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ATD Blog

Going Beyond Check-the-Box Safety Training to Change Behavior

Friday, August 11, 2023

When I was a science teacher, I once wiped out on an electric kettle cord in front of a room full of 10-year-olds. This happened less than a year after a school safety video that I was required to watch explicitly mentioned that cords are a tripping hazard.

Why is safety training so hard? Safety isn’t just a matter of knowledge. Often, the rules that keep frontline workers safe aren’t that complex. The challenge is consistently applying them in a repetitive, fast-moving, or high-pressure environment when a shortcut may feel appropriate.

Here are three ways to use performance experience design to empower people to stop safety problems before they happen.

Uncovering the Performance Factors

To create the most effective solutions, you must thoroughly understand the systems that affect individual behavior in the work setting.

Consider some of the role-based factors that shaped The Kettle Kerfuffle. As a science teacher, I needed to run labs and turn them around quickly for the next class. I often needed warm water, but my environment posed a few challenges: The tap water was frigid and there were few electrical outlets in the room, none of which were by a counter or table. And of course, my attention was constantly split between competing demands. These factors led me to plug in the kettle on the floor at the front of the room.

Talk to your employees and observe their work conditions. Use diagrams like empathy maps and personas to determine how internal and external conditions influence behavior around your safety goals. Observing working conditions can help you create better training and performance support that prepares people to handle real-world factors that might interfere with implementing safe habits. As a bonus, your analysis may suggest some easy ways to improve safety that don’t involve training, like providing access to needed resources.


Equipping the Whole Person

Knowledge isn’t always enough to change our behavior. That’s why the most powerful performance experiences offer more than knowledge: They arm us with emotional, social, and behavioral tools and prepare us to use them.
Examples of this include an aerospace company that uses a custom-built real-time strategy game to simulate the challenges and importance of following maintenance procedures under pressure, or a pest-control corporation that follows heartfelt appeals and interactive exploration with real-world dilemmas, coaching, and an obstacle course, all targeted to prevent vehicular accidents among staff.

In my case, imagine the difference if, instead of merely watching a video with general safety tips like, “don’t trip over cords”, my colleagues and I were engaged in discussion over relevant safety scenarios, guided to identity situations where safety becomes a greater risk for us, and coached to prepare and share practical action plans to handle those situations. Rich experiences drive results for performers by engaging their hearts, minds, and hands.


Sustaining the Positive Impact

If safety feels like a temporary focus, your employees’ vigilance will tend to wane over time. Keep the energy alive with regular reinforcement.

For example, a team at TiER1 Performance helped a supply chain organization create a curriculum of interactive microlearning courses on safety topics, one of which would be featured or reviewed each month.

The TiER1 team also worked with a mining company to design performance-focused learner surveys, scenario questions, and a capability checklist to monitor the impact of training over time. Learning evaluation studies like this provide actionable data to the organization and amplify training results by reminding participants of what they learned and demonstrating that it remains a priority.

Ever Been Burned by a Bad Decision?

Learning from experience is memorable (I’ll never plug in a kettle on the floor again), but learning from intentionally designed experiences is better. By analyzing performance factors, creating holistic performance experiences, and emphasizing safety principles over time, we can magnify the power of our people to stop accidents before they happen and stay out of hot water for good.

To learn more about how performance experience design or learning evaluation can enable your safety goals, email [email protected].

About the Author

Heather Cole is a senior learning consultant at TiER1 Performance. She is passionate about building memorable experiences that help people reach their goals and do their best work. With a background in instructional design and education, Heather brings a unique suite of skills and valuable perspective to performance challenges. Outside of work, Heather loves reading, hiking, and acrylic paint pouring.

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