We’ve all sat through the countless hours of training, from one topic to the next, covering everything from Back Safety to Bloodborne Pathogens. Regular quarterly or semi-annual training can take a full day, or even days, depending on your industry. We live and breathe safety for that time period, but the moment we go back to work, what do we actually retain?

For many companies, compliance is key, they know they have to meet that criteria and to train employees on the hazards they are exposed to. With such a short period to cover material, does retention, or even comprehension, of the training occur? If our goal is to keep employees safe, is there a better way?

In a study by Carnegie Mellon University, an observation, called the “Spacing Effect” demonstrated the correlation between information retention and the time period in which training occurred. It found that increasing the time between training over a certain, limited period actually increases retention, while grouping together a significant amount of training in a shorter block of time, improved performance briefly, but negatively impacts long term retention.

This presents the question:

“Is our goal in training to create a memory of safety which can be recollected or to acquire a safety skill which can then be applied?”

Any EHS manager will tell you that they want their employee’s to have a skillset, to be able work safely and effectively. If so, why does our training focus on grouping together as much information as possible, followed by spacing refresher training so far apart, that it results in lost retention?

In a separate study by the American Academy of Pediatrics, they actually applied training in different control groups. During the trial, they had participants complete their initial CPR training, with remedial training approximately every thirty days. One group had a notable increase in retention at the three month and six month mark, with the final result demonstrating a 10% higher retention rate and overall, more successful CPR skill, when compared with the group who had a monthly training or semi-annual training.

These studies indicate that brief remedial training, as little as five minutes per month, per topic, can exceed the benefit of longer remedial training given at quarterly intervals.

So how does the frequency of training impact performance and retention? Positively it appears. When reviewing your training program, should the inclusion of shorter training topics, especially on your primary hazards, be assigned more frequently, and take precedent over longer classroom sessions?

The final component of effective training is company culture. Safety should become a habit. With regular training, it not only highlights the critical hazards consistently, but reinforces broad components of safety, such as workplace awareness and employee rights.

Safety and training are always evolving. If an increased frequency, with a decrease in quantity, demonstrates a positive effect on performance and retention, should we shift our approach? Which leads back to the earlier question:

“Is your safety program focused on creating a memory, or acquiring a skill?”

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