, safety professionals can’t make anyone get training. I can recommend training. I can lead training. Your supervisor or manager may even require you to be in a training session with me. But even if that happens, I can’t make you pay attention or learn anything just because you are there.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

Training is a tool safety professionals use to help promote safety. Sometimes it is an effective tool, sometimes it’s not. It depends on the attitudes of the people involved. A safety professional can recommend training and perhaps even conduct the training, but a safety professional cannot compel audience interest. Sure, as a trainer, I can try to be entertaining, enthusiastic, tell personal stories, bribe with candy, test comprehension, anything that might motivate or captivate the audience, grab someone’s attention or spark their interest. That’s all I can do, though. I can’t make the horse drink.

I have observed three general attitudes from those attending training. There are those that absolutely love required training, because it gets them out of work and they get an easy day where they don’t have to do anything. These people are often playing games on their phone or day-dreaming during the session. There are those who don’t want to do training because they have more important real work they need to do, and it is a waste of their time to be in the training session. These people are generally preoccupied thinking about work or other tasks and aren’t really paying attention. Finally, there are those that accept that the training is necessary and perhaps even valuable; they are attentive during the training session and generally take something away at the end.

“I already know how to do my job”

Sometimes training is required by regulations. Sometimes it is recommended by a safety professional to improve plant or company safety. In either case, it is not meant to insinuate that you don’t know how to do your job.

Consider professional athletes. They train on a regular basis. It’s not because they don’t know how to run or catch a ball. Instead, it is because they want to get better. They want to hone a skill. That’s what we try to do with training. We want to improve safety and we believe training will do that.

“I’ve already done training.”

Safety training is not all the same. There are as many topics as there are hazards.  If you are attending training on a topic you have already covered, it may be required refresher training. If you well versed in the material, then perhaps your best role in the training is to help others understand it better. Or it may be that something has changed and the training is in response to that change. Things are always changing. Technology is evolving. Process operations are made more efficient. Regulations are updated. These all have the potential to impact how an operation is performed. And sometimes the best way to relay these changes, as slight as they may seem, is through formal training.

“I have more important work.”

I understand that your time is precious. I believe mine is too. I understand that resources are finite. I conduct training when I’m convinced it could lead to a safer operation, a safer workplace.

I want to train you, not to waste your time, but so you can continue to be able to do your important work and meet your tight deadlines.

Practice makes permanent.

I’m sure everyone has heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.” I had a band instructor who was adamant that this was wrong. “Practice does not make perfect; practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” He wasn’t wrong.

Sometimes things slip little by a little. Little compromises are made in how things get done. After a while, these compromises become the norm. I’m not saying that these discrepancies are always a safety concern. However, when things are no longer being done the way they were intended to be done, there is a risk with those deviations until the new methodology has been evaluated and found to be at least as safe.  At that point, it is no longer a deviation, but an innovation, the new and improved way of doing things.

Stop signs are a common example of practice becoming permanent. At some point, all of us have either witnessed or performed a rolling stop. Maybe there is normally no one at that intersection. Maybe cross traffic does not stop and if you came to a complete stop you’d have to wait for a line of cars. Maybe you were in a hurry. The reasoning doesn’t really matter. The point is that it happens. Then maybe it happens more than once. Maybe it starts to become a habit. Maybe you start to use the rolling stop at all stop signs unless the intersection is very congested. It’s not a big deal, right? No one is getting hurt. Yet…

It’s not just you that is affected by your habit. Other traffic in the area can see that you have a stop sign and that influences their driving. They expect you to come to a complete stop, observe the surrounding conditions, and then proceed from the stop sign in a safe manner. Some people may be prepared for you to not stop; they may even be expecting it. Others will expect that you come to a complete stop. How you drive impacts every other car, driver, passenger, and pedestrian in the area. It just takes one instance of your habitual rolling stop to seriously injure another person.

Sure, most rolling stops don’t result in serious injuries. Just like most habitual procedural deviations won’t result in an incident. That is, until they do. That is part of what recommended training is supposed to help. It is a reminder of how things are supposed to be done. When procedures are routinely ignored, that is a good sign that they need to be updated and evaluated for a better way to do things. Training helps expose this to employees and management.

Practice makes permanent. We just want to make sure that what is permanent is also safe.

Give training a chance.

I know everyone is going to have their own opinions on attending safety training. I just hope that the next time you have safety training you will remember the trainer isn’t the enemy. They want to help. A safety professional saw something that prompted the recommendation for training. But someone higher up in the organization agreed and followed up on that recommendation.

I want to make your workplace safer, but I can’t do that without your help. I can bring the information to you, but I need your cooperation during the training. So please, the next time you are in a required training session, put the phone down and, to the extent possible, stay focused on the facilitator and the training information.

You never know when you might be the ‘other person’ impacted by a ‘rolling stop’ situation. And you never know when you may need to rely on the information of the training session. But you do know when the training sessions are held. And you can make the most of them.