Recently, we posted a simple question into a number of LinkedIn groups that deal with safety and/or EHS: “What do you do to make your safety training more fun and engaging for your employees?“
A large number of safety professionals chimed in, and we’ve collected their replies in this article. It’s interesting to read the replies and to see how many of them work along similar themes.
So, let’s get to it. Here’s how to make safety training more fun and engaging, with stories and tips from real-life safety managers and trainers.
Games, Competition, and Rewards
A number of people said they tried to include some form of game, competition, and/or reward in their training. We’ve included some of those replies below. Also, click the following link to play some free online safety training games we’ve created for you.
One safety trainer used Jeopardy-style games, competition, and candy bars.
“Training or reviewing OSHA standards can be dry and hard to swallow. We used the Jeopardy format and divided the sessions in half to do a review after the training. The different standards could have questions from easy to hard, with corresponding values. The teams alternate choosing Standard topic and question value. If an individual answers it correctly he/she gets a candy bar, when a team wins, everyone on the team gets a candy bar. Competition is always there, and points and candy bars mark the win. When the first session goes through it, the word is out and people show up with thinking caps on.”
Frank Fox, Retired EH&S, The Dow Chemical Company
Another also used a TV game show as a model (this time The Weakest Link):
“I teach Site Manager Safety training and I find quizzes work really well we have a show in England called the weakest Link and I base the quiz on that. It’s a process of elimination everyone in the group gets 3 lives and you keep going around the table if someone gets their question wrong the person next to them gets the chance to answer it. . I do quizzes on my SMSTS courses and it really gets them going we have a lot of fun, and information tends to stick, very similar to the way they do it on the weakest link.”
David Shanahan, Director of Collective Safety Solutions
Here’s another for games, competition, and rewards:
“When I do my trainings I try to make them more interactive rather than just listening to me go on and on and on. I like to play games with the quizzes at the end of the sessions. I also find giving out little gifts or incentives to the top 3 participants also helps to keep everyone awake.”
Kelly Myers-Mitchell, Regulatory and Compliance Coordinator at Trumbull County Emergency Management Agency
This one makes a few points but stresses the use of puzzles and problem-solving:
“Examples and hands-on during live-training makes them more vivid.
In my lectures of system / software safety, I also present the involvement of certification authorities (FAA, EASA & others). At the end of this session, and in order to assimilate this activity, I present the “think like the object” tactics, as part of the Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) approach.
After providing the strategy and examples in other areas (also from my hobby of free diving and hooks examples), I give them to build and solve a puzzle.
IMHO, you can solve this puzzle ONLY if you think like this specific object. I know – from feedback of the participants – that they remember the idea behind only because of the puzzle solving.”
Kuper Haim, Software Safety Specialist at Elbit Systems Ltd
Here’s another safety professional for games and rewards (and some public credit!):
“Provision of assessment & reward after safety training. Winners names shall be published on notice board.”
Rishi Chaturvedi, Safety Inspector, Al Taver Group
Quite a few people brought up the importance of humor. We like safety training humor ourselves–check some of our humorous safety training blog posts.
Here’s one who uses humor, including photos of safety mistakes, to get people to explain the RIGHT way to do things.
“I like to use funny photos and/or videos that show mistakes. Not gross ones mind you but funny ones. Then get the class to elaborate on how serious the incident is or could have been. It gets their attention with a little humor and results in more active participation in the topic.”
Timothy Johnson, Director of Safety and Quality Control, Murphy Industrial Coatings
I could have put this below with “active participation” but I’ll put it here with humor:
“I do agree. Funny videos. There are ton on the Internet. Also trying to get them involved in the training get them to have a discussion instead of a lecture. Taught a class once and didn’t talk except for the first five minutes. Awesome.”
Quentin Snook, Fire Chaplain
I’ll place this one under good-natured humor:
“I like to make posters with spelling mistakes and the operatives on development could not wait to tell me I had a grammar error in the poster, and then on a Friday buy the operative who told me about the grammar error received a kids happy meal it went down a treat with other operatives who then went about actually reading the H&S posters to spot deliberate mistake after awhile and a great sense of amusement certain operatives started to bring in the Scotsman and such likes for me to read to help me with my grammar it brought about such amusement to the boys on site, thinking I had a problem with my spelling but it brought about a great safety culture on site for the 4 years I was on it’s a tradition I hope to continue.”
