by Ron G. Prichard
April 27, 2012

Avoid common construction safety training mistakes by customizing your approach.

The cornerstone of any risk management plan is safety training. To safely execute construction projects, workers must act with intelligence. Workers who act intelligently evaluate their situation, materials, equipment and tasks. And they consider their knowledge and skills to appropriately select the right methods. 

Everyone on the team often has different opinions about how to address certain situations. Safety decisions routinely involve negotiation and making a case for each approach to decide what will be best. 

Your construction workers must have knowledge in several areas to make the right safety decisions. First, they must recognize hazards and potential hazardous conditions. They must understand that different approaches can either diffuse or magnify the threat of the situation. And they have to examine the situation, understand the goal and make a choice that safely advances the group toward that goal. 

Construction Safety Training Material

To enhance safety training, the content, setting and delivery for the training should all be considered. It can be difficult to balance these factors with the resources, limitations and requirements to ensure the training sticks with everyone. 

It can be hard to decide what safety content to provide since much of the industry’s workforce comes from a variety of backgrounds. Traditionally, safety training has focused on OSHA mandated topics, which simplifies matters, but this approach has limitations. 

For instance, OSHA 1926 targets the construction industry, but it covers a broad range of other issues. As a result, much of the OSHA standards have little connection to the situations or risks faced by small contractors and subcontractors. 

Also, it can be difficult to determine what new employees already know and what you need to teach them. OSHA training may not bridge the gap, but it is familiar to clients and a recognized basis for training. 

Since the OSHA regulations have been used over time, many pre-developed programs are available, including a post-test. These programs may not fully meet the needs of construction workers, but they do provide some training. 

Content matters a great deal, and it must pass the Goldilocks test—too little or too much is not good. Finding the right training depends on the subject, the trainees and the available time.

The Setting

After you decide on the material, you must select the setting. An inadequate training environment reduces the value of the message. Many training sessions have been conducted in an impersonal environment sitting in front of a computer terminal or watching a video in a trailer conference room with frequent interruptions such as the distracting noise of passing heavy equipment. 

How many have stood in the mud on a cold dark morning with drizzle falling and equipment going by as someone speaking from the trailer stairs tried to train 50 or more people before beginning the day’s work?  Poor settings like this make it difficult for people to retain any information—the wrong setting can undermine the entire training effort.

The Trainer

The delivery of the material can have an impact on what information the trainees learn and retain. An enthusiastic presenter who engages the students will be more effective than a monotone speaker reading every word of the presentation. 

Other bad training situations include showing a video of something everyone has already seen and sitting in a classroom for three long days of boring lectures to get a 30-hour certification. Any of these conditions detract from the material regardless of how carefully the material was prepared.

Poorly conceived or delivered training fails the company and the workers who are expected to learn. Even good content might not stick with employees if it has been presented in an ineffective way.

Your workers will not be able to succeed if they do not have the information to make appropriate safety decisions. Think before you engage in training, and act with intelligence when preparing. 

Construction Business Owner, May 2012