Effective safety training requires a safety culture and alignment with business goals. In this episode of The Business of Learning, safety training experts Bridgette Wilder (City of Memphis) and Fred Stawitz share their tips on:

  • Making safety training engaging.
  • The role of training in risk management and mitigation.
  • Emerging technologies such as VR/AR and artificial intelligence.

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Below is a full transcript of this episode.

Voiceover: Welcome to The Business of Learning, the Learning Leaders’ Podcast from TrainingIndustry.

Scott Rutherford: Hi, and welcome to The Business of Learning podcast. I’m Scott Rutherford here at Training Industry, with my co-host, Taryn Oesch, the managing editor of TrainingIndustry.com.

Taryn Oesch: Hi! Recently, Training Industry’s research team released a series of reports that explored the critical importance of learning and development in helping companies manage risk. Today on the podcast, we’re discussing risk management through safety training, how to make it more engaging, and how it can support the role of learning and development as critical to the business.

Scott Rutherford: And we should mention this episode of The Business of Learning is sponsored by the Certified Professional and Training Management Program.

Voiceover: Hi. I’m Brandi, and I’m the learning program administrator for the Certified Professional and Training Management Program. The CPTM program was designed to convey the essential competencies you need to manage a training organization. And when you become a CPTM, you gain access to alumni resources, like monthly peer roundtables and a full registration to the Training Industry Conference and Expo. If you start today, you can earn the CPTM credential in as little as two months. To learn more, visit CPTM.TrainingIndustry.com.

Taryn Oesch: Today on the podcast, we’re talking about safety training with our guests: Bridgette Wilder, the equity, diversity, inclusion and safety officer for the city of Memphis, and Fred Stawitz, who works in regulatory compliance for Kinder Morgan Inc. Bridgette, Fred, welcome.

Bridgette Wilder: Thank you. Appreciate being here.

Taryn Oesch: All right, Bridgette, can you start just by introducing yourself to us and telling us a little bit about your work?

Bridgette Wilder: Well , as you mentioned, my title is equity, diversity, inclusion and safety. And I work with the city of Memphis. We have close to 8,000 employees, and part of what my area does is that we educate our employees about the importance of workplace safety and that safety is the responsibility of all of us, and not just the human resources area. And we focus on, as well, making safety about our culture and who we are, so that safety’s not thought of as a program or initiative, but, again, rather as who we are as an organization, wanting to provide a safe, risk-free environment for our employees.

Taryn Oesch: All right, and Fred, what about you? What do you do at Kinder Morgan?

Fred Stawitz: Well actually, at Kinder Morgan, I work in regulatory compliance, and I’m not a representative of Kinder Morgan for purposes here. I write, research on the factors that impact in the workplace environment on safety, productivity, customer service and particularly sustainable profitability. I’ve worked in aerospace and energy industries, and my background is in setting up technical training programs. I also operate a small publishing house that brings to light voices that are of benefit to the world.

Scott Rutherford: Well, great, we’re glad to have you here on this episode. Let’s, maybe, if I can start off by setting a little bit of a broad framework, which is to say that safety training and compliance training are sometimes grouped together. Maybe, let’s talk about how they’re different. I mean, do you think about compliance training and safety training as two parts of the same whole, or should we really think of them separately?

Fred Stawitz: I’ll start out. I think of compliance training as pretty much the baseline of, there’s a mandate to do either training or evaluate employees on a particular process or skill or a particular performance that you want out of the workforce that the regulatory agency is mandating. And so, I see that as, you need to meet that mandate pretty much. That mandate may be on or off target for actually providing a more safe environment or not.

Often it is on target, but sometimes, not so much. Safety training, then, there’s safety training in terms of regulatory mandates also, but if you’re talking about safety training in terms of how to provide a safer work environment for employees, how to ensure that bad things don’t happen in that environment, than that’s more up to the company to provide a higher standard of delivering competencies.

Scott Rutherford: Thanks, Fred. And Bridgette, you spoke a little bit about building a safety culture.

Bridgette Wilder: Right.

Scott Rutherford: How does that work when you’re doing the, maybe, the “must-do” of compliance training with, maybe, there’s a mixture of what you have to do, as Fred was just saying, and maybe what you’d want to do proactively. How do you bring those two together into a culture of an organization?

