Safety Management Series – Safety Training Is About Behaviour Change
By Alan Quilley
I remember only too well my first visit to a client’s warehouse. The bustle of the forklift traffic was considerable. Drivers were busily loading pallets of product into the large line of awaiting semi-tractor trucks. Numerous other employees were pulling and pushing hand trucks full of boxed product. This was one busy place. The natural question for me to ask as we continued our tour was, "Are your forklift operators trained?" I actually received the answer I was hoping for. "Oh yes of course!" My host continued to tell me, "They are all sent to a local contract trainer’s forklift school and can’t drive the equipment here until they pass the test!"
On the surface, this looked and sounded wonderful. The employer had recognized the considerable hazard untrained operators could create and had diligently attended to the hazard through a commonly accepted "administrative control" of a recognized hazard: operator training. As we proceeded from the loading dock into the storage area of the warehouse where three-story material racks were filled with palletized product, I was horrified to see that the base legs on every one of the storage racks had been bent. The damage was seriously compromising the safety of the storage rack structure.
What this employer had failed to do was validate the behaviour that they had hoped to accomplish with the week of forklift operator training. This is a common shortcoming of occupational health and safety related training. We set out the learning objectives and develop and deliver our safety courses.
On occasion, we even test the participants. Then many of us go on to the next safety issue assuming that since our workers passed the knowledge test and demonstrated a level of competency at the time of the test that we’re now duly diligent and that they will forever more perform the tasks perfectly.
Really? By now we should all recognize that safe behaviours must be observed and re-enforced through positive feedback and, when necessary, the safe behaviour coached.
How to make training "sticky"
For safety training to be "sticky" and actually result in safe behaviour, we have to take the often-overlooked step in training, which is validation. Case in point, Most Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) programs I’ve seen are great at imparting the basic information regarding chemical hazards and most are diligent enough to ensure that all of our workers can pass a written or verbal test of the many symbols and terms used on labels and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). We fall short of the mark, however, by not actually observing them working safely with chemicals. This is, of course, the behaviour we desire, isn’t it? Ask yourself: When do these workers receive their WHMIS cards announcing to any future employer and us that they are WHMIS trained? Usually they get that card after they have passed a test of the symbol knowledge. This is hardly enough to certify that they can work safely with chemical products.
Training and the safe behaviour model
The behaviour change model of training requires the following steps to be completed:
Establish the desired behaviours. Write a performance-based behavioural learning objective that describes the desired behaviour; under what conditions the behaviour will be demonstrated and finally, the standard that must be achieved to be considered successfully competent. For example:
"At the end of a six-hour in-class training session the student will be able to perform the following behaviours at the student’s regularly assigned workstation:
1) Transfer liquid chemicals without over exposure to the chemical;
2) Read and explain the contents of four randomly selected MSDS including:
a) What the entry routes are for the chemical;
b) What personal protective equipment (PPE) to wear;
c) Show knowledge of where the PPE is located;
d) Wear the prescribed PPE properly…
I think you get the idea… We need to describe under what conditions the employee will be demonstrating the behaviour or competency.
Finally, we must demand that the student demonstrate the new behaviour to a determined level of competency. Once a student has demonstrated their ability to meet the criteria, we must then continue to support the new behaviour with consistent observation and feedback.
Mager’s theory of behavioural objectives
There are many theories and approaches to writing learning objectives, however I find the Robert F. Mager model the easiest to teach. I recommend that you read his book, "Preparing Instructional Objectives: A Critical Tool in the Development of Effective Instruction".
Once the training needs are analyzed and the learning goals of the program are determined by establishing the desired future behaviour, follow the steps of Mager’s approach.
Learning goals need to be broken into a subset of smaller tasks or learning objectives. By definition, a behavioural objective must have three components: behaviour, condition and standard.
Validation is due diligence
Here’s where the proverbial rubber hits the road. Is the trained employee behaving to the trained standard? How would you know? By testing at the end of the course? Certainly that would be an indication that the employee could do the behaviour. The due diligence question that the courts will want to know is "Were they exhibiting the safe behaviour and how did you know?"
Alan David Quilley is the President and owner of Safety Results Ltd., in Sherwood Park, Alberta. Alan is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional who has worked in the Health and Safety Field for over three decades.
His safety management career includes leading the OH&S efforts in the Municipal, Transportation and Health Care sectors. Alan’s experience as an OH&S Officer for the Alberta Government rounds out his extensive experience in a variety of industry sectors including Oil & Gas and Forestry.