But we gave you safety training against injuries!

Johan Geere unpacks the differences between safety instructions and safety training.
Johan Geere unpacks the differences between safety instructions and safety training.

When you hear words like, “I gave you safety training, why did you get hurt,” one finger points at the worker, one at the system, and three at the management team.

After any incident and ‘accident’ at work, this is the embarrassed supervisor’s first response to the feared general manager. “I gave them safety training, and I told them to watch out.”

When the Department of Labour inspector arrives on the incident scene, he asks for the injured worker’s safety training record. We give him that, and the attendance record, curriculum, assessment, assessor’s certificate, assessor’s identity document, operating procedure, evidence or toolbox talks, all with ISO record numbers.

We present everything we have to convince the inspector that the injured worker had received safety training, was informed, aware, and competent. Or at least he was told. We did not neglect our duty to tell him to work safely.

Does “telling them” and “showing them”, make them safe workers? Even if we force workers into a four-walled cell which we label a safety training classroom or training venue, because it does not have steel bars, and tell them for a week?

Bobby falls of his bicycle and daddy says: “I told you to be careful!” Mary wants to help her mother carry the groceries and drops a tray of eggs on the floor. Mother says, “I told you to leave the eggs to me!” Or at least she told her last time, or last year.

We tell them, and tell them, and tell them. The manager and the CEO and someone from head office told them too. But did our safety training teach them?

Do we need a new telling style? This is what the big cannons in education have been roaring on about for several decades.

Land, Jarman, Shulman, Scully, Byrne, Capra, Leeuhowes, Kwant, Luipen, Van Schoor, Wielemans, Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, Slabbert, and more, have all found, and explained, that “telling” people is not enough.

But industry has a practical and legalistic paradigm. Safety training is in the small print. Let the worker beware.

Managers like tickboxes. Been there, gave them safety training, told them, gave them safety T-shirts, put our interventions on file.

Health and safety consultants like telling managers how to tell people to work safely. Do consultants test the training that their clients take from them?

Health and safety auditors ask to be told, “What did your safety training tell them?” They audit the content, but do they audit health and safety skills?

What does ‘safety training’ mean?

Meanwhile the leading academics in the science of education have rejected the “telling- them-knowledge” paradigm of training as invalid. Education theories clearly indicate that “telling” does not translate as “competency”.

The law requires workers to be informed, aware, trained, and competent to work safely. Every fatality, every injury, and every near-miss says that many workers did not receive safety training, only information.

A lawyer could prove that most of what we file as “safety training” is not compatible with the principles of education, training, learning, and skills, and is therefore not compliant. We need a health and safety training paradigm shift.

Safety training starts with safe practice

Bobby’s father took him fishing. Bobby followed instructions on how to tie the hook and attach the bait. His father cast the line for him, because he thought Bobby did not have the strength. Bobby waited anxiously for hours for a bite, but the fish lay low.

Suddenly his reel started screaming and the line ran out. He grabbed the rod and started reeling in. Bobby struggled, so his father took the rod and reeled in the fish. “Congratulations son, here is your first fish!”

Bobby turned around and walked away. He felt robbed of the victory to complete an important task.

Mary tries to make up her own bed. Mother allows her the challenge. She could not drape the sheets evenly on both sides, but it was a good first try. Mother patiently watched without interfering, and made occasional remarks: “Perhaps you could pull it at the other end?”, or, “Remember how granny would tuck it in a bit deeper at the corner”.

Mary finished with a smile. Her mother congratulates her. Which of these two learners had learned to think, to take action, to solve a problem, and why?

What is the learning experience of our safety officers during safety training? Do they experience a deep sense of achievement from the course, and from applying it at workplace? Do they take initiatives, and ownership, or do they just tick the boxes and file the paper?

  • Johan Geere (Loss Control Management diploma, Chamber of Mines; Mine Overseers Certificate of Competency; Trainer Development Diploma), is a former mining shift boss, and former training manager at President Steyn Gold Mine. He had designed training for operators of various construction machines, and for a monorail at Ingula Hydro Pumped Storage Scheme. He initiated various training facilities, and training in mining and construction at the Ingula Power Station project. He is director of learning at an adult training provider.
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Edmond Furter

Editor at Sheqafrica.com
Edmond Furter is the editor of Sheqafrica.com. He is a freelance technical journalist, and has won six journalism awards. He specialises in industrial, business, and cultural content in web, journal, and book formats.