The Cutting Edge of Education

It's hard to identify what's new in safety training. Whether your attention is drawn to technique or topic, the message seems to be repetitive year after year. Toolbox talks are useful. Advances in technology increase training possibilities. Social and adult learning theory have been beaten to death over the last several decades, resulting in the same basic messages. Individuals learn by modeling others. Adult learning needs to be self-directed. Falls, electrocution, caught-in and struck-by are the primary construction topics regardless of how the training is delivered. So, why offer an update?

As experts begin to settle on theory and respond to the limitations employers have in trying to meet the overwhelming training requirements, more attention is being given to doing it better. The differences in the learning patterns of audiences, from baby boomers to generation next, are being looked at more closely. Studies on training are more detailed on how to be more effective with a given technique. And, each year, new resources are gradually being made available to meet specific industry needs.

With regard to the workplace audience, four generational groups have been identified. Veterans are those born in the years 1922–1943. Baby boomers are 1943–1960; generation X, or Xers, 1960–1980; and generation next, or nexters, 1980–2000.

Veterans respond to command-and-control management. They use wisdom to deal with changes. Boomers feel they have paid their dues under the veterans’ system. They pride themselves on their ability to survive sink-or-swim management. Both generations have adapted to traditional training.

Xers are cautious but will sidestep rules to get things done smarter, faster and better. They prefer a nontraditional training setting and building skills on their own. They are comfortable with the apprentice model of training.

Nexters believe they can do anything. However, they need more structure and attention than Xers. They prefer training that allows them to work in groups.

Of interest may be the training Xers and nexters say they prefer. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) conducted a study of 88 miners regarding their preferences. They asked the individuals what three training methods they would enjoy the most. The options included computer-based, lecture, video (group activities), hands-on, discussion (games), and simulations or drills. The most popular was hands-on at 42.9 percent. Practice was second with 41.7 percent of the votes. Videos were 32.1 percent, and computer-based instruction was 15.5 percent.

Although computer-based instruction was not the top choice for instruction, it is well known that young workers are more comfortable with computers. They have been using computers for a variety of purposes, including education. Since computer-based instruction is readily available and a more cost-efficient method of instruction, it should not be overlooked. Initial studies- using three-dimensional simulations to train employees on hazard recognition show a significantly higher performance score for those exposed to the 3-D computer images.

As stated earlier, when it comes to technique—audience preferences aside—toolbox training is probably the most frequently used method for job site safety. It seems to be the easiest way to get information to workers. It also has the greatest potential for being done poorly. Studies have shown toolbox talks are best used to address a very specific hazard. For example, it would be inappropriate to discuss electrical safety in a 15-minute training session. This does not allow enough time to cover all the hazards and precautions. A 15-minute toolbox talk is better suited for discussing ground-fault circuit interrupter use. Topics must focus on a particular hazard and the precautions associated with it.

Toolbox training also is an opportunity for workers to share experience and knowledge. Storytelling has proved highly effective for toolbox training. It is entertaining while passing on valuable information.

In addition, toolbox training sessions should be delivered to small groups of fewer than 20. Members of the group should have similar functions. Offering a talk to line workers and electricians doing residential wiring would not be very effective. The trick for management- is to deliver the same safety message to all groups. The following may help.

Step 1—Identify a subject

Identify a topic that is relevant to the work. Accidents associated with the work, whether they occurred in your company or at other sites performing the same work, are excellent topics. Other topics are new rules, policies, equipment or procedures. Special or nonroutine tasks may be good subjects, but the tasks must be simple enough to be addressed in a short period of time.

Step 2—Describe the hazard

After the subject has been selected, make a list of the hazards associated with that topic. Describe the link between the circumstances that may create the hazard and accidents that can result from it. By offering the circumstances that create the hazards, a “what to watch for” list is created. Resulting discussions can help the workers do a mental audit of the hazards at the site.

Step 3—Use a story to improve empathy and interest

Using real accidents makes it easier to get the message across about the hazards and the consequences when precautions are not taken. The audience is able to empathize with the victim and more willing to accept the procedures to avoid accidents. A source for information on accidents involving electrical contractors is available on the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) Safety Web site at The NECA and Intec joint site offers four new safety talks a month. At least one talk per month focuses on an accident analysis.

Step 4—Offer best practices

The key to the success of the story used in Step 3 is applying it to a current job site. After telling the story, offer best practices that can be used to prevent accidents while performing the tasks at the job site. This also can lead to discussion, which will help accomplish the next essential element of toolbox training.

Step 5—Elicit participation

Active participation may be the most important element of successful toolbox training. Workers will understand and retain more if they are involved in training. Discussions or instructor-led question and answer sessions will get audiences involved. Be prepared with questions about the toolbox in the event discussion does not occur. When using a story, ask workers what could have been done differently by those in the story and if the same accident could occur on your job site.

Step 6—Document

Although documentation won’t improve the session, it is essential. A log should be created with the names of those who participated. If the training is used to meet requirements, each participant should print and sign their names. Include date, time spent and location as well as a reference to the subjects covered. The person responsible for training should sign the log.

On the job

On the job (OTJ) is another popular type of training. Again, this form of training offers employers an efficient way to train while maintaining work activity. OTJ needs to be structured.

It needs a trainer to teach and assess skills. Be sure to pair employees with someone or pick a trainer who has the appropriate skills for OTJ training. They must have the right attitude, skills and knowledge. They should be friendly and willing to help others. Good communication skills are critical. Finally, the need for the instructor’s thorough knowledge of the job or safety precautions to be taught goes without saying.

OTJ also requires a written guide that breaks the job into tasks or a job analysis. The job analysis provides a framework for training. It can be detailed or general in nature. This depends on the sophistication needed for the task or safety rules being taught. But, regardless of the level, the analysis must provide a map to allow teaching to be accurate, logical and easy.

The training itself must include three basic elements: assessment, training and evaluation.

During the assessment, a decision is made on what the trainee knows. The next decision is what needs to be taught. The training should provide knowledge and procedural and motor skills necessary. Once training is complete, the employee is evaluated. It needs to be determined if the skills taught have been learned. The employee should be checked on an ongoing basis until he or she has mastered the skills.

As advances are made in technique, the industry has been able to turn its attention to topics. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) now offers Web pages ( specific to electrical safety. It even provides an eTool on Ergonomics: Solutions for Electrical Contractors. An eTool is a stand-alone, interactive, Web-based training tool. In addition to the ergonomics eTool, there are other construction topics covered, such as scaffolding, lead, asbestos and cadmium, which may be useful to electrical contractors.

Groups, such as the Electrical Transmission and Distribution Construction Contractors and Trade Associations, have developed industry-specific programs. The partnership now offers an OSHA 10-hour construction outreach specifically for line workers.

Per the Web site,, NECA continues to offer more industry-specific training material. Its personal protective equipment (PPE) selector guide and Guide to NFPA 70E Lockout/Tagout CDs and manuals are resources for training.

So really, there is a lot of new stuff to find in safety training. Electrical contractors can be more particular in the resources they use for training. They also can raise their training to a higher level by using techniques that have been studied and proven. All contractors should think about what’s new in safety training and try to find the resources and techniques that can provide the most effective training, regardless of generational differences.

O’CONNOR is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or

About the Author

Joe O'Connor

Freelance Writer
Joe O'Connor is with Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Based in Waverly, Pa., he can be reached at 607.624.7159 or joconnor@inte...

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