Michael Loughran, Site Manager at MacTaggart & Mickel Timber Systems LTD
Another for humor and engagement–but mostly humor:
“It has been my experience that training should not be conducted in a somber atmosphere. If you can get people to laugh you will be able to get them to learn. Often times those that we are required to train are there against their will or may perceive the training as inconsequential to their job requirements, or for that matter, it is training that to them has become repetitious. If we cannot get them to engage in what it is that we are trying to deliver to them, I then liken it to trying to ram a stick up a dead dog’s a**. We are doomed to failure from the outset. I myself have been involved in courses that after the first ten minutes I am beginning to fall asleep. The facilitator is delivering everything by rote and drones on endlessly. If we take it upon ourselves to add a little levity to the course material, no matter how dry it may seem, people will perk up and pay attention and if they are paying attention chances are they will retain some of what it is you are trying to deliver to them.”
Laurie Bell, St. John’s Ambulance
Many of the replies involved different forms of having the trainees be active participants in the training. That’s smart, because active learning is a key adult learning principle.
Here’s one person who replied with a neat example about having workers film things with video cameras.
“Years ago I worked at a DIY retailer who had a chalk-and-talk health and safety session. I got agreement to change it for my stores, so I used a camera and asked them to film around each store. Some groups filmed real health and safety situations, whilst others set up situations, like putting a pallet in front of a fire door. We then debriefed what their findings were back in the training room (or canteen!) and the buzz was fantastic. I just filled in any gaps with questions. Head Office then used the film clips and made a video. It was used on Tuesday training sessions, made by our own people. I think learning by inquiry is the best way. The approach works well for refresher style training too. I did a room ‘set up’ once to see how many hazards people spotted when they came in (well, it was refresher training!).”
Kay Bucky, Management and Leadership Trainer, The Development Company Limited
Yet another EHS manager used video (he shot it), active participation by the employees, and some humor:
“With all the technology available today, I found creating a training video worked really well to stimulate training interest. The video covered a meeting followed by a site visit using department employees. It was purposely created with flaws built into the script to emphasize key points in the training. Attendees were then asked to see what errors they could point out later in a discussion of what went wrong, what went right, etc. Interest was high since they knew they would be challenged to find the mistakes (Where’s Waldo?), they knew the employees in the video and some well placed humor. The downside: it required a lot of development work on my part, willing volunteers and some practice runs. However the upside was a very effective training tool that could be tailored to specific training needs AND keep interest levels high. Oh, did I mention I did it all with in house resources and ZERO budget? They still talk about the video today.”
Gary Moulder, EHS Manager, Haas Group International, West Point, Pennsylvania
Here’s another advocate of getting the employees involved, this time with inquiry-based training (which has come up before):
“If you truly want employee to be engaged then you need to actually get them involved. Scenario training is a great way to do this.
For example, in an area where iron workers are involved, these guys live at height and are often looked up to by the other workers. Safety harnesses are mandatory PPE and yet many of them like to wear them loose. Put on your harness during your briefing and then start walking down the aisle as you explain why a loose harness is guaranteed death. As you do this, allow the harness to slip off your shoulder and then physically demonstrate how they would spin out of it and hit the ground. You do not need to explain step by step, instead, simply carry on with your presentation as you spin out of your harness. As soon as it hits the ground stop talking and ask, “So, how well does that comfortable harness style get me home tonight?”
Another way is to get them involved by knowing your staff. If you know that Billy has a little girl at home find a way to tie that in. After all, what is more important to Billy than going home to his beautiful little daughter every night? That’s a powerful way to get buy-in. If John fails to use a tool lanyard up on a scaffold and his hammer falls and strikes Billy in the head his daughter will be attending his funeral instead of him attending her graduation.”
Collin McKnight, OSHA Construction Site Safety Professional
This person offered lots of great ideas. We’ll put these under “active participation” but they span the gamut:
“You probably already have these on your list, but here a few of my suggestions anyway:
Have trainees demonstrate or use the tools during the training. Examples include actually filling out a permit form or working in groups to work through the job safety analysis process for two steps of a common, easy task most people can relate to relate to – like gassing up a car or mowing a lawn.
Have trainees play a game, do a crossword puzzle or otherwise compete to show that they know/have learned information being provided.
Giving trainees rewards (even cheap toys) for reading some of the slides aloud or leading a quick stretch to break up lecture-only portions of the training when they can’t be avoided.
Asking trainees to provide examples from their own work area, especially solutions, suggestions or learnings that they can share.
Having a decorative theme. Years ago I did a bank compliance training on regulation B – the room was decorated with lots of bees-themed items. Participants that answered questions correctly were given bee-themed prizes. And, the group that was the first to successfully and correctly completed a relevant application form on their easel chart was awarded bee-themed prizes. Per an agreement with my supervisor to do something in training way beyond my comfort level, I actually wore a bee costume. These things may sound silly but they increased class participation, engagement and interest. And, the trainees walked away with a much greater understanding of the relevant forms and how they should be used than they would have if I had just showed slides on how to fill out the forms.”
