Personal safety training is needed on every job, although some job categories, by definition, require more detailed safety precautions than others.

Employers, who are responsible for implementing most job training, may wonder which type of training is better: traditional hands-on or electronic.

Both types of training offer distinct advantages for employees, business owners and safety directors. Using both, people benefit from subject variety, use of time, course customization, training consistency, organized recordkeeping and best use of training personnel.

Let's define "traditional safety training" as that in which a group or individual participates in structured lecture and/or hands-on training, facilitated by a safety director, industrial hygienist or other leader. A safety product manufacturer's representative/expert may also lend a hand or conduct specific specialized training.

"Electronic safety training" world be any training using a computer, via DVD, CD, online or other source. It may be interactive or static.

Categories of Training

One prominent training category is OSHA regulations-what they are and how to follow them. The company's own designated safety director or other professionally trained expert is usually in charge of safety programs and training. The employer is responsible for paying for most safety gear.

A second category is product selection and use. Safety products used by construction workers comprise respiratory protection, gas detectors, head-eye-face-hearing protection, fall protection, clothing, gloves, boots, safety vests, cones, first aid, etc.

Assistance from Product Manufacturers

Manufacturers take a lead role in training instructions, and product and workplace cautions, so make the most of their assistance. These experts know their products well, and a responsible manufacturer has had them independently tested. (NIOSH sets standards for, tests and certifies respiratory protection. Check the labels and tags and instructions for more information.)

Safety products experts (both manufacturers and distributors) routinely conduct live training for individual customers or companies-explaining products and applications, special uses, etc., as necessary. Of course, the printed instruction manual that comes with the product has the most complete instructions for use, plus cautions and maintenance information.

"Train the trainer" programs are also popular. Manufacturers carefully train their own representatives and distributors, who then train their customers' key representatives, who then train the product's end users. For consistency and accuracy, these programs are often a combination of hands-on, live presentations and DVD or online programs.

Distributors who take advantage of these manufacturers' tools make training for their own reps easy, consistent and accurate. And well-trained reps who are more comfortable with products often sell more, so effective training does positively affect the bottom line.

Bill is a sales manager who has provided valuable training services to construction companies for years. "It's become a wide range. We do fall protection trailer demonstrations to assist in product awareness, hazard awareness and competent person training. For any safety product, we offer on-site audits of personal protective equipment (PPE) and hazards as a service to our customers. Traditional literature is available-bulletins explain our audits, certificates of training, fit-testing, etc. Safety awards are a great way to promote hard-hat wearing among the whole crew."

"I attended a two-day hands-on hazard awareness training seminar, and was surprised at how much I learned," says Dana, a fall protection catalog designer. "The trainer used a full array of products so that the distributors taking the class could understand how their customers would use them. One thing I was impressed by was showing how not to use fall protection products. Another thing we learned was how a basic rescue kit can be deployed quickly in an emergency and what protection would be needed in certain situations."

Materials for Traditional Training


Training posters-Show how to don and fit-test respirators, how to calibrate instruments, how to choose the right cartridges, how to inspect and maintain products, etc.

Inspection information-To protect you, safety gear relies on intricately designed systems. Equipment does not last forever. Stringent inspection procedures are necessary. The energy-absorbing hard hat system (shell plus suspension) can be affected by sun, sweat, little bumps and daily use. Wearers need to inspect their hard hats daily by looking for cracks, fading color and possible suspension fraying.

Testimonials-Save stories on posters or in newsletters are a great way to illustrate the importance of wearing hard hats at all times.

Ironworker Jerry says, "Always wear your hard hat in and out of the job. I was leaving work, when a 15-lb. piece of tube steel dropped eleven stories onto my hard hat-blew the hard hat up. But I survived."

Louise was eating lunch when a heavy tool dropped on her head. Fortunately, she was wearing her hard hat, and despite eye damage and chipped bones, she recovered to work another day.

Modernizing Traditional Approaches

Video action is appropriate to show how something goes together, and today's DVDs and online programs are full of technical enhancement and visual excitement. They hold the attention of viewers while illustrating how to put on, use, maintain and inspect safety products in ways that can rival live demonstrations.