Bridgette Wilder: Well, we view them as being co-joined. The, again, the compliance, as said before, is regulatory-driven, it’s the baseline standard. The safety training is really a communication on making aware your employee base about what that standard is, so that they can operate and behave in a way that creates that safety in the work environment. And I think that when you inculcate it into your culture, is, that you have to walk the talk every day, and ensure that each level of the organization understands that there is a role that each of us play in ensuring that the work environment is safe.

Because our goal is that we want to create a positive health and safety culture where it becomes second-nature. So, I think if you’re talking about it all the time, not just from a compliance perspective, but that we’re wanting to do this to show that as an employer, we care about you, and we want you to be safe in the work environmental, but it’s a partnership, and that’s how it becomes part of the culture.

Taryn Oesch: Okay so, drilling down a little bit more, what do the safety training programs cover at your organizations?

Fred Stawitz: Speaking generally in oil and gas, they usually cover the regulatory mandates of a spectrum from DOT to OSHA to environmental issues.

Bridgette Wilder: Right, and for the city of Memphis, because we are a city government, our employee base ranges from public safety employees, which is inclusive of police, fire, police dispatchers, office administration [and] people that work out among the public doing maintenance and general services, those type of things. So, our safety training has to cover a broad base, anything from confined space, emergency action plans, slip and falls. Because we touch so many different areas that have risk to it, it just requires us to have a diverse training beyond the required things that we have to do for regulatory compliance.

Scott Rutherford: Okay. So I , and I want to maybe address sort of the elephant of the room here, when we’re talking training for safety purposes and for compliance purposes, there is a, I will safely say it’s an overgeneralization, but very often, we’ll hear complaints that pertain to mandatory training for employees, particularly about safety training, that it’s boring and that there’s resistance to it. And those are obviously problems, because from the perspective of the training organization, you have learner resistance, which can lead to lower engagement and, ultimately, a less effective program. So, I’d like, maybe, to get your thoughts about the challenges of making compliance and safety training engaging. How do you make that, how do you address that challenge in your organizations? And Bridgette, why don’t I throw that to you first?

Bridgette Wilder: Well, that is certainly true, whether it’s compliance or anything that’s related to your human resources aspect. You do get that feedback that, “Oh, I got to go to that? That’s going to be kind of boring to me.” But what we have found throughout our trainings, that people learn more effectively if they’re able to engage and be interactive in the training, because they learn better from doing versus just watching us facilitate. So, we provide opportunities for them to interact with us through roundtable discussions, peer-on-peer teachings, we have quarterly meetings where they can bring their topics of concern to  us, and we come up with solutions. We also do one-on-ones.

So, we try to offer a variety of ways for them to get the necessary training, but also for us to comply with the regulations and the laws, because there are so many fines associated with not being in compliance. But at the same time, you don’t want people do feel like they’re memorizing something. You want it to be inculcated into their daily behavior. And so, by having them do the engagement of interactive participation, that certainly helps.

Fred Stawitz: And those are great techniques and suggestions. One of, kind of at a bottom line, if you can connect the employee with their motivation, the, “I don’t want to be here,” is that they’re not seeing a direct connection with what they’re going to learn in that class, if anything, with the job or their needs. And if you can make that connection, then you can tap into their motivation, and then that’s what makes learning very effective — is if the learners themselves are motivated to acquire the knowledge and competencies.

Scott Rutherford: Is it easier to make that connection when you’re in sort of a high-consequence environment? I mean, obviously, I think, Fred, you’re talking in the oil and gas industry, if there’s a, I’m going to wager to say, everyone’s acutely aware of what issues can be caused by non-compliance. And Bridgette, I also, you’re representing a government entity, and there’s certainly potential high-consequence interactions between your team and the public. So, is that a motivator? Sort of the fear factor of what happens if things go wrong?

Fred Stawitz: I think that’s kind of a small motivator. That probably isn’t nearly as effective as what Bridgette was talking about, with engaging with the individuals and seeing what their questions are and kind of making it personal for their experience.

