Want safety training that sticks? Invest time in followup sessions

by on June 19, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network
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Chances are you’ve heard the “buzz” about so-called high-engagement, hands-on training. It’s hard work and costs plenty, especially if you outsource.

But coming up with ways to apply safety knowledge and skills in a work-like setting is worth the extra effort, isn’t it? Maybe not.

Centers for Disease Control (CDC) studies show a single session of hands-on training won’t improve safety-related behaviors any more than classroom instruction. But if you follow up regularly (and that means starting within the first week), there’s a high payoff.

The research
The CDC cited this three-year study of nurse hand-washing training: Nurses usually wash their hands too often, and may suffer painful skin dermitis, often requiring medical treatment.

Nurses are supposed to wash their hands only when they’re soiled, and use a hygienic hand disinfectant at other times, to prevent disease transmission and reduce work-related skin problems.

One group of nurses received proper, high-engagement handwashing training once. This group had a 90% chance of developing dermitis within three years.

A second group received seven follow up sessions during the three years. This group used proper procedures more often and only had a two-thirds chance of developing the same skin problems.

Take home: One-time training – even when hands-on – is an “event,” that’s one-off and soon forgotten.

The CDC study reinforces other research on training – and what we know intuitively: There’s a steep “forgetting curve.” Without followup, adult learners forget 80% of what they’ve been taught within 10 days to two weeks.

Regular followups keep people’s memories fresh, reinforce learning – and build a culture of compliance that can reduce work-related medical costs.

Here are some keys to applying this research:

  1. Budget the lion’s share of training time to follow up
    Every company’s training time and resources are limited; that’s especially true with high-engagement training.It’s easy to tip the resource scales heavily toward a comprehensive “event,” but you’re better off devoting the first 20-30% of your time and resources to preparation and the initial session. Use the other 70-80% for follow up. To accomplish that, you might have to avoid the tendency to be excessively comprehensive in one session.

    Example: You want to teach fall protection, and normally that’s an event. Next year, you’ll do it again. So how do you budget your time? Some options to consider:

    • Get rid of the “big event” altogether. Break down the topics into smaller “chunks.” Examples: equipment inspection, correcting donning, and finding suitable anchor points.You can also break off one topic that’s difficult/generates lots of questions into a separate session, such as anchor points. In these cases, you can follow up one topic at a time.
    • If policies won’t permit this, make the “big event” more lean and budget extra time for follow up. Remember: Follow ups can be short (10 minutes), conducted in the field, and focused on a single topic. Begin the follow up within the first week to trigger worker’s memory.
  2. Make it easier on the supervisors
    Supervisors of course have a crucial role in followup and will help you use your existing resources to best effects.But bosses vary in attentiveness and skill. And they already have a lot on their plate.

    To help, you can prepare “toolbox talk” follow ups, and review quizzes resulting from the talks. Consider focusing the talks narrowly on only one topic, e.g., anchor points or equipment inspection.

    Further step: Offer to assist in inspections. That adds accountability (in a nice way) and, when spot inspections are on the follow up topic, makes the company’s safety priorities clear.

  3. Use testing to generate a feedback loop
    Another option for follow up is testing what people learned, at intervals after the initial training. This serves a dual purpose:

    • Testing after a time interval reinforces the initial learning and is one of the most effective kinds of follow up (demonstrating correct procedures also count as “high engagement” training).
    • Testing encourages worker feedback. Incorrectly demonstrated procedures encourage remembering previous training, and can generate discussions about the correct procedures.

Source: Loffler, Harald, et al., “Prevention of Irritant Contact Dermatitis among Health Care Workers By Using Evidence-Based Hand Hygience Practices,” Industrial Health, Vol. 45, Pp. 645-652.

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