Safety Training Sucks

January 17, 2018 | Bryan McClure

Safety Training Sucks

Please not another safety class!

Most of you read the title of this blog and agreed 100% with the statement “Safety Training Sucks”, if not, I would surmise that you are probably a Safety Professional, or in Risk Management. Recently, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a site safety orientation delivered on a large high-profile construction project by a well-respected General Contractor. I had to attend this so that I could deliver my own training on site for my client.  The training sucked, it was terrible, awful, boring and for the most part a waste of time. Let me rephrase that, it was a waste of time for most of the attendees, the tradesmen who were actually going to be working on that site for the next year or so, for me it was enlightening. I learned a ton in that class, probably not what the instructor intended, but I learned a lot none the less.

Three types of adult trainers

I have been in construction for 26 years now. During this time, I have had the opportunity to see first hand all the many advancements in construction safety. During my many travels I have also been witness to thousands of safety compliance classes, meetings and tool box talks.  I’ve seen them done extremely well and also very poorly. While I was sitting in the airport last week I found myself reflecting on the orientation I took, and how that class could be so much better with some tweaking here and there. This train of thought led me to think about the different types of instructors I have encountered over the years…

The Story Teller

The story teller is typically the instructor that most people like to have teaching their class. I am sure that you know an individual like this, they have a story for literally everything. They’ll make you laugh, make you cry, they are there to entertain you. They are good at what they do, so good that most of the time you forget what the heck you were supposed to be learning in the first place. All you know at the end of the class is “hey, that wasn’t so bad, those two hours flew by!”

The Law Dispenser

The hated dispenser of the law, this is typically the least desirable instructor of the bunch. They read OSHA standard after OSHA standard to you, for hours on end. Most of the time the PowerPoint consists of black letters on a white screen. OSHA standards that were literally copied straight from the internet and pasted directly onto the slide. If you are super-duper lucky, they will add little spinney animations that displays every new line of law being dispensed. That way you can get motion sickness on top of being bored.

The Comedian

Second in the running to “The Story Teller” is the comedian. This instructor will tell jokes from start to finish. After High School they really wanted to be a stand-up comic, and now’s their chance! I can’t lie, sometimes I really like sitting in the comedian’s class, especially if I already know the content and the instructor is actually funny.

The funny thing about these three types of instructors is, at some point all three of these styles has value to the learner. The problem arises when the instructor does not have the opportunity to design their own course, which leaves them teaching according to somebody else’s design, and then in turn, falling back on their individual teaching preferences.

Training Design

For those of you reading this that are professional trainers I am sure that you know about the A.D.D.I.E. model: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate. The en vogue instructional design model these days is S.A.M: Successive, Approximation, Model. Both of these instructional design models are very useful tools for instructional designers. For the purpose of safety compliance training they can be a bit much though. Here are the five things that we deliver at every one of our classes, if you incorporate these into your training design your class will be better, I promise.

Subject Matter Expert (SME)

This one is simple, before you go to design your first class ask yourself “am I an expert on this issue?” if the answer is yes then carry on. If the answer is no then you have two options;

  1. Become an expert.
    • Study every case study that you can get your hands on
    • Read every OSHA standard that pertains, and more importantly the interpretations that may go along with the standard.
    • Interview people that have life experiences affected by an accident that the law, if followed, would have prevented.
  2. Have someone who is an expert be a guest speaker.


Nobody, and I mean nobody, likes to be preached at. As kids we went to school and listened to a teacher teach at us all day. That is called pedagogy, and essentially it is the art of teaching children. There is very little give and take, because most young students do not have the life experiences to contribute anything meaningful to the learning environment. The opposite of that, teaching adults, is called Andragogy and it leans heavily upon the life experiences that these adults bring to class with them. When you purposely design interactions into your training session you start to encourage the give, and take between the students and the rest of the class. Adult learners have a whole host of life experiences to draw from. A skillful instructor will draw these life experiences out of the adult learner through thought provoking questions, hypothetical situations and group activities.

PowerPoint as a Tool

I am pretty good at making eye catching Power Points. At one point, early on in my career, a mentor of mine asked me if I could teach as good without my PowerPoint to lean on. At the time I didn’t think I could. I was very PowerPoint dependent. Don’t get me wrong, PowerPoint is an amazing tool that helps us teach, but it is just that, a tool. What my mentor was telling me was, that PowerPoint is just a prop it’s not the show, the message is the show and you are the deliverer of the message. As far as PowerPoint goes I have a set of rules that I live by when using this as my preferred method for delivering training;

  1. Less words, more impactful pictures.

If you build a slide with nothing but words that you copied and pasted onto it, you will end up just reading to your learners. Nobody wants to be read to for hours on end. They will just read ahead of you, or worse yet, just tune you out at some point.

  1. Change it up every 5- 10 slides.

In 2015 Kevin Mcspadden wrote an article in Time magazine titled, “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than a Goldfish”. In the article Kevin says “Researchers in Canada surveyed 2,000 participants and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms (EEGs). Microsoft found that since the year 2000 (or about when the mobile revolution began) the average attention span dropped from 12 seconds to eight seconds.” A goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds. To combat the ever-shortening attention spans of our adult learners you need to keep throwing them change ups. If you use PowerPoint as your medium then add something different in every 5-10 slides, something to wake them up. Here are a few examples:

  • Multiple Choice Question
  • Topic related video
  • Case Study
  • Group Activity
  • Game

Safety training does not have to suck, but for safety training to be high quality we need to give it the same attention that we do to our safe job site activities. It all comes down to pre-planning and design, does that sound familiar safety professionals?  To do a job safely, we encourage pre-planning your work and designing out hazards where we can. Training is no different. If what you are teaching is important, then plan out a successful engaging class. As for me, I will keep learning from every new teacher I have. Sometimes I am learning new teaching techniques, other times I am learning what I will absolutely not do in my classes.

If you would like to witness world class, engaging, safety training, our schedule can be found here;

Author: Bryan McCLure