Best Safety Training Ideas: Training a top priority, whether in the classroom or in the field

Safety professionals find on-site, hands-on instruction reinforces lessons, develops mindset, especially for new employees

Reprinted from Grain Journal September/October 2017 Issue

Aaron Guggisberg | Safety and Environmental Director | Farmward Cooperative | Morgan, MN

“Some of the ways we implement safety training for our employees are first, we cover our written safety program in our training. We want to make sure that each employee understands what’s expected while on the job.

“Second is safety orientation training. Every employee has a safety training program specifically designed for their job. This training session is designed to provide safe work techniques and show what could happen when safety protocol is bypassed.

“Finally, we give them on-site, hands-on training. After the classroom portion of training has been completed, each employee gets hands-on, job-specific training with either their manager or veteran employee in that department. New hires receive this training prior to starting the job, quarterly for specific areas, and an annual review.

“We like our employees to have an idea of what hazards they might face and how to do their job safely, before they get on the work floor. Having a good understanding of safety procedures and job hazards provides a safe transition to their job. It also can reduce any anxiety they might have, because they have a better understanding of their job and its hazards.

“It’s sad that the grain industry gets such a bad rap due to the general public’s view that the industry is dangerous for workers. If you take the time to train employees in safe work practices, grain handling positions have very low work injury rates and an almost nonexistent serious injury rate. When employers and employees cut corners on safety, that’s when you can see devastating injuries.”

Trevor Keating | Safety Director | Prairie Ag Partners | Lake Preston, SD

“When it comes to safety training, both classroom and hands-on training are equally important. Our company takes safety to a level that most of our new employees have never experienced. For that reason, classroom training is needed, so the employees have some education on what steps to take when they encounter certain situations.

“However, an employee can only learn so much in a classroom. We extend the training to hands-on experience and let the employees take the lead. Guidance is given, if needed. Communication is encouraged between the employees and the trainer. This helps with the little questions that may not get brought up in a classroom setting. Employees seem to retain information better, when they do hands-on training.

“When I am at a location, I walk around and talk with the employees, or if I see that they are doing a big project, I check on them. While I am doing this, I make sure to join in on the work, whether it is dumping trucks or putting on a harness to help them clean out a confined space. Working side-by-side with the employees also gives me a chance to see how they perform on the job and help sharpen their safety skills.

“Working with employees also gives me a chance to talk safety with them in an informal setting. Sometimes it is in a group, and sometimes it is one-on-one. This interactive training works very well. Training does not always have to include tests. It’s also asking questions and having open-ended discussion. This gets employees more involved and interested in safety.

“Both types of training create a form of bonding. Most employees that respect their supervisor will work to meet the supervisor’s expectations, creating a better workforce. I try to use these training methods several times a month at different locations. This keeps me in touch with facility layouts, managers, employees, and safety behavior.”

Mark Trollope | Safety Coordinator | Farmers Coop Elevator Co. | Cheney, KS

“The main training tool we put into practice would be a location-specific training once a month, usually done early in the morning and informally. Informal training helps, because the employees don’t feel like they’re having to attend a safety training. We just sit and talk about different safety topics. It’s been as successful as anything.

“We’ll find a meeting room and bring breakfast, and we hash out whatever issue we decide to cover that month. Being informal, they will tend to ask me particular questions about what’s going on. I get more interaction that way, too.”

Nelle Newman | Safety and Compliance Manager | Frontier Ag Inc. | Goodland KS/Oakley, KS

“A twice-monthly training regimen has been implemented since I began with Frontier Ag. It’s a little early to tell, but it seems to have a direct effect on our incident reporting. Before I came to work for Frontier Ag, there were monthly trainings that weren’t really tracked and monitored as closely as they are now. So I would say twice-a-month training meetings is the biggest and most effective thing we’ve done in the last year.

We are now working with DEKRA Insight RCI. It’s basically a storage unit for all things safety, preventive maintenance, driver files, pretty much everything. That’s been a huge help for us, when it comes to safety and compliance.

“We send out the training through RCI, and each location is responsible for conducting that training. We provide an outline or agenda including everything that needs to be covered, and how it can be covered. There are quizzes or videos depending on the topic.”

