Why doesn’t safety work? Is it because we’re missing critical pieces, such as equipment, investment, training or experienced personnel? Is it “workplace culture” or management’s attitude about it? Or are there deeper reasons, a root cause for why safety will always fail in the workplace?

Hundreds of thousands of students will graduate in the coming weeks, ready to enter the workplace with a passion and intensity to succeed. After all, they just spent years learning their craft, honing their abilities and are backed by the eagerness to prove their worth. When one of these students enters your workplace, what’s your first thought? Is it lean on their understanding, to sit back because you know with all their training, they already know how to do the job?

Or does that “sixth sense” start climbing up your back, as you know, with all that training and intelligence, they are the most likely to become injured. You know you’ll have to spend the next few months, and possibly years, grooming them in how the “real world” does it. That all of their training to this point, was really just the beginning.

So why isn’t all of that training effective? Why are they so prone to fail? It’s not knowledge: they graduated top of their class. It’s not their health: they’re young, fit and in excellent shape. So why?

Because the majority of training and instruction is force fed

Have you ever thought about feeding a toddler? If you spoon feed them for each meal, they’ve seen you do it dozens, if not hundreds of times. Now let them try to use the spoon. The result? Half of dinner is on their face or the floor.

So why does all of our training center around force feeding our employees? It’s statements and commands, do this, do that, don’t do this, NEVER do that.

Stop the belief that being compliant and checking the box is enough. You already know a straight A student can easily be a terrible employee. So why should you believe “meeting” compliance is satisfactory?

There are plenty of fantastic training solutions, guides and effective tools in the workplace. They can all be successful and keep employees safe. The critical, root cause, for any of them failing though, is all the same: who has the spoon?

How often do you get frustrated and just take the spoon, feeding the toddler so it can be done? Do you really believe they’re learning in that situation? Or is the thought, “we’ll try again tomorrow” come to mind?

Do your employees get frustrated with you just fixing it and taking over?

When you enable employees to learn with support but they have the knowledge they can make mistakes, discuss them, and grow, you are providing the foundation for safety. They won’t hide near misses then or cover up an issue. Instead, it creates a relationship for your employees, coworkers and supervisors to grow together.

Take a moment, go and ask your most experienced workers, the ones you can always trust. Ask them if they just “figured it out” or if they had a mentor, someone who taught them the ropes and showed them the little things. I’ll promise they can give you specific names of the people who impacted them the most. And those little things? They separate a safe work day from a fatal one.

Effective training is a relationship between employees

When you are finally at that critical day and you hand over the spoon so they can feed themselves, do you honestly expect them to be perfect? Do you really believe no food will spill? Do you really believe yelling, screaming and punishing a toddler for spilling food will make them perform better?

After a long workday, if you notice an employee not working safely, would you immediately correct them? Is that the most effective solution? Have you ever considered flipping the script and instead, inviting a brief discussion with: Do you believe that task was safe? Which would you rather hear?

Take these few thoughts away for how you can impact the conversation of safety in your workplace:

  1. A statement closes the mind. A question opens it
  2. Small mistakes will happen, correct, but don’t punish
  3. Effective training is about a relationship
  4. Working safely is a daily effort and takes time
  5. Remember who has the spoon

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