Tips for safety training meetings

Let me ask you a question….

Do you know what these are? ————–>>>

Those would be vanilla beans…

What in the world do vanilla beans and safety training have in common you may ask?

Exactly nothing…nada….zilch!

You should never associated YOUR safety training session with vanilla. In fact, you want just the opposite….you want creativity, uniqueness, and most of all….you want the attention of your employees or trainees.

How do you keep employees awake during safety training?

How do you keep them engaged, listening and most important, learning?

The best safety training in the world is worthless if it puts employees to sleep. A bored employee isn’t listening, isn’t learning, and isn’t retaining any of that great information your are teaching.

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The solution in most cases is to think beyond the quality of the information being taught. The idea is to realize that the information is only half of the safety training. The other half is engaging the audience.

Think of it like a sound system. You could have the best sound system in the world with a really amazing piece of music playing on it, but if the volume knob is turned down nobody can enjoy it. It’s easy to turn up a volume knob but it’s not so easy to engage a listener.

Why Don’t Employees Listen During Safety Training?

The first key to keeping employees awake during safety trainings is to understand why they fall asleep. Of course most employees don’t literally fall asleep but an employee whose attention is elsewhere might as well be asleep.

Employees are generally heaped with responsibilities almost beyond what they can handle. According to a recent ABC News study, more than half of all U.S. employees feel overworked, overwhelmed, and on the verge of burnout.

Do your employees fall into that category?

Forcing those employees into safety training meetings might make perfect sense for the organization, but for the employees it only frustrates their ability to cope with their already daunting to-do lists. An employee in that state of mind, in a safety training exercise is likely to have his or her mind on work, on stress, on finances and in short, anywhere but on the material at hand.

6th century Chinese philosopher and military strategist Sun Tzu is probably the most over-quoted source of business aphorisms in the world. To add one more straw to that particular camel’s back, he said:

Those who don’t understand the challenge they face will certainly fail, while those who understand the challenge are the only ones who may succeed.

Understanding that the attention of employees in a safety training meeting must be won is step #1 toward a successful training session.

How to Get Employees to Listen During Safety Training

The attention of an employee in a meeting is a valuable thing. Actually, it is THE most important thing. Most employees simply won’t or can’t give their attention away freely. Attention must be bought, and the currency is most often something offered by the trainer

The good news is that attention, though valuable, can usually be had for relatively little. Here are some techniques to hold your employee’s attention:

  • Humor
  • Shock value
  • Games
  • Active participation
  • Dialogue vs monologue
  • Real world stories
  • Job-specific, relevant info

Let’s look at each of these individually.

1) Use Humor to Stamp out the Boredom

Humor is a great way to keep employees listening during safety trainings. The trick with humor is to use it like a fishhook. That is, the humor should only be a very small part of the presentation while the information is solid, plentiful and valuable, just like a fishhook is only a small (though crucial) part of a set of fishing gear, the rest being the rod, the fishing line and the reel.

Think of the most engaging presentations you’ve attended. If humor was used, it was almost certainly kept sparing and focused. A New Yorker cartoon in a PowerPoint presentation should be something we can all relate to and something that at the same time relates directly to the material at hand.

Humor used properly in a safety training session ought to wake the student up and get his or her mind oriented in the direction of the information. Used this way, a single cartoon in a slide deck can get the attendee to think, “I know exactly what he means,” so that the safety information then delivered has a sort of socket to plug into. When overused, humor can be a lot of fun and can definitely hold the attention of the session’s students, but it won’t necessarily help them learn.

We can all relate to those very funny TV or radio commercials that make us think, “That was really funny but I have no idea what they’re trying to sell.” When using humor in a safety presentation, make sure you know exactly what each piece of humor is supposed to do. When choosing funny safety videos, make sure those videos make the information the centerpiece of the presentation, with the humor as the dressing, rather than the other way around.

2) Use Shock Value to Keep Employees Listening

Another way to get employees to listen during safety trainings is to shock them. One trainer we heard about created an apparently dangerous situation by dangling a hair dryer that seemed to be plugged in above a bucket of water.

The trainer first asked the students whether the GFCI outlet that the hair dryer seemed to be plugged into would interrupt the current when the dryer’s motor hit the water.​

Just as she was about to drop the appliance into the bucket, the trainer stopped herself to deliver an important mini-lecture on electrical safety. That completed, she returned to the question of the hair dryer and the water. Again she yanked the electrical appliance back an inch above the water’s surface and delivered a second mini-lecture on electrical safety. She continued in this way until she had imparted several safety training tips.​

You can believe that every member of that audience was wide awake and listening to that entire lecture. Of course the hair dryer wasn’t actually plugged in and there was no danger to the instructor or the audience. The point is that some kind of shock value is another bit of currency – a payment by which an instructor can buy the attention of employees long enough to teach them about safety.​

3) Games Can Beat Back Safety Boredom

Games and competition are a good way to keep safety training students engaged. Trainers wondering how to keep their trainees from falling asleep can get the attention of a class by getting them to compete against each other. The link between adrenaline and competition is well documented, as is the link between adrenaline and well, staying awake.