Bridgette Wilder: And I firmly agree with that, because, as I mentioned, we have public safety-related roles, such as fire and police and police dispatchers. When you go into that type of field, you have a certain level of expectation that there’s risk, and I think that you ought to have a certain level of fear to even do that type of work. But at the same time, learn the techniques to stay as safe as you can, because your goal is to be able to serve the public and to do the best that you can, but also to remain healthy and safe while you’re doing it. So, I think that’s an influencer, but their motivation is to be able to stay healthy to be able to serve the public and to be there for their families.

Fred Stawitz: Something that’s a little bit relative to that, is what some organizations are starting to do is assign employees in terms of their traits. In a high-risk environment, you’d want an employee that has a tendency towards not taking risks, and if you can match those things up, then you’re more able to also match up their motivation for warning in that arena.

Bridgette Wilder: Right.

Taryn Oesch: How do your programs engage with your customers or your clients?

Bridgette Wilder: Well, with us being city government, the public are our customers. And so, by us being able to do our jobs and have environments where they are very cognizant of the hazards in the environment and how they go about doing their job, is going to impact not only their internal employees and peers, but it’s going to impact the public. So, for example, we have a water treatment plant. Going back to the police dispatchers, when they get that emergency call, they have to be able to remain calm and to be able to maintain their own stress levels to deal with unexpected reactionary things without being reactionary themselves.

So, we’re constantly engaging with the public, given that we are city government. And so, the employees that we have in each of our roles, we want them to understand the impact that they have, not only on the external customer but on internal customers as well. Because we have to be cognizant at all times to be as safe as we possibly can.

Scott Rutherford: So, how do you look at, and, Bridgette and Fred, I guess this, you can both respond from your perspectives, but how do you look at training that, in general terms here, is intended to mitigate risk, and how do you measure success? I mean, is that something that you have to have cooperation from other parts of the organization, say office of corporate council, legal council, operations or other maybe civic departments, in the case of you, Bridgette?

Bridgette Wilder: Well, we measure success based on two categories, one being proactive measures, where we try to determine safety performance prior to a loss or potential event. So, we’re always trying to do a safety audit, and then meeting with leadership to identify what we identify as potential hazards that need corrective measures. And then, we have reactive measures that determine performance based upon loss events, so that we can look at both of those types of measures, whether they be proactive or reactive, and determine what can we do in terms of forecasting and implementing initiatives to minimize or eliminate that risk.

So, with that in mind, sometimes those measures that we’re wanting to implement are going to cost money. Sometimes, those measures are going to mean change management across the organization. So, it’s really critical that we do have the support of leadership as well as employees, and as well as our customers that we’re serving, to be able to make that happen. Because change, as we all know, is not easily grasped or accepted. But when you’re talking about risk management, it goes from a, “I hope” to, “Do,” to a, “Must Do,” so you need support to make that happen.

Scott Rutherford: And, Fred, what’s been your experience in terms of engaging other stakeholders in the organization in helping to measure the effectiveness of compliance training?

Fred Stawitz: One of the biggest challenges in terms of training in general is kind of a knee-jerk reaction from upper management that training solves all issues — that if there’s an issue, OK, put together a class, train some people, and that’s going to solve the issue. And I would separate the training from the issue, in the manner of, training provides people with competencies. And if you provide them with the proper competencies, then you can guide their behavior to correct an issue in the workplace. If you do training, you’ve got to make sure that what you’re providing them are the competencies that will correct that problem.

You could theoretically provide a training class that provides a certain set of competencies that have nothing to do, or have little to do, or won’t impact, what the actual problem is. So one of the, a discussion I have quite frequently in past organizations is in terms of, “That’s not going to solve your problem. That’s a management issue, it’s an authority worker management type of situation, and let’s think in this other direction. Putting a training program, putting a training class together to address that won’t have the impact that you think it will.”

Bridgette Wilder: Right. And I think on top of that, you have to start with communicating with leaders where they are. And many times, with leadership, even though they know safety is important, you have to speak about safety and compliance from a business priority perspective — so, being able to tie in what they are trying to achieve from a business priority and tying that into the impact, that if we don’t have safety measures in place, and not just training once a year, but constantly looking at it like we do any type of business value proposition, then we’re not going to be able to achieve those business priorities.