R. Brooks Benson | Safety and Compliance Director | Central Prairie Co-op | Sterling, KS

“We’ve made a couple of tweaks to our training dynamic over the last three years. There are many grain-related trainings that are yearly (pre-harvest), and we are required to cover the same topics each year.

“It can be difficult to keep the attention of the seasoned employees year after year. I’ve gotten rid of many of the pictures in my PowerPoints and scaled down the number of words my employees see on many of my slides. I do have notes at the bottom of the slides, so that OSHA knows what we talk about, but I mostly have one-word bullet points to help foster discussion.

“Sometimes during a training, I’ll sit at a random spot at the table like one of the guys rather than at the front of the room preaching. Our most effective trainings happen when I facilitate discussion rather than just going through the motions up front. This really changes the dynamic in the room to foster discussion and to give the team members a sense that this is their personal training.

“I don’t mind if people are quiet. Many times I’ll allow for some awkward silence, until discussion picks up. A lot of times, I’ll start a training calling on the more assertive employees to share ideas as a way to help others gain confidence to share thoughts. Many of our new employees haven’t experienced trainings where they’re expected to participate, so they’re not sure how to speak up. After they hear an employee or two speak up, they see how it’s done and begin to feel more comfortable sharing thoughts and ideas.

“About three years ago, I started involving some of our more experienced employees in the PowerPoint presentations. About six to eight weeks before a scheduled training, I send out a section of slides, usually five to 10, covering a certain topic to certain employees. One set of slides might be on dumping trucks. Another is on personal protective equipment (PPE).

“I’ll ask them to personalize the slides to the way they want to teach the subject and how it applies to their facility. I have them send their slides to me periodically before the training, so I can make sure the material covers the standard. This has been huge for our safety culture. Some guys are nervous at first but step up, while others can’t wait to have their moment. When my guys are teaching one another peer-to-peer is when the magic happens.

“I also try to personalize safety. I remind guys that there are people – friends and family in their lives – who count on them to be healthy and not get injured, to come home every day. We talk a lot about connecting safety to being your brother’s keeper. We are not only agents of our own safety, but we work as a team to help keep others safe.

“When I’m talking about bin entry or confined spaces, I try to create a sense of respect and gravity toward these subjects, so they know when we’re talking about serious potential hazards.

“I like non-classroom training more than classroom training, but we do both. Not every out-of-the-box idea we’ve tried bears fruit. But what I’ve shared are some of the more effective ideas that have significantly impacted and improved the way Central Prairie employees look at our safety program, training sessions, and safety culture.”

Doug Green | Safety Liaison | Ursa Farmers Cooperative Co. | Ursa, IL

“Hands down, hands-on safety training is the most effective method we use. A lot of times, we don’t get it done, because we’re pressed for time, and our locations are spread out, so we use our RCI safety program for the rest of our training. We do training at least monthly, sometimes twice a month.”

Jeff Cole | Safety Director | Farmers Coop Elevator Co. | Hemingford, NE

“Most of it is hands-on training. We do use a few videos now and again. But we do a combination of training in the field and the classroom.

“We also hold monthly safety meetings, so whenever there are different topics that need to be covered on an annual basis, we do those, and we try to spread it out through the year, as renewals change. We’ll cover topics like confined spaces and lockout/tagout periodically throughout the year. We cover all of the OSHA-required stuff, plus we do other issues such as lifting. Also, there are Department of Transportation concerns that we cover periodically.

“I’ve even used bad videos and then asked the guys about how many wrong things they spotted. I get good discussions with that. Every once in a while, you get photographs of things that people are doing wrong, and I put up those and explain that these are other things you shouldn’t be doing. Then I ask the guys how many things they are doing wrong and why and how.”

Diana McCartney | Safety Coordinator | MFA Inc. | Columbia, MO

“We have monthly online training. It seems to be working pretty well for us right now. It covers all of the OSHA-required topics. We spread out the topics over a year. We do hands-on training, too. Any time there’s anything site-specific like lockout/tagout, we cover that. Definitely hands-on training has been the most effective. We have a behavior-based safety process that works really well for us.”