Of course the kind of game is extremely important. Remember how we said above that employees are overworked and overwhelmed and don’t tend to appreciate being dragged off into meetings? Making them play “Safety Monopoly” for an hour can backfire, making them feel condescended to or looked down on. The last thing we as trainers want to do is make employees feel like we have wasted their time.

With that in mind, safety competitions should actually teach something. A game intended to erase boredom doesn’t have to be too formal or involved. It can be as simple as preparing a few photos of employee work areas with topical safety infractions added to the images. By topical we mean that the infractions ought to fit the safety lessons.

An example is, in a back and lifting or ergonomics safety training, a presenter could use a photo of work area with several obvious or not so obvious back safety hazards. A desk chair that puts knees and legs at the wrong angle. A work bench where items aren’t in easy reach. Shelves where heavy items are stored too high or hallways where employees are lifting boxes incorrectly.

At the start of the training, the instructor can challenge students to identify as many back safety problems as they can find. That challenge gets the trainees thinking about back safety. When the instructor delivers the lecture portion of the training, the students will be listening that much harder, especially if they’ve been told they missed 25 infractions out of 40.

At the end of the lesson, the students can be shown the same images and try to identify more of the inherent safety problems. In this way the class is competing against its previous best score rather than against each other. They work as a team to participate in the training. There’s no better cure for safety training boredom than that.

4) Solicit Active Participation

Active participation as a tool to keep employees listening and engaged during safety trainings can include the games we mentioned above, but it can be more than that as well. Getting employees to participate in the training is an excellent way to keep them awake.

Beyond that, it’s a great way to get them to remember what they’ve learned. One trainer we heard about got the employees to make their own safety training video. Sound laborious and time consuming? Not really.

When you think about it, most of the safety information you need to impart is relatively simple. It’s not rocket science, but the problem is often how to get that simple information in through the heavily guarded mind of the disinterested student. The point is that it shouldn’t take a lot of time to get that info across.​

​In fact if the trainer could simply read all the relevant safety facts off a card and have each student remember and adopt it perfectly, the training session would probably be over swiftly. That being the case, most of the time spent in an effective safety training class can be best used in getting the employees to participate in their own learning.

The trainer who had the employees make their own safety video got each of them to make a short clip outlining a certain aspect of the material, in advance of the training day. Each clip was submitted and put together with the others by the trainer.

When the training session rolled around, the employees were engaged and interested by watching the embarrassment and flubs of their co-workers, and they were bright red in the face when their own time before the camera was presented. The video was informative but most important all the employees paid attention and retained the valuable safety facts it delivered.​

5) Use Dialogue, Not Just Monologue

Who wants to be talked at for an hour? Almost nobody. Trainers who drone on and on may be giving valuable information but it’s probably falling on deaf ears. The successful safety trainers who keep their audiences engaged and learning without any hint of boredom understand that learning is a two way street.

One of the most successful trainings we’ve attended was presided over by a trainer who understood that sometimes the best pathway to our ears is through our mouths. This trainer was giving a driving safety lecture and was careful to solicit audience input at every possible point.​

Instead of telling the audience that distractions are a big cause of accidents and then listing off the chief sources of distraction (yawn) he asked the audience to come up with the distraction culprits on their own. One by one the students called out, “Texting!” “adjusting the radio!” “Eating!” “Children!” “Pets!” Years later those lessons still stick with us because the trainer got us involved in a dialogue rather than a one-way word barrage.​

6) Include Real World War Stories

There’s an old saying in the advertising world: Facts tell, stories sell. Facts alone are dry and boring like a pile of old dead leaves. But stories make us wake up and take a look around. What if you were in a safety training session and the trainer told you that it’s dangerous to jump down into a ditch without some kind of trench protection?

Then what if you were in another, slightly more interesting training where the trainer told a story about a father and son well drilling team where the father jumped down into an unprotected trench “just this once” on his 59th birthday. The trench collapsed and killed him right in front of his two sons. Which lesson are you more likely to remember?​

Real world stories teach safety in an interesting way because they don’t try to get the info into our brains through our ears, which may be closed off at the moment by boredom. Instead, they get the information in through a special doorway in our guts. Any trainer who wants to use real world stories can find dozens online where they’re published openly by OSHA.​

7) Use Job Specific, Relevant Information

Employees will be a lot less bored in safety meetings if the information is related to their specific jobs. Does that sound like it goes without saying? Maybe it does, but generic safety information can put employees to sleep fast. Safety info that relates directly to the task at hand is more likely to ring a bell with students and more likely to keep them awake. A safety training session in a manufacturing plant should be as manufacturing specific as possible. One given to office staff should not spend too much time talking about manufacturing.

Hopefully you’ve picked up a few ideas for how to keep your employees awake, alert and learning during your next safety training session. Remember, an engaged, respected employee is a lot more likely to retain the lessons being taught than one who feels their time is being wasted with a lot of boring one-way blabbing.​

What techniques have you used in a safety meeting to keep employee’s attention? I’d like to hear from you below!​

About the Author

Always a champion of safety, Mr. Hessom is an OSHA and CalOSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer. With more than 20 years of managerial workers' compensation claims experience, his background in claims management and employee safety have helped him create loss prevention and accident prevention initiatives for several S&P 500 companies.