The Dread Factor: How you can use it to boost safety training

by on October 9, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

Workers facing severe risks? If so, you’ll find interactive, hands-on training to be much more effective in boosting safety knowledge – and safety performance.

That’s what Tulane University researchers found during a meta-analysis of more than a hundred safety studies. They call it “the dread factor” and say that danger provides increased motivation to learn safety and to apply it in high-hazard situations.

That’s common sense, of course, but they found a twist, too, that safety pros can use to prioritize scarce training resources and target their efforts most effectively: The “twist” centers on when hands-on training has the highest payoff.

When hands-on matters
Researchers found that for ordinary hazards, regular lectures and visual aids had the same level of effectiveness, whether or not you include hands-on training. But for high hazards, adding hands-on training to the mix meant trainees gained much more knowledge and improved their safety performance.

Bottom line: Match your hands-on training to the danger involved.

New were trained differently
Here’s an example that triggered the research: A 2010 explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine, WV, cost 29 miners their lives. The Tulane researchers found that Upper Big Branch’s high-hazard training was conducted differently among two groups of workers:

    • Experienced workers were given hands-on training. For rescue and respiratory devices, workers completed hands on training in the complete donning of all rescue devices used at the mine. This meant putting it on, activating the devices, and using them.
    • New miners were given lecture and visual-aid based training. Most of this training was more broad-based, covering numerous topics, and thus didn’t involve as much interactivity as experienced-worker training. Instructors demonstrated, but the workers didn’t get their hands dirty.

An MSHA report on the disaster recommended more hands-on and interactive training. But it was the Tulane researchers who uncovered the “dread factor” – that workers really pay attention when there’s a lot at stake, and that training needs to take advantage of that motivation by allowing workers to do lots of dry runs. With that in mind, here are some options for applying this research:

1. Determine danger level
What are the highest hazard procedures in a job? The level of danger sets your priorities for hands-on training – the highest dangers require the greatest levels of hands-on training.

For example, say you have workers sandblasting paint off a bridge. The paint contains toxins, therefore, you’re required to do fit-testing for respirators. Workers are also required to use fall protection.

Those are two highest threats – training on respirator use should include hands-on (as required). But you can go a step further, as Scuba instructors do, and do hands-on training on all the things that can go wrong with a respirator. (Scuba instructors, e.g., will have you remove and don your respirator underwater.)

Example: Respirators break down on the job, even when inspected properly. Take an extra step and have them practice with a respirator that’s faulty – how do they get to safety without breathing in toxic fumes?

2. Scare ‘em – credibly
The next step is to make sure workers understand the danger. In the bridge example, that means explaining the potential lead levels of exposure – and the symptoms of over-exposure.

Make it credible, however: You don’t want them to say, “That won’t happen to me.” Sometimes you can make it credible by giving them the facts and let that trigger the “dread” emotion in them, e.g., “This chemical is a nerve toxin and can result in …” and list the symptoms. Or, “Exposure to this steam temperature will sear your lungs and prevent breathing.”

3. Offer the solution
At this point, you should have workers’ attention. You now have a window of opportunity to really drive the training home. Explain the dangers, explain the correct procedures, and demonstrate them.

Next, have workers do the demonstrations. Have them practice it – and this is crucial – make sure they practice enough until they’ve got it 100 percent. There are no C grades when it comes to safety. If they need to use rescue equipment, they have to understand how to use it – even if something goes wrong.

It may take several follow up sessions until workers have the procedures and PPE compliance perfect. Once they have it correct, you can have them work safely in the high-hazard environment.

Source: Smith, Alexis, et al., “The Dread Factor: How Hazards and Safety Training Influence Learning and Performance, Journal of Applied Psychology, 2011, Vol. 96, No. 1, pp. 46-70.

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