Workers at MCAA member W.L. Gary Company Inc. (Washington) receive training on fall prevention and protection from consultant David Madaras of Early, Cassidy & Schilling Inc. (Rockville, Md.).
Let's face it: occupational safety topics tend to be dull. It's no wonder so many workers are turned off by the thought of having to suffer through a safety training session. When workers who feel this way show up for training, their disinterested attitudes make the trainer's job extremely difficult. And, if the trainer's initial training session isn't pretty interesting, achieving effective learning at subsequent training sessions will be close to impossible.

Just as an example, consider a trainer who is a walking encyclopedia on the subject of construction safety. The good news is he breathes, eats, drinks, and sleeps safety every day. However, the bad news is he is a terrible trainer. In this example, it should be no surprise that people who had previously received training from him grew to dread his training sessions, and he quickly acquired a reputation for being a painfully boring presenter. As a result, little to no learning took place at his training sessions.

Not a good scenario.

There are several ways to make even the dullest of topics somewhat interesting. Your reward for doing so is when workers approach you after the session to tell you how much they were dreading it, but that it turned out to be interesting and informative, and that the time went by very quickly. You can achieve this type of result by using some of the following strategies.

Be Prepared

Preparation is the hardest part of good training, but it's one that pays dividends in the end. I once witnessed a trainer conducting a session on "How to Administer Effective Safety Training." He was so unprepared that he had to face away from the audience to read his presentation - word-for-word - off the projector screen. That training session was terribly ineffective, but not unusual.

Even the most knowledgeable and experienced trainers are unsuccessful when they don't take the time to prepare properly.

Preparation takes time, but once you are prepared to train on a given topic, it will be much easier to prepare to teach the same topic in the future, and will require only a fraction of the preparation time. If you're already an expert on the topic, you won't require as much preparation time as someone who is unfamiliar with the topic and needs to research it thoroughly.

Make A Good First Impression

Appear comfortable from the moment you greet the trainees until you leave them at the conclusion of the training session. Even experienced trainers get nervous before they start a training session, but they try to appear to the trainees to be comfortable from the start. Doing so is critical.

If trainees see a nervous trainer, it will make them uncomfortable. Some of them will disengage immediately.

If you aren't comfortable when you start a training session, fake it as best you can. If you're properly prepared, your confidence will build as the session goes on.

Use Appropriate Delivery Methods

There are numerous methods for delivering safety training. It's important to remember that the methods of delivery you choose and making the subjects interesting often go hand in hand. The key to successful training is to figure out how to make it fun. Many trainers successfully use humor to get their points across. Others use stories or competitions.

Experience will help you learn what works best for you with your personality and the specified topic. You obviously wouldn't use humor when describing a recent jobsite fatality, but humor often works when describing an incident that didn't result in injury.

I once saw a safety guy get after several workers who had taken off their hardhats in a mechanical room. He took off his own hardhat to use as a prop while reiterating its purpose. Before putting his own hardhat back on, he turned to leave and whacked his head on a low-hanging pipe. Even the safety guy with the aching head had to laugh out loud.

Make The Training Session Engaging

If you want your training to be effective, you have to find ways to make it fun, interesting, and therefore engaging. A group of workers I was preparing to train had previously endured a number of lackluster safety training sessions. I had to capture their attention immediately if I was going to achieve the expected training results.

My topic was excavation safety. I thought hard about how to engage the workers early on in the training session. Fortunately, a colleague had a short videotape of a mechanical construction worker being extricated from a caved-in excavation. I showed the video at the outset of the training session and the impact was invaluable.

When that video was playing, you could have heard a pin drop and I had the undivided attention of that group for the remainder of the training session. It's often the little things that make the difference between an effective and an ineffective training session.

Cover Critical Safety Training Topics

There are two key reasons to conduct safety training. The first is to ensure that your company is in compliance with local, state, and federal laws, codes, standards, etc. The second, and most important, reason is to help your workers protect themselves from jobsite hazards. Although there are safety benefits to some of the compliance requirements, those requirements and what's really hurting mechanical construction and service workers is not always the same thing. However, both are loss control issues.

By complying with established training requirements, you are helping to control your dollar losses by avoiding regulatory fines. By training your workers to protect themselves from jobsite hazards, you're helping to keep your workers' compensation insurance premiums to a minimum and avoiding numerous out-of-pocket costs that relate to worker injuries.

Document The Training

Regardless of the topic you select, it's important to carefully document the safety training for a number of reasons. You want to have proof that your employees have received this training in order to avoid regulatory citations and fines from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). These records will also help you in the event you are involved in a civil or criminal lawsuit because of a worker injury, and they'll help you keep track of who has had what safety training.

Before you start a safety training session, prepare a training documentation sheet that includes the date the training will take place, a brief description of the training that will be conducted, and space for workers to sign their names immediately after the training is concluded.

Chaney has been an occupational safety and health professional for close to 20 years, 15 of which have been in the construction industry. Over the years he has provided safety and health training for hundreds of workers, supervisors, and managers. He earned a Master of Science in Safety Management from West Virginia University and is a Certified Safety Professional. Chaney can be reached at 301-869-5800 or

Sidebar: One Safety Training Resource

To find out more regarding safety training, one recommendation is turning to the Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA) for guidance.

The association has a strong resource titled MCAA Safety Training Guide: Effective Techniques for Engaging Safety Training. This guide includes detailed information about each safety concern, along with appendices listing Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) training requirements, MCAA safety publications that may be useful in your training program, and OSHA state plans (those states that have OSHA-approved safety and health programs in addition to federal OSHA requirements.)

The guide is available by calling MCAA Publications at 301-990-2200 or via MCAA's online bookstore at

- Peter Chaney

Publication date: 06/21/2004