Engaging a Training Audience
“What’s in it for me?” As a safety trainer, I get that question all the time. My students don’t express it verbally, but I can see it in their body language. They’ll look away, doodle on a nearby piece of paper, or sit there with their arms crossed staring me down. All signs pointing to them not wanting to be sitting here and listen to me tell them what they should or should not be doing. So I need to involve them. Hook ’em with a story.
I’m going to use a confined space example, but it could be used for behaviors, as well. I ask the students to imagine themselves working on a job-site. While they are working, they drop the most valuable tool they have with them. I usually ask the students, “What tool is this to you?”
Some students voice their opinions; mostly they say hammers or screwdrivers. These are not what I’m going after.
“No, you drop your roll of Duct Tape.” I throw this in for a little bit of humor and to make a point about it being common on a job-site. “But the Duct Tape doesn’t just fall straight down to the ground. No, it hits the floor and rolls away. It rolls all the way into a pit, opening, hole, an excavation.” The possibilities are endless here.
“Now you notice that this pit, opening… (whatever example I chose to go with) is only about 4 to 5 feet down. You think maybe I could jump in there and grab it. So should I do that?”
My students’ answer is always, “NO, don’t do it.”
At this time, I reiterate to the audience, “It’s only 4 to 5 feet down.”
They are still saying, “NO,” and shaking their heads.
I ask them, “Why? Why would you not go in after it?” I get the answers that make a safety professional smile. The students realize there are dangers in the opening, such as toxic gases or low oxygen. I even get the answer of unknown. You just don’t know what’s in there. Again, these are the things we want to hear.
“OK. You realize there could be bad stuff in the space, so you try to ‘fish’ the Duct Tape out. But you are not successful. You are getting frustrated, angry. You just want the Duct Tape back. You’re even on the verge of tears.” This is when I stop for a second and ask, “What do you think some workers would do in this example?”
A couple of students usually will say that some people would go in after it. Again, I prompt, “But why would they do that?” This often will open a brief discussion about complacency, not thinking, or even just trying to get the job done.
Finally, I ask, “Do you think this situation I described has ever really happened?” My audience collectively nods yes. “You are correct. Actually, the entire scenario I described is like the Valero confined space fatality in 2005.”
By the time I reveal this was a real event that happened to real people, my students are engaged. They are listening. I try to make the task or situation relatable to them. If they can picture themselves in this story, they can realize that bad events can happen to them.
The sources I use to reinforce safety through real stories are as follows: Chemical Safety Board (csb.gov), the Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Program (https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/face/default.html), or the Fatality Inspection Data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Website (OSHA.gov).
Marc White is a senior safety specialist for a nonprofit organization, Great Lakes Safety Training Center, located in Midland, MI. His main role is a health and safety trainer for the construction and general industry audience.