Erin Perlow, Occupational Safety and Health Specialist
Here’s another for active participation. This person makes the good point that it’s worthwhile making sure everyone knows one another (solid!):
“Getting everyone to take turns introducing themselves and a little on what they know about the topic is quite useful as an ice breaker, before the start of the session. Making room for class activities e.g. discussion sessions, group work, practice sessions, etc. also make the class interactive. A little veering off with conversation cards enables some introverts to express themselves on issues raised on any card they pick.”
Bassey Akan, Training Manager at SMTS (NIG.) LIMITED
Here’s another fan of creating an active, scenario-based, problem-solving situation for the workers. Again, this person suggests the use of self-shot video, which comes up a lot too.
A video-based scenario elearning courseware that provides exaggerating/dramatic negative and positive feedbacks upon learners choice of decision.
The story scenario can go inline with what the learner goes through in his/her daily life at work. This video-based scenario will captivate the learners’ attention and engage them throughout with various safety scenarios.
This elearning material can either be
● utilise at the learners’ own time
● use during a face to face training session to get the whole class participate
● use as a challenge among groups during the class
Alvin Fu, Consultant, Learning Designer & Trainer | eLC Pte Ltd
It seems basic enough, but often we forget to have discussions instead of monologues during safety training. Having two-ways discussions is yet another way to incorporate adult learning principles and improve your safety culture.
Here’s one who hit that nail on the head:
“In live training, I’ve found that anything that deviates from a lecture-style presentation will improve the odds of workers being more attentive and involved. Engaging in group discussion and allowing workers to talk about their personal experiences is a practical way to make things more interesting.
Further improvements can be made if the discussions revolve around non-workplace scenarios that relate to scenarios in the workplace, such as sports and/or hobbies that your workers participate in. For example, I participate in what some may describe as “extreme” sports such as skydiving, snowboarding, etc. There are many analogies that I can make using the details of those activities that relate to the topics that are being discussed – mostly people find them interesting. I’ll usually quickly turn it over to the trainees and they’ll start finding their own analogies from their personal activities and hobbies, which in most cases are more interesting to them than work.”
Dave Cvetanovski, Director, Corporate Health and Safety at JMC Steel Group, Founder at Eversafe Media Inc.
Here’s another voice in favor of two-way discussions:
“I think often we as safety professionals preach, I try and make the safety meeting about them. Give them a bit of information but also interact with them about the safety in the field, ways of doing things safer and better on an every day basis. I think it is working and we talk about how incidents happen, how they can be prevented and they are more aware of their surroundings on an every day basis. One of our workers stated he felt much safer because he was not afraid to ask questions anymore.”
Patricia Murdoch, Health and Safety Manager, JPD Enterprises, Ltd
Here’s another who likes active discussions (along with an “icebreaker” event at the beginning):
Ice breakers at the start, group discussions on critical incidents and what are the possible ways of eliminating them, sharing personal experiences, could be one of the ways of engaging participants during the safety training.
Alfie J. Fernandez, Maintenance Trainer at Qatar Chemical Company
A common thread was the importance of giving real-life demonstrations. This is another that could have gone into “active participation” but the demonstrations really come alive here.
“Great topic. I hope to see a lot of people add to the discussion. One of the things I have done with trenching training is to have the group role soil samples out of play dough. I have also done electrical safety with a bucket of water and hair dryer.
For the play dough we are doing the Plasticity or Wet Thread Test. This test is conducted by molding a moist sample of the soil into a ball and attempting to roll it into a thin thread approximately 1/8 inch (3 mm) in diameter (thick) by 2 inches (50 mm) in length. The soil sample is held by one end. If the sample does not break or tear, the soil is considered cohesive. It is kind of cheesy but it engages people.
The bucket of water and hair dryer is used to show why we test GFCI before we use. I plug an extension cord into a GFCI and then use a hair dryer. Use a plastic bucket (must be plastic) and ask what will happen if I drop a running hair dryer in the bucket of water. Several times I turn dryer on and start to drop it in the bucket only to stop and ask questions. If you do drop the dryer in it will not trip the GFCI. Plastic bucket (no ground). I do use other safety precautions when doing this. But it is very well received.”
Mike Kane, Safety Consultant at LMC Inc
Storytelling is a proven way to capture people’s attention, and it came up in this aspect as well.
Here’s one EHS director who knows the value of a good story well told, plus interaction and a bit of show and tell:
“When holding Safety meetings it is always fun to have a story to go with the topic. It could be something that happened to the trainer at home or traveling or an observation. Make it interesting to hold the attention span. engage with the employees as you are training to get their involvement.
Have a meeting like in school with show & tell; interaction with a new face like one of your vendors participating is another great way to discuss your topics.”
Douglas Dennis, Corporate EHS Director, Qualico Steel Company
Stressing the Importance of Safety
It never hurts to let people know safety is serious.
