Professional development

Supercharge your safety training

5 tips for keeping workers engaged

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Tell a story

Stories can be powerful, as Rollins can attest. He shares many of them during his presentations.

“Stories can touch people,” he said.

Rollins spent 25 years working in the steel industry. He still gets emotional when discussing his experiences, including a 2005 incident in which a co-worker was run over by a forklift, which led to five surgeries and six months of rehabilitation for the injured worker.

Another one of Rollins’ colleagues, Preston Taylor, who was a friend of the injured man, went home that September day and shared the news with his family.

Taylor’s then-17-year-old daughter, Rachel, wondered aloud why workers in the steel industry wore green every day. “Why don’t you wear orange like hunters do?” she asked her father. Word got back to Rollins about what Rachel said, and a change was made to orange work gear to enhance worker visibility and safety.

The impact of the teen’s words still humbles Rollins.

“I had a 17-year-old girl who never stepped foot in a steel mill tell me how to take care of her daddy better than I knew how,” he said. “I had to put ego and pride and stubbornness aside because Rachel Taylor was right.”

The impact of one relevant story to an audience is something Rollins believes can help safety pros make presentations more memorable.

“I know that would be more effective than you just telling them, ‘OSHA says …,’” he said.

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Think about the message you’re sending

One recent trend McMichael has noticed – on social media and at some training events – is the sharing of videos featuring workers being seriously injured on the job.

“It’s not good for the profession,” she said. “Presenters are looking for something awesome and impactful, and they think that’s it.”

Social media posts of these videos often are accompanied by comments such as, “Look at that idiot!” or “What were they thinking?” she said.

McMichael believes the reactions to those videos set a bad precedent.

“As a profession, we shouldn’t do it because we’re telling our people, ‘If you have an accident, we’re going to make fun of you on a video,’” she said. “We’re kind of discouraging reporting. We’re setting a standard that safety is no longer a moral imperative, it’s a source of fun.”

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Try and try again

Testing out new approaches to safety training used to rev up Dankert’s nerves.

“It is scary at first,” she said. “When I was working in a plant, I had an affinity for my third-shift maintenance group. Whenever I did something new, I tried it out on them.”

The group provided thoughtful critiques on many occasions.

“If I bombed, they weren’t going to make fun of me,” she said. “They were a safe haven. They would give me the feedback I needed to make it better.”

Presentations also can be practiced in front of a trusted colleague or family member. The goal is to get beneficial feedback for improvement.

“Look to the person who likes safety training the least and the one who likes it most and seek them out,” McMichael said. “Bring them in on the decision-making.”

Even if the feedback is personal – you’re speaking too fast or not making the content relevant to the audience, for example – it will improve future presentations, the experts say.

“It can be very challenging to receive feedback, but those are things you need to know,” McMichael said.

Overcome your speaking struggles

Many people have a fear of public speaking. For safety professionals who have to present to workers, these tips can help minimize that anxiety:

Know your stuff: Being confident in your material can provide a boost. “That’s no guarantee of your success, but it almost certainly can guarantee a lack of success,” McMichael said.

Join a committee: Presenting to like-minded individuals in a professional setting can help others see your strengths, said JoAnn Dankert, a senior safety consultant at the National Safety Council. “If you do a bang-up job, somebody’s going to see you have leadership capabilities,” she said.

Seek opportunities: Regina McMichael, president of The Learning Factory Inc. and author of “The Safety Training Ninja,” recommends looking for chances to speak publicly, such as volunteering to present at professional association meetings in your area.

Practice, practice, practice: Along with joining speaker groups such as Toastmasters International – a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills via a network of clubs – practice presenting in front of a mirror, to your pet or spouse, or before a small group of trusted colleagues. “You’d hope the more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it,” motivational safety speaker Ricky Rollins said.

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