The U.S. National Safety Council observes National Safety Month in June, and for training professionals, the month brings to mind safety and health training. While many learning and development professionals are well-versed in instructional design, adult learning principles and evidence-based training methods, it’s often not the case for the people who design, develop and deliver safety training at many American workplaces. Frequently, a safety manager, safety professional or someone on the safety committee is put in charge of safety training, and he or she often must lead safety training without the benefit of understanding of how people learn and develop skills, and how to create training to match their learning needs.

For safety professionals without a great deal of experience in training, it’s worth highlighting some important adult learning principles. The list below is based on the list put forth by educator Malcolm Knowles, who believed that adult learners:

  • Are self-directed
  • Bring a lifetime of knowledge and experience to training
  • Are goal-oriented
  • Want training that’s relevant and task-oriented
  • Learn when they are motivated
  • Want to feel respected

Designing and delivering safety training with these adult learning principles in mind will help the safety professional who’s new to training.

To be an effective safety professional, it’s also important to be aware of, and use, the emerging technologies that are transforming safety training, including mobile computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, virtual reality, and augmented reality.

Mobile computing and mobile devices, ever-present in our society, are increasingly used in safety training. One benefit of delivering safety training to workers’ mobile devices is that it allows learners to complete training on their own schedule. Additionally, mobile safety training also makes it easier to deliver short “bursts” of training throughout the year in a microlearning format, which helps workers develop skills and remember what they learn. Another benefit is that mobile devices allow you to focus on sending critical safety information to workers in the form of performance support, at the moment they need the information on the job.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and, in particular, the subset of AI known as machine learning, is making it easier to create adaptive learning and to make training recommendations that fit the safety needs and interests of learners. For example, an AI-powered learning management system could automatically assign safety training to employees based on whether they have had a workplace safety incident or even based on data collected by a safety wearable. You can also use AI to power chatbots that can quickly and accurately answer safety questions from employees (e.g., “What’s the proper lockout procedure for the drill press?”).

Augmented reality (AR) is created by superimposing computer-generated or virtual elements on the real world and is often experienced as the learner looks at his or her surroundings using a mobile device. AR can be a great way to provide safety training orientations to new hires or to point out safety issues in a work area during hazard identification training.

Virtual reality (VR), on the other hand, is entirely immersive and is experienced using a headset or goggles. In training, you can use VR in many applications, including practicing skills that can be dangerous (or costly) to practice in real life. For example, safety professionals can use VR training to teach ladder safety or smoke reading for fire departments. In each case, the VR training allows workers to practice important skills in a risk-free environment multiple times (and therefore advance to competence and mastery more quickly).

Delivering more effective safety training by following basic training methodologies, incorporating adult learning principles and understanding emerging technologies will go a long way to help safety professionals improve safety at the workplace. These strategies will lead to greater employee engagement during safety training, lower incident rates, a better safety culture, and an improved ROI on your safety and safety training efforts.