So, I think changing the mindset by meeting leadership where they are is going to greatly move away the concept of “Set it and forget it,” once-a-year training, to making it be a priority and tying it, to being impactful of the organization being able to achieve goals.

Fred Stawitz: And that means the training professionals need to be a strategic partner with the management group, and have an understanding of where they want to drive the organization and using training as a change tool to help move it in that direction.

Scott Rutherford: Yeah. That’s so often a theme that we talk about here, the whole notion of strategic alignment and the importance of making sure that you’re having a conversation at the strategic level first before you then move into tactics of training programs. So that’s, I think that that observation is a common pain point for sure, across all learning and development.

Taryn Oesch: Yeah. Safety training, by its nature, has a lot of changes that have to happen to it due to changes in laws and regulations, so how do you keep your training content up to date with those regulatory changes?

Fred Stawitz: One mechanism is to tie the content of your training to both a subject matter expert and to your policies and procedures. So when those change, then that will flag and drive a change and update in the training content.

Bridgette Wilder: The other thing I think is important to do, on top of the policy and the training being linked, if you have the bandwidth and the necessary staff, assign different individuals to identify and keep up with those changes, because as you said, the regulatory changes are constantly changing, so you have to have more than a single source of knowledge to be able to keep track, as well as to be able to implement the necessary compliance.

So, in addition to assigning someone to handle different areas and to stay abreast and update those policies and so forth, there are some free tools that you can utilize — for example, going onto the OSHA website. The Department of Labor has an OSHA newsletter called OSHA Quick Takes that gives you a high level overview of what’s going on within the OSHA environment for various industries and how they are applying OSHA regulatory standards. It also gives you the legal perspective of, when organizations don’t comply, the penalties that they face.

Keeping in touch with your network organization, such as National Safety Council, they’re, if you are a member, they’ll provide you information about different compliance and regulatory issues. So there are a variety of things that you can do to stay abreast of what’s going on in the regulatory area.

Fred Stawitz: And if you package the training in a more modular fashion, even though you may deliver several modules at one time, but if you package it that way, it’s easier to do the updates.

Bridgette Wilder: Right.

Scott Rutherford: Very good tips. And we’ll try to put a link to the OSHA Quick Takes resource in the show notes for this episode of the podcast so people can find that more easily. But speaking about, sort of, keeping up with what’s new, [I] wanted to get your thoughts on how emerging technologies are affecting safety training. I’ve certainly seen the emergence of augmented reality as being, a tool being used in training programs, and wondered if you could share some thoughts on the potential for tools like virtual reality, augmented reality or even artificial intelligence, as it pertains to safety and compliance?

Fred Stawitz: Well, in terms of the digital technologies, first of all, implementing them into the workplace is somewhat disruptive. And so, if you don’t have a well-tuned training effort in place to elevate the skills of the workers that are intended to utilize those technologies, then there’s, they’re going to cause more of a disruption than would be necessary if you had the training effort on top of that. In terms of utilizing them as tools for training, the VR is particularly, the virtual reality is particularly interesting in terms of recreating a entire workspace and letting the individual operate within that workplace, learn where things are, learn how to operate different equipment and stuff, some of the fine=tuning of the tech and operating equipment is still in flux in that arena.

But the virtual reality is going to, is altering the way that certain training is done and making that training more realistic in terms of the connection to the job. And then, the augmented reality is an interesting factor in terms of actual operations in that it’s, uses the goggles with the kind of heads-up display type of thing that you might have seen on an aircraft. It allows communication of the individual with the environment and flagging of hazardous spaces before they move into those hazardous spaces, information about the equipment, if they need that, simply by looking at the equipment, sometimes.

And there’s different ways of doing that with a digital double and/or tagging the equipment, but it’s, the whole set of digital technologies is altering, to a large degree, the way business is done and the way training has to operate to keep pace.

Scott Rutherford: Yeah. Bridgette, I would imagine there would potential applications in the government setting as well. We talked about just taking the public safety staff example, where you can use those tools to expose first responders to sort of high-stakes scenarios in a simulation or an immersive simulation before they have to encounter it in the real world.

