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The Greatest Threat To Safety Might Be Your Safety Training

by Phil LaDuke on March 12, 2013 · 7 comments

in Phil LaDuke,Safety Training

The Greatest Threat To Safety Might Be Your Safety Training

Latest article by By Phil La Duke on his blog:

The training (both formally and informally) worker’s receive in the first 90 days tends to make the most lasting impression on how they will behave in the workplace. Are you training them to make safe choices or simply checking the box of compliance. The answer to that question can cost your company millions and literally mean the difference between life and death. I hope you will give this week’s post a read, and if you find it worthwhile share it with others. And as always, I’d love to hear what you think.

To assert that most safety training sucks is to reveal no great insight; it’s practically an O’Henry short story: training professionals steer clear of safety courses for fear they might miss some important point and imperil the learners and safety professionals lack the requisite knowledge of knowledge of adult education to construct an effective course. The result is well-intentioned organizations wasting millions annually on weak safety training that not only doesn’t protect workers; it puts them at risk.

There are a couple of basic things you have to decide whether you believe or not before you can draw any accurate conclusion. First, you either believe that safety training protects workers or you do not. (It’s something of a mute point, because in most countries Safety training is required.  It’s not required to be good mind you it’s just required that people complete it.) Second, you either believe existing safety training is sufficient or it is not.

Researchers in adult learning paint a fairly bleak picture of training in general.  Research has shown that up to 85% of the skills learned in training courses is lost before it ever has a chance of making it to the workplace, and further research shows that no skills taught in a class are retained unless the skills are applied within 48 hours of the course.

Before we continue I should make something clear. I use the term “training” not “learning” not “teaching” and not “education”. I know some people bristle at the term, “you train dogs, not people” but I was taught the difference between teaching and training through the following analogy: “you might be in favor of your sixth grade daughter receiving sex education in school, but you probably don’t want her getting sex training”.  Some of you might be offended by that example (lighten up) but I think it creates a visceral mental image of the precise difference between training and teaching.  As far as I’m concerned, education is learning ABOUT something and training is learning how to DO something.


Phil LaDuke

Phil LaDuke

Principle and Partner at ERM
Phil LaDuke

Latest posts by Phil LaDuke (see all)

Phil LaDuke
Phil La Duke is a principle and partner in Environmental Resources Management (ERM) a leading global provider of environmental, health, safety, risk, and social consulting services. With over 140 offices in 40 countries and nearly 6,000 top professionals, ERM can help you wherever you find yourself doing business. At ERM we are committed to providing a service that is consistent, professional, and of the highest quality to create value for our clients. Over the past five years we have worked for more than 50% of the Global Fortune 500 delivering innovative solutions for business and selected government clients helping them understand and manage the sustainability challenges that the world is increasingly facing.Phil works primarily in the Performance and Assurance practice at ERM; a speaker, author, consultant, trainer, provocateur…Phil La Duke wears many hats. As an expert in safety, training, organizational development, and culture change, Phil and ERM can help you motivate your workforce, conduct safety performance assessments, help you to build robust training infrastructures, craft interventions to improve how your work place values safety, provide insights to your executive staff, and craft and execute business solutions.If you’re interested in what Phil La Duke and ERM can do for you, or if you would like to inquire about employment opportunites at ERM, contact Phil at
  • Mike Trumbature

    OSHA has an upcoming conference to discuss crane recertification.

    Should OSHA be listening to a bunch of people about crane safety who have never operated one?

    Especially when they can’t even spot the simplest of problems.

    Talk about arrogance

  • Margaret Bartel

    Your response made me smile, as a trainer for most things OHS at our site, I believe its the level of education and exposure we trainers receive in the first instance that determines how good we are at out jobs. I believe that the most important thing to remember when educating Adults, is that they are Adults; and all have life experinces, that they have learned from, and that we can learn from. Its very important to sum up your audiance quickly and engage them in the education process. OHS legislation is a tedious business for those not interested; but if you stick to the relevant facts, with an example or two, the lesson may stick. And I agree, getting into the workforce to practice the skills learn’t ASAP, is better than sitting in a classroom all week, trying to remember all the lessons taught.

  • George Robotham

    I also reckon the National Training Reform Agenda has created as many problems as solutions.To a certain extent it has dumbed the process down and spawned a paper driven bureaucracy that is inflexible.I recently applied for R.P.L.for the Cert IV, was that not a pain in the arse,got bugger all recognition for my B.Ed. (A.W.E.) and the R.T.O. got $900 for doing stuff all.

  • George Robotham

    Roy, Cert IV the de facto standard like it of not. You just have to look at the many job ads for OHS roles that specify it.I was not too far into my B.Ed. (Adult & Workplace Ed.) when I realised the limitations of the Cert IV and a lot of my previous efforts were pretty crappy.

  • Roy Fitzgerald

    George, I cannot agree that the Cert IV is a defacto standard to facilitate learning as my professional experience has exposed me to many people with a Cert IV TAE that have little idea about the process of learning and cannot describe related taxonomies. The Cert IV process should be reviewed and is regarded by myself with some disdain. Many associates that have a Cert IV TAE have even less ability to explain ‘training’ terms or have an inability to formulate any sensible discussions related to education. There is a distinction between educaction and training – it is even enmeshed in the TAE title (Training and Education) as promulgated by the government authorities. Training will consist of boring lecture style presentations when there is a lack of trainer education in that domain. Personal experience is based on attending many dynamic training lectures and participation in associated practical skill development sessions, in some major training based organisations, such as the Australian Defence Force. Rob, I agree that the process of learning about learning is foundational for teacher development. It was when I attended Teachers’ College in the early seventies. The structure of teacher development has changed over the years to a more academic approach based on content which is most unfortunate. We need a more Socratic approach.

  • Rob Long

    Isn’t it interesting that we regard safety training as the making of mini-lawyers, guardians of the safety Act yet with so little learning about learning. In teacher education it is foundational not to be fixed on curriculum content but to learn about the nature of people and how they learn. In teacher education it is foundational to know about motivation and how to develop ownership about learning just as it is foundational to understand the importance of creativity and imagination. The safety community is so fixed on content and consequence, they they actually believe that such are motivational, and so demonstrate that they know nothing about it or learning.

  • George Robotham

    Facilitating learning, incorrectly referred to as training,is often a significant part of an OHS persons role.A lot of them are not particularly good at it.The Cert. IV T.A.E. is the de facto standard by which facilitating learning is judged, the reality is it only scrates the surface of the topic.A lot of attempts to facilitate learning are more correctly referred to as training and consist of boring lecture style presentations where the instructor speaks at the participants.My advice is to use Action and Experiential learning models, have heaps of interaction through activities and promote critical reflection in the learners.Another problem is the fact there is a tendency at the end of the training to make the sign of the cross, say Thou Art Trained and that is the end of the process.Supervisor discussions about how to implement lessons and after session projects are vital
    Training is what others do to us,Learning is what we do to ourselves. My paper Adult Learning Principles and Process is my attempt to make sense of facilitating effective learning, available on request from

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