Is Training all Wrong?

What Leaders Recognize About Training

What Leaders Recognize About Training

By Matt Forck

Years ago, I was a safety professional in charge of a large geographic area in out state Missouri. I was tasked with supporting some 400 linemen, substation technicians and natural gas pipefitters/equipment operators. My role included safety awareness, safety committee facilitation, reporting to senior management and a host of other responsibilities. I was also tasked with a large number of training models.

In the electric utility industry, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires a plan before any work begins. OSHA mandates a five-step process to job planning. First, all participants on a job must meet before work begins, and OSHA outlines the specific topics that must be covered before the work starts. Those topics are: hazards associated with the job; safe work practices that apply to the work; special precautions; and asking the question, what is different about this work or what are the hidden hazards that can get me hurt. Next, OSHA requires a thorough discussion of energy source control and finishes with the personal protective equipment (PPE) required for the work. I noted that on my many field observations that crews were not properly planning. And, I noted on a number of incident reports that lack of planning was contributing to injuries. I did what any proactive safety professional would have done-I put together a training program.

Working with another safety professional, we designed a three-hour interactive program. We delivered the training and reinforced the message with cards for dashboards and billfolds. In fact, I still carry my card nearly 10 years later! About three months after all training was complete, I was speaking to one of these groups who, just 90 days prior, had this training, and I decided to give them a quiz. To my surprise and astonishment, it took several minutes before this group could recite the five key elements of a job briefing. Alarmed, I thought it might be a fluke. I repeated the quiz across much of my area only to find it was not a fluke. Most groups struggled to recall those key elements. Many were not using the cards. While job briefings may have been happening, my fear was that old habits had returned or, more likely, never went away. And, because of a lack of planning, hazards were being missed. I was troubled-why didn't the training stick?

After much analysis and scrutiny, I believe the training failed because I finally realized I was not the trainer. Sure, I was the guy in front of the work group facilitating the three-hour session-but I was not the trainer. Sure, I was the safety professional guiding the material, advancing the slides, but I was not the trainer. Sure, I instructed the work group on the right way to hold a job briefing, but I was not the trainer. What I failed to realize is that to change a work practice like this, training doesn't last three hours. It lasts 30 days! And, the first line supervisor is the trainer-not me.

To make this type of training stick, safety professionals must do more than offer a three-hour training session-we must offer a three-hour and 30-day training session. Before the initial training we need to:
• Get approval from managers that the training is needed.
• Be clear about and communicate expectations follow-up responsibilities of each supervisor-meaning that supervisors are the trainers and must do specific things after the initial session to form a habit.
• Next, provide the training to all supervisors, giving them the training and the set of expectations as follow-up to the training.
• Provide resources to supervisors to help them be successful.
• Provide some specific evaluation process at 30 days, 90 days and one year to make sure the training did stick and a new habit is in place.

About the Author: Matt Forck, CSP and JLW, leads safety conferences, seminars and keynote presentations on safety's most urgent topics including leadership, accountability and cultural change. A noted speaker, Matt is a former journey line worker and member of a utility safety staff. Matt has also published six books and dozens of articles. Contact Matt, learn about FREE resources or inquire about having Matt speak at your next event through his website at

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