Bridgette Wilder: Right. And that’s a true benefit for environments and entities such as us, because as you just said, it allows you to take a high-risk environment, create it in a safe environment, but yet also, at the same time, allows them to have learning transfer, so that they know in advance how they’re going to react in a situation. So, it allows them to react within a safe environment, while at the same time transferring it to real-life scenarios that they could encounter in doing their work. And so, that’s a true benefit when you’re looking at trying to teach employees about hazard identification, safety procedures, or emergency situations. Having that virtual reality allows them to know how to react when they actually encounter it.

One thing I like to always remind organizations that are thinking about utilizing AI or virtual reality, that they can’t forget the importance of HI — meaning human intelligence. AI is going to provide you great tools, but it’s not going to replace the importance of the human factor in making analysis and making decisions. I kind of think of AI and virtual reality as sort of like the bionic man. Technology made Steve Austin be better than he was before, and it gave him tools that allowed him to take what he could’ve done in the past to a higher level. But the important thing about it, it didn’t take away his humanity. So we need artificial intelligence and virtual reality, but we have to balance that with the human factor.

Fred Stawitz: And we’re quite a ways off before artificial intelligence is going to actually compete with human intelligence. Where it is now is that artificial intelligence operates very well within a very confined topic area. So if it’s, say, monitoring the temperature in a building, then it can home in on that and it can just determine trends and drafts and all the kind of different things going on with the temperature and the flow of air. But it doesn’t cross boundaries very well. And that’s what humans do. Humans can monitor the temperature, they can operate equipment at the same time, they can carry out a conversation on the phone, they can multitask. And the artificial intelligence won’t get there for another few decades.

Taryn Oesch: What about the virtual and augmented reality, is that something that you’re using, is that something that you think is kind of still in the early stages, where do you think we are with that?

Fred Stawitz: In established industries and in western countries, the, it’s starting to make encroachments into large industry. But it’s kind of in somewhat predictable areas with the goggles, particularly the artificial reality goggles where you actually see through the goggle, but you have information that’s presented up on the screen, like would appear on your glasses, that’s probably the first technology that’s really going to make a difference as far as employees notice. The artificial intelligence is making inroads, but that’s kind of behind the scenes and in the, managing the big data sets that companies are gathering and looking at finding increased understanding of what that data can tell us.

Taryn Oesch: And, Bridgette, what about in the government sector? Do you think, are virtual reality and augmented reality, are these things happening much yet, or do you think that’s still a ways away?

Bridgette Wilder: I think that it’s something that’s being considered now, because within government entities, and particularly with city government, the finding aspect of it can always be a challenge. But we also know in order to attract the talent and retain the talent that we need, we’re going to have to move towards things such as artificial intelligence, data analytics, and the virtual realty, because that’s what the workforce is moving toward and what your future generations of employees are going to be expecting. It’s certainly something that we’ll be able to utilize in the future, how long it’s going to take for us to be able to, to fully, to embrace all of that technology, that’s yet to be seen.

Taryn Oesch: Interesting, so it’s a talent attraction tool, as well as a learning tool?

Bridgette Wilder: Correct.

Fred Stawitz: And I’d also consider that that technology is workable, it’s available, and the slowdown in implementation is not on the technology side; it’s on the user side of just understanding and being willing to pay for the implementation, realizing that implementation is going to cause some type of disruption to processes. So, it’s a constant evaluation of, if we implement digital technologies in a particular area, what’s the expense of that, what are we doing already, and what’s the return of that expense or investment?

Scott Rutherford: And given that it’s an emerging area, and I realize there’s always a “build versus buy” discussion when you’re talking about building programs, but how have you approached looking at it from, is it, is there a scenario where going to an outside vendor who’s done it before has extra value, or is it equally easy or expedient to do it yourself?

Fred Stawitz: I think you’d always, at this point, always go to an outside vendor, that you get so much more experience and because there’s going to be some kind of testing of how do we work it into this area, how do we make it work, how do we refine the efficiencies, and those kind of things. And the, you’re going to get much more experience based from a vendor that’s been doing that with a lot of customers, than you are hiring an individual to set that up internally. It’s a big enough effort that you really want that level of knowledge.