Live-action episodes average from seven to forty-five minutes long. Experts can demonstrate how to use safety products, and important information can be explained clearly, concisely and consistently. Viewers can replay segments if necessary or return to the presentation after an interruption. This may not replace hands-on experience, but it's an economic way to cover many employees whose schedules cannot accommodate the same training times.

Similarly, PowerPoint presentations replace the slide-and-sound shows of the 1970 to 1980s era. With narration, they make a fine adjunct to instructions as a means for emphasizing warnings and cautions, especially if employees cannot or will not read. This software also makes it easy for the amateur to turn out effective live presentations. The program notes or entire presentation can later be made available to trainees who missed the "live" show.

Going Online

"I immediately see three distinct benefits to online training," says Leslie, who writes online product training for her employer's website.

  • Introduction value-Before people receive their new or updated product, they can learn about it online. This sensible introduction prepares people for the real thing, increases their comfort level with it, etc.
  • Reinforcement-After classroom or on-the-job training, the trainee can go online for review and even testing, to measure and document what's been learned.
  • Refresher training-For example, OSHA's annual training requirement can be fulfilled online. Ongoing and refresher training is related to new or updated standards and/or product changes.

Distributors like their own personnel to use online training. It's easy and the quiz scoring gives them an honest indication of how much info their people have absorbed.

Online training typically runs between five and fifteen minutes. Some programs have audio, some don't. Some training is theoretical others introduce known technologies. Some fall into the "how-to" category, so people can learn how to customize protective garments and helmets. Some cover a deeper understanding of theory or technology that plays a major part in how the product works, such as a gas detector or thermal-imaging camera.

Broadcasting via Internet makes diverse materials easy to access. Some product manufacturers establish online training centers or "schools" which can be quite creative and/or cover a number of subjects, applications, products, etc. These allow product users to work at their own pace, when and how often they desire.

Leslie concludes, "Online is good but not all-inclusive training. You must sit down with the product and examine it yourself."

Using Both

Ken, a safety expert who has helped hundreds learn about respiratory protection, says, "Face-to-face instruction and live demonstrations have some benefits that no other training offers. Trainees can try out the product themselves, ask questions and get customized answers. Class discussion and interaction among trainees add another dimension of understanding, even for trainees who are not active participants.

"On the other hand, access to online training 24/7 is pretty amazing. Students can go at their own pace, repeat and review as desired. Multilingual translations ensure that everyone can understand. Online tests help verify what students have learned. Some sites offer recordkeeping assistance for training and testing."

Jim also sees clear-cut benefits for each category of training. Over twenty-five years as safety director at multiple manufacturing facilities have made Jim an expert at understanding plant workers and how to train them successfully. "For these workers, hands-on training is an absolute necessity," he says. "They must be trained in procedures, specific job functions, OSHA safety regulations and PPE trained on the safety equipment they wear.

"Some people are more comfortable in front of a computer, but others never use it. Still, I would say that basic education and learning about generic regulations works best via computer. When using electronic training, though, OSHA cautions us that we must have a ‘competent personal component' available to trainees so that they can ask questions and receive a face-to-face response," says Jim.

Another issue is literacy and possibly language barriers. You may need to fine-tune all types of training for people who cannot read. Cautions and warnings must be completely understood and followed at all times. You can't take a chance with those things. Fortunately, most written manuals and many electronic training DVDs are available in Spanish and French, and possibly other languages.

One of the most natural types of organizational training is to have your experienced guy train the new rookie, and this has its advantages. However, unintentional prejudice or fault in a procedure may lead to errors in training. The experienced worker may do something that is not technically correct, and this misunderstanding may lead to other complications on the job. So, computer-based training proves its worth here.

Both traditional and electronic training offer distinct advantages for you and your employees. Because understanding work hazards, tools, equipment and personal safety practices is so crucial to the success of your business, taking the time and effort will pay off for you.

No matter what the size of your business, always check with your manufacturers and suppliers to see what training they offer. Some is free. Although detailed customized programs, such as fall protection, may carry a fee, this kind of hands-on training from experts is priceless in terms of saving lives, meeting OSHA requirements and increasing confidence and production. Back up your business with an investment in safety and health!


Construction Business owner, May 2008