Ensure Safety First

Online safety training— provided in an employee’s native language and with localized content— is key to creating a successful safety culture in a global organization.

Domestic and global online training is a growing opportunity in the learning industry. A recent survey by Frost & Sullivan found that more than 52 percent of training leaders are placing “much more” emphasis on developing training with a global audience in mind than they did three years ago (Corporate Strategy Priorities: 2014 Global Survey Results, http://www.frost.com/sublib/display-market-insight.do?id=290197329). In particular, online safety training—provided in an employee’s native language and with localized content—is vital to creating a safety culture in a global organization.

Consistent training across multiple locations within a country and across several nations is difficult to accomplish through classroom instruction. Classroom instruction often varies by location and by instructor, and many developing countries lack enough qualified safety professionals to train employees. Knowledge retention and application also differs among learners based on their ability or desire to actively participate in training.

Individual training requirements contribute to the complexity of delivering a standard curriculum, as well. For example, new employees, who tend to have higher incident rates than their more experienced colleagues, may need to complete additional training hours.

That’s where e-learning comes in. Online safety training can ensure that workers receive consistent, high-quality instruction in about half the time it typically takes to deliver it through the classroom. It encourages employee engagement and retention, and establishes the foundation for a strong safety culture.

In emerging markets, such as China and Brazil, companies may not have basic safety programs in place, or local employees might lack experience with a health- and safety-focused culture. Online safety courses can allow these companies to implement a foundational safety program and improve their safety practices quickly and efficiently.

However, misinterpretation can lead to lower productivity, lost revenue, and, more seriously, to injury and loss of life. This is especially true in high-risk sectors such as manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, and construction. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that language barriers are a contributing factor in 25 percent of job-related accidents. Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that fatal injury rates were 69 percent higher for foreign-born Hispanic workers than for native-born Hispanic workers who tend to have a better grasp of English.

Offering safety training in learners’ native language can minimize misinterpretation and reduce the double learning curve effect, where employees have to translate content before they begin to comprehend a subject. Native language training allows learners to give their complete attention to the content, focusing on the subject matter rather than on trying to translate and interpret the material.

That said, translating training into the employee’s native language may not be enough. To reduce misunderstanding, customization should go beyond the choice of words used in a translation. Other tips:

  • Images, currencies, regulations, and regional customs should be reviewed with consideration given to the local norms.
  • Providing the company’s operating policies, processes, and guidelines can increase retention and reduce the time needed to transfer learning back to the job.
  • When available, in-country experts can ensure the learning is targeted to the audience.
  • When it comes to language, audience, and culture, what works for some companies may not work for others. While most safety courses focus on basic safety principles that hold true across countries, regulations and governing standards may vary by region. Companies should consider supplementing training with content that supports local regulations.

An investment in consistent, repeatable, and targeted online safety training produces safer employees and provides organizations with a return on higher productivity, lower costs, improved competitiveness, higher profits, and economic growth.

Teri Hale is operations manager of Professional Learning Services at UL Workplace Health & Safety.