Bridgette Wilder: And I definitely agree with that. You want to be able to tap into that knowledge. You also want to be able to tap into that customer network, because many times, when you go to a vendor, a third-party administrator, they have opportunities for networking and training for their customer base. And so, that way, you can engage with others that are in similar industries or have utilized this particular tool for some time. And they can help you kind of minimize some of the “Aha!” moments and setbacks that you might, would have occurred if you tried doing it on your own, because now you have a resource that you can touch base with and learn from those.

Scott Rutherford: OK, and I wanted to mention for folks listening to this episode of the podcast, if you’re interested to dive a little bit more deeply into automation and learning and development, you can go to podcast, episode eight of The Business of Learning, which focuses on that topic and that might be related listening for you. But, before we close, Bridgette and Fred, I was wondering if you could perhaps share a final thought for folks who are maybe just entering the compliance and safety arena.

We know that in our view of the industry, people move into, there’s a lot of fluidity between learning and development assignments, and we often find that people come to TrainingIndustry.com who are new to their particular practice, or new to the career entirely, in some cases. So, if you were talking to someone who was just assigned responsibility for compliance or a safety training program, what advice would you give them? Bridgette, maybe I’ll let you have first stab at that one.

Bridgette Wilder: I think that the most important thing that you can do, it’s really two things: One, you need to learn the business so that you understand the stakeholders that you’re serving and the priorities that they have. And then, once you know that, tie that back to what the regulations require within each of those groups. Because within organizations, you can have multiple departments that have different, not only business needs but different safety and health needs, and you need to be able to customize those solutions. So, I think when you go into a new organization, or have a new assignment, you’ve got to learn who your stakeholders are, what their needs are, and then be able to tie in the safety and compliance aspects to that.

Fred Stawitz: I would say that it’s extremely important to understand what safety actually is. Safety is a rather nebulous word. And if you think about [it], safety is only verifiable in historic terms, you can only tell, “I’ve been safe for this amount of period, and I hope I’ll be safe going forward, I hope the environment supports me being safe going forward and doing whatever work I’m doing.” But that’s where the risk factors come into play. And in terms of risk, risk is always put into like a, some kind of a percentage thing of similar to, I hate to say this, predicting the weather.

It’s somewhat uncertain in those terms. It’s more certain in terms of working with equipment; it’s less certain in terms of working with human behaviors. Human behaviors, the risk of something happening if, say, it’s one in 10,000 times that somebody does this, well, that doesn’t really tell you whether it’s one in 10,000 for everybody in the world doing it, everybody in your workplace doing it. It doesn’t give you the scope, and it doesn’t tell you how the environment is impacting their behavior.

The risk factors typically, in most organizations, don’t change, although the stress factors do. The stress factors are going to impact how well people can behave. So, when you’re thinking about providing safety training, the training itself isn’t a barrier to something bad happening. It’s the behavior that the training provides or instills in somebody that’s the barrier — so, if they go through the training, it’s the wrong training, the soft target from what would actually have a benefit to a particular area of work, then it’s not going to do its job.

If it is on target, but the environment stresses people so much that they behave differently than the training would guide them to behave, then it’s not going to work. So, there’s a lot of factors involved, and it’s not just, “Put people in a class, check the box and everything’s fine.”

Taryn Oesch: OK, well, thank you, Bridgette Wilder, of the city of Memphis, and Fred Stawitz of Kinder Morgan, for joining us today on The Business of Learning.

Fred Stawitz: Our pleasure.

Bridgette Wilder: Thank you.

Taryn Oesch: And for show notes for this episode, including all the resources we mentioned today and a sneak peak of our research series on the role of learning and development in risk management, visit us at TrainingIndustry.com/TrainingIndustryPodcast.

Scott Rutherford: And, of course, we’d appreciate your thoughts on this episode and on the podcast series. Send a note to us; we can be reached at info at TrainingIndustry.com.

And we do hope you’re enjoying The Business of Learning. If you are, please take a minute to review and rate us on Apple Podcasts. Thanks for listening!

Voiceover: If you have feedback about this episode, or would like to suggest a topic for a future program, email us at info at TrainingIndustry.com, or use the “Contact Us” page at TrainingIndustry.com. Thanks for listening to the Training Industry podcast.