Best Safety Training Ideas: Mix of Classroom, Hands-On Learning Helps Employees Retain Knowledge

Brendan Coughlan | Director of Environmental, Health, and Safety | Mennel Milling Company | Fostoria, OH

“People have responded well and pay close attention when the training information closely matches the equipment they actually use, such as with personal protective equipment and gas monitors for enclosed spaces.

“If you can make training fun and hands-on outside or inside the workplace, people respond better. We’ve suspended people in harnesses so they could better understand what it’s like. It really brings it home and helps people realize that suspension straps are a good idea because they take pressure off the legs.

“For longer training topics with lots of material to cover, I like to break up seat time vs. hands-on time. For example, for fall protection training – which can be death by PowerPoint – we cover content and talk about suspension trauma. Then, we go outside and show what it’s actually like by suspending employees. Then we go inside to cover more content, and later, we go back outside and assess connections and discuss what makes a good connection. It works well to teach a concept in the classroom and then go outside to apply it.”

John Coffey | Senior Environmental Health and Safety Manager | Ardent Mills | Brighton, CO

“We’re using technology to our advantage. We used to do more classroom training using PowerPoints, etc. Now, thanks to technology, we have the ability to do more computer-based distance learning. People can log in remotely and do the training on their own, particularly if they’re not comfortable attending group training sessions due to COVID-19. We also developed our own training software, implementing aspects of our industry to make it more interesting and interactive.

“Another thing we’re doing is trying to understand different learning methods and use those methods with the groups that benefit most from them. The workforce is changing, and not every worker at every location likes the same learning method. Some people like hands-on more, others learn best on their own. There are lots of topics we take out on the floor to perform hands-on training.

“We’re also not afraid to bring in professionals to do the training where it makes sense. We bought new equipment, so we had the professionals who sell it come to our mill to provide training. We had a rash of incidents that led us to believe we’re not doing things the right way, so we brought in the experts to help us improve. It might cost more, but trainers are very qualified.

“It’s always important to remember learning new things takes time. The pandemic showed us the need to do things differently, think outside the box, and show people the positive effects of change outweigh the negatives. Regarding training, now people are saying, ‘Why didn’t we do this sooner?’”

Levi Burton | Corporate Safety Director | Grain Millers Inc. | Minneapolis, MN

“Recently, we purchased Axonify, a training platform that reinforces and presents bite-sized training. We’re asking employees to log in once a week for 3-5 minutes. Axonify keeps track of their answers, and employees are asked their confidence level for their answers, so if they’re wrong and their confidence level is high for their answer, it shows the need for additional training. They also receive reinforcement questions throughout the year based on what they’re getting right and wrong.

“We’re also doing standard one- or two-day new employee orientation, then an employee might spend time with the head miller – we call it Milling 101. For almost a year, we’ve been trying to provide standardized, companywide training, rather than scattershot training by location. We’re trying to offer consistent safety training for all locations.

“We also do hands-on training for Occupational Safety and Health Administration-required items, such as confined space, lockout/tagout, and powered industrial vehicles. Adults learn better in short bursts, rather than sitting for hours in a classroom. We’re providing on-the-job training for what employees go through, documented tasks, and it’s tied to Axonify. Employees also spend time with a veteran co-worker to learn the ropes in a more structured way.”

Marty Moran | Senior Director-Environmental Health and Safety | Miller Milling Co. | Minneapolis, MN

“For compliance training we use Alchemy, a learning management system that includes canned content for human safety, and we build some of our own that’s unique to us. The customized items took us a year to build, but it’s directly applicable to us.

“We also do interactive group training. As we go through the training, participants have clickers to confirm they learned the material. This allows us to conduct a lot of training in a short amount of time. This e-learning can be done as a group session or remotely at home.

“We’re also working on leadership and technical training to standardize how we do training. We use Alchemy for new employee orientation and have mentors show what the jobs entail in real life. Conducting classroom or hands-on training has been a challenge for the past year.

“In addition, we use a toolbox system to share a specific topic and conduct hand-offs from first to second shift. We perform a toolbox session using a weekly topic, such as lockout/tagout or electrical safety. We have a system developed by topic and go through them on a weekly basis. Some of our locations have staff on-site to do training, so the ownership is on the employees, which is ideal, though more difficult to do.

“We also have ‘Safety Alerts.’ If we have an incident, an injury or near-miss, we generate a one-page summary and share it across locations as part of a toolbox session and then post it for employees to raise awareness of accidents and how to prevent them in other locations. We’re also trying to build a training and development mentorship program to share knowledge across the age gap among employees – those in their 60s who have seen it all can help new employees who are just starting their careers.”

Mike Ormsby | Director of Environmental | Health and Safety | Grain Craft | Chattanooga, TN

“Our behavior-based safety program is the backbone of our safety efforts, and it gives every employee the ability to stop work if they see something unsafe. It encourages face-to-face interaction and open discussion of safety practices within the company. We go to locations and have discussions, and employees are encouraged to speak up. There’s no hierarchy in the classroom – everyone’s equal, and this gives people an opportunity to offer their opinions and join a healthy debate about the current state of our safety programs. If they recognize a hazard, employees are encouraged to stop work and correct it to break the chain of events. If you can eliminate unsafe acts, you can mitigate near misses and accidents.

“We also use technology, such as learning management systems, that have a variety of topics from a regulatory stance. Employees complete a learning plan annually, and site management can track progress, see what’s needed, and add topics due to its great flexibility.

“We provide on-the-job training, because lots of new hires haven’t worked in a flour mill before. It’s very important for long-tenured employees to share safety knowledge with younger employees. This really cuts the learning curve, and new employees gain a lot of knowledge about the best, safest way to do things. Our seasoned employees are encouraged to share knowledge every chance they get.”

- From Second Quarter 2021 MILLING JOURNAL