Better Safety Training Through Adult Learning Principles

Author: Rene Garcia

Adult Learning Principles for Safety Training

The goals of safety training are to raise awareness about risks and minimize accidents. These meetings can also act as induction training to help contracted and new employees and managers understand the safety issues associated with various parts of the job site. Unfortunately, this training is often received unenthusiastically. As a result, the knowledge isn’t absorbed, and workers won’t know how to react to a potentially dangerous situation when it arises. Fortunately, there are methods that presenters can take to make their safety training meetings more engaging and digestible.

How Adults Learn

In general, adults learn differently than children. Children’s brains have often been compared to sponges that absorb everything. This makes sense because children don’t have the life experience to know what information is valuable and what is not. Adults, on the other hand, can make judgment calls on the information they receive. If the information does not immediately provide value, then it is less likely that the adult will retain the information.

Here are core principles to consider when designing and conducting adult training:

  1. Adults are self-directed
  2. Adults have their own knowledge and experience
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults want relevant information
  5. Adults demand respect

Incorporating Adult Learning Principles into Safety Training

Conduct your training by first giving your workers a role in developing the safety program. Consult them when performing job hazard analysis. When possible, allow employees to take assigned training activities in the order they want. Minimize lectures and take advantage of opportunities that allow workers to use their own judgment, because doing so will help create positive habits in the employee.

Safety trainers should welcome the wealth of knowledge each worker provides at meetings. Ask for their input when developing training. When beginning a topic, consider asking workers what they already know about it so that everyone has some real-life context on what the training is about.

No adult likes to do something without knowing why they’re doing it. Safety training is no different. Despite its obvious value in reducing potential disruptions, adult learners will appreciate specificity. Consider setting a goal for breaking the record for longest period without a workplace injury or setting a deadline to meet a compliance requirement ahead of schedule.

Adults are also making value judgments all the time. Safety training must present value immediately to be the most effective. As a result, trainers should focus the material on what the workers will encounter in their daily routine. This may require holding separate training sessions for different job functions.

Finally, adults want to feel respected. While this is self-explanatory and applies in situations beyond safety training, it’s worth mentioning because disrespecting safety learners could have dire consequences. As such, always be polite and respectful. Ensure that the learning atmosphere is supportive, even when workers share incorrect information. In those cases, stress that everyone is there to learn, and correcting bad habits or “updating old procedures” are some of the reasons routine safety training is necessary. Also consider providing post-training surveys to give workers a chance to further customize their training and share opinions they felt uncomfortable voicing publicly.

Of all the important practical training an employee can receive, at the very top is safety. Safety training that is absorbed by the workforce will help increase productivity and reduce disruptions and injuries. Trainers who focus on adopting the core principles of adult learning should see positive results no matter the format of their presentations.

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