Technology Advancements in Safety Training

Technological advances surround us every day. We hear about them in the news, chat about them with our friends, and experience them in our daily lives. In the construction industry, it's easy to point out how technological advances effect equipment • longer reach, heavier capacity, and more advanced indicating devices • but the same cannot be as easily discerned in construction safety training.

Some adaptations of technological advancements have achieved greater successes than others. Television has certainly aided the visual element of the training process, and computers have become versatile, flexible training tools. Continued developments in sophisticated simulator technologies have made operating simulators affordable for a wider variety of construction applications. Used together or individually, all of these elements can contribute to improved training effectiveness.

Technology that hinders successful training

However, a conundrum lies in the fact that humans are trained by humans, and no two individuals are exactly alike. An effective training method for one person may be dismally ineffective for another. A particular trainer may be incredibly effective without any additional resources, and another is hampered without a computer to assist his course. Bottom line: We don't learn or teach in the same way or at the same speed.

According to an exhaustive study published by D.H. Holding and the Department of Psychology at the University of Louisville: “The task of the trainer is to ensure that the learned material or behavior is appropriate to the job, to ensure that the learning process is conducted efficiently, and to ensure that what is learned during the training session transfers satisfactorily to the job environment.” The study continues by saying the final step in training “should be to ensure that the right kind of information has been communicated by measuring transfer of training.”

Adaptation of technologically advanced systems may aid in the training process if those systems are properly employed. However, the technology-provided instruction is often no better than the designed content that has been inputted into the computer, video, or simulator. In other words, it goes back to the old anachronism known as GIGO, or “Garbage in, Garbage out.”

Consequently, the value of some computer-based training can be suspect. The effectiveness ranges from very good to abominable and is entirely dependent on the trainer, the developed content, and the student.

One reason why more consistent success in computer-based training has not been achieved may stem from a lack of qualified professional trainers and content developers. Many people involved in industrial training development and delivery have gravitated to these positions through corporate shuffling. Unfortunately, having knowledge of an industry does not automatically qualify a person to effectively transfer that knowledge. Senior management may fail to place sufficient emphasis on employee training as a vital investment rather than an adjustable expense. Labor department and university study statistics focusing on employee training show returns on investment of 2:1 or more for employee training. However, the value of adequate training may not be sufficiently emphasized to those responsible for budget approvals. This situation contributes to a diminished amount of effective training material which often leads to disappointing results.

Content that provides effective training

Creative computer-based training is believed to enhance individual learning in part because it is often self-paced. However, unless the lesson content follows effective instructional design techniques, it is no better than lecturing employees accustomed to physical activity while they are sitting in a warm room after lunch. Learning has to be relevant, interesting, and occasionally fun to be remembered. That's a tall order for any type of training program.

These principals also apply to video training. A common error occurs when manufacturers that are over-enamored with their own products lose sight of the fact that the target audience is not affected by the manufacturer's use of grade 8 instead of grade 5 bolts or the virtues of their plasma arc metal cutting process. Efficient training should point out clues to look for in a thorough pre-operation inspection; how to safely mount or dismount the machine; what some of the potential operating dangers may be; how to effectively operate the machine to do some common procedures; and reasons why some actions should never be attempted. Good visuals don't need a lot of words to carry the message, and a well-done video will have a longer lasting impact than wordy dialogue. Regardless of the delivery method, showing respect for the skills and talents of the target audience translates directly to improved effectiveness and learning retention.

Simulators, in one form or another, have been effectively used by the military and airline industry for years. Recent technological advancements have made them economically feasible for common desktop computers. Actual machine control levers can now be adapted to the highly sophisticated graphic displays on notebook or desktop computers, resulting in remarkable clarity in a wide range of work applications. Studies indicate workers • beginners in particular • who operate simulators advance more rapidly in operating skill level. But once again, it reverts to the previously mentioned GIGO rule. From a training perspective, without careful planning and creative development with specific goals in mind, money spent for simulation technology is worth less than a video game.

Whether you use technology or not in training, it all comes back to the same thing: Knowing and respecting your audience, setting specific lesson goals, designing lessons that are interesting, and including a bit of fun. People want to learn, and using video, computers, simulators or slides, and lectures can make a good trainer more efficient. But the most sophisticated technology in the world won't change the garbage.

About the Author: 

Ray Peterson

Ray Peterson is founder of Vista Training, Inc., Waterford, Wis. He can be reached at rpeterson@vista-training.com.