This person makes more than one point, but leads with the serious angle:
“Simply tell them that they can save a life and earn rewards. Use new ways to get their attention by providing them free stuff like ppe kit, mobile recharge cards, free food after training sessions etc… Good HSE system can’t be implemented without providing respect and equivalent rights.”
Muhammad Ahmed, Health and Safety Manager, National Engineering Bureau, United Arab Emirates
Keep it Job-Specific and Relevant
It’s always a good idea to keep job training specific and relevant, and that came up here too.
This guy makes a few points, and I could have included one in the “different types of software” section below, but we’ll put his comments here:
“Here’s a secret worth considering when you plan your curriculum; people generally don’t dislike learning, but they do resent having their time wasted. Less vanilla ‘general awareness’ material and more focus on specific skills & knowledge that the participant can actually apply in his/her workplace is a good start. If I give you my time you owe it to me to provide information I can use when the rubber hits the road. No amount of games, gimmicks and freebies will compensate for content that wastes my time and yours.
If you’re serious about engaging people and maximizing retention, do not use ppt… not one single slide.
I’m not suggesting ‘no games’, only that they are a poor substitute for meaningful content. Ideally all training should be designed to be enjoyable (fun) but this probably shouldn’t be seen as the key deliverable.
Ppt has a place. Its a reasonable aide for information sessions, progress updates, client presentations and the like but rarely as a training tool in an adult education setting; not if you’re serious about facilitating a learning environment where adult participants are partners rather than passengers.
Investigate ‘Metaplan’… the applications are limited only by your creativity”
Joe Monk, Furgo-TSM
Review, Feedback, and Evaluation
Some touched on the importance of reviewing training itself, getting feedback, and evaluating the training.
Here’s one safety professional on that theme:
“I feel that one of the general key points is review and feedback of the training session. Trainers in general do not always sit down and reflect on a session, listing what went well, what didn’t go so well, what was relevant, what was not so relevant etc. Then this reflection is to be used to improve the next session. I feel this is important as it allows a trainer to grow as a trainer, develop their teaching materials and teaching methods.
A lot of trainers, myself included at times, rely on the end product, as long as the objectives have been met, your happy. This is not the best way forward and new methods need to be researched to keep up with the different learning requirements of each individual and to make sure everyone comes away from the session with the correct message. Reflection is the only way to achieve this. Student feedback forms are not always that useful and accurate and an honest personal reflection is invaluable.
Also good old fashioned enthusiasm of the subject being taught goes a long way, no-one wants to listen to a trainer who can’t be bothered!
Just my own thoughts as such, cheers!”
Griff Jenkins, Tech IOSH
Speaking Their Language
It’s important to speak the correct language (like English and Spanish), of course. But it’s also important to speak in a way that your employees relate to. Our list of tips for writing training materials can help you choose the appropriate type of language to use during safety training.
Here’s one trainer on that issue:
“Well I work at a small DE mine in nevada, we hold a morning safety meeting every morning. Which can become mundane and boring, so as the mine shift supervisor I do the topics every morning, but as a working supervisor I speak the language of the miners, not of the managers.
I am constantly looking for a new way to spin safety topics. So I don’t just use mining, I use construction, I use extreme sports and military experiences and accidents. And while accidents are never funny I try to remain up beat about the topic and throw in key phrases that will stick with the employees. I will thru out the week ask about those key phrases while doing walk arounds and 7 out of 10 regularly can repeat a phrase and have told me that phrase plays over in their head which in turn translates in action while at the same time maybe giving them a laugh. We are going on 3 years with out a reportable and have had 2 non reportable a on the same 3 years. Both those individuals have been never been able to answer a phrase question at all.
Hope this helps any further info just let me know.”
Jason Rogers, Mine Shift Supervisor/ Kiln Operator, Construction experience, Military experience USN
Different Types of Software
Some suggested alternative presentation software intended to improve the training and/or make it more active.
For example, this health and safety specialist suggested TurningPoint, Prezi, and YouTube videos. Along with our old stand-by, competition:
“Competition is great, coupled with response technology such as TurningPoint it is even better. Prezi is also a great tool for A/V use. “
Drew Douglas, Health and Safety Specialist, Rama First Nation
Conclusion: There Are LOTS of Ways to Make Training More Fun
So that wraps that up, at least in terms of tips from our repliers. If you notice, a lot of the tips focused on creating an active learning experience for the workers and getting them more involved. And doing something that was a little fun now and again came up a lot too.
But what about you? What are your tips? We’d love to read your comments in the section below.
Effective EHS Training: A Step-by-Step Guide
Learn how to design, create, deliver, and evaluate effective EHS training by following these best practices with our free step-by-step guide.