Safety Training Has a Shelf Life

I’m always on the lookout for ideas or stories I can use to promote safety. Little did I know my next idea would nearly crash into the side of my car.

By: Bill Dampf, C.S.P.
Let’s Talk Success Presentations

I’m always on the lookout for ideas or stories I can use to promote safety. Little did I know my next idea would nearly crash into the side of my car.

While my wife and I were driving home one morning, I saw a car approaching our road from a side street. I continued on, assuming the car would stop, as the sign told him to do. It wasn’t until I was nearly even with the car that I realized he was not going to stop. I hit the horn and swerved away from him to avoid the collision. The driver of the other vehicle did stop, but it was obvious he never saw us until he nearly drove into the side of our vehicle. I have no idea what he was doing or thinking, but one thing is for sure -- he was not focused on his driving. Fortunately, his speed was low enough that he was able to stop his car in time.

One might say this near miss incident points plenty of fingers at the other driver. But, as the old saying goes, “As I point one finger at another, there are at least three fingers pointing back at me.”

I thought about all of the defensive driver courses I had participated in… and all I had taught. After 35 years as a safety professional, even I had grown complacent. My training had taught me to assume that the car would not stop. However, I assumed that it would. Instead of slowing down and covering the brake to better assess the actions of the other driver, I continued to drive at my normal speed.

I’m also not letting my wife off the hook either. She was my co-pilot that morning and she could have warned me about the approaching car. But, we were both comfortable and focused on our conversation.

That morning, I learned a valuable lesson -- Training has a shelf-life.

The knowledge we gain does not last forever, and, unfortunately, the higher level of performance we hope that training will produce is not self-sustaining. Over time, as our experiences end with positive outcomes, we tend to grow comfortable cutting a corner or overlooking a precaution.

None of us like participating in the repetitive safety training. We wonder, “Why does OSHA or our company require us to go through this year after year?”

But, the evidence is clear, we may know better, but we don’t always do better.

When leading or participating in your next safety training course, try adding these few tips to your training:

• Look for the opportunity to share experiences with your teammates to help them realize that the precautions outlined in the training do apply to our work and family lives.
• Revisit the fundamentals of our training between training cycles. This can be done by simply discussing one training objective from the course each quarter. Look for current events that can support the information and make it apply to your workers’ daily lives.
• Always look for ways to improve your training techniques and materials. Involve the students in the training through group activities and look to incorporate timely, tasteful and appropriate humor to make the training more fun.

I will tell you that my future drives home will be changed by that near collision. But, that change will only last as long as my memory holds on to that experience. Revisit your experiences so you fend off the complacency that comes along with repetitive work.

Bill Dampf is the retired Director of Corporate Safety and Health for a Midwest electric and natural gas utility. He has been in the safety profession for 36 years and an international speaker for 15. He has acquired both his BS degree and Masters degree in Industrial Safety, is a Certified Safety Professional and published author. In Bill’s spare time he gets to travel on behalf of his own company, “Let’s Talk Success Presentations” where he shares his passion for achieving personal success and success in safety with workers, companies, associations and at conferences across North America. Bill would welcome the opportunity to share a safety message with your workers. To contact Bill call 573-230-3910, email him at or visit his website at

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