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7 Principles of Psychology You Can Use to Improve Your Safety Training


Employers are continually looking for better ways to train employees on safety standards in the workplace. Safety training is vital for the good of the company, as well as the individual employee, but it is often a dreaded part of the job.

Management has a vested interest in getting their participants to be more engaged and actively retain the information provided. By implementing the following seven principles of psychology, you can help improve the educational practices for training your employees.

Movement and Learning

Over and over the evidence has shown the passive “sit and git” does no favors for the human brain (Dolcourt and Slavin). Often, education comes down to placing employees in a room and teaching them through lecture. In order to improve safety training, it is important to recognize the innate link between mind and body.

By allowing participants in the training group to be active during the instructional period and learn by active participation (rather than a passive lecture), you will likely retain a greater amount of focused attention and improve your results. At the very least, safety training sessions should include breaks between short segments to allow participants to get up and move around, allowing their minds to relax and their pent-up energy to wane.

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Emotional States

Another aspect to recognize is the presence of emotions linked to the mental state (The Cognitive Neuroscience of Emotion, Lane & Nadel). These emotions may negatively stem from a preconceived bias of boredom and hinder the learning process for the attendant. It is important to understand the play of emotions and work to combat them with positive feelings, such as:

  • Displaying a passion for the technique or rules presented
  • Improving natural attention spans by working with the participant in a way he or she can appreciate (clear, concise etc.)
  • Evoke necessary empathy, support or fear
  • Present the meaning, purpose and personal value associated with the skill performed properly
  • Allow participants to enjoy the learning process

By facilitating a positive atmosphere for learning, you will break down the natural barriers set up by negative emotions in your participants. These barriers may not always be apparent, but the educator should be aware of their very likely existence among those in attendance.

Physical Environment

The atmosphere or environment is another important factor in the learning process. The human mind is easily influenced and distracted by the setting surrounding it. Cognition, attention and mood can be improved with the right atmosphere to cultivate learning. Considerations should be taken in regards to practical application of this principle by looking for a room that employs the most comfortable and appropriate aspects for training:

  • Comfortable seating that includes a writing surface if notes are to be taken or any forms must be filled out (such as unattached, padded chairs and tables)
  • Frequent opportunities to stretch or stand (as noted in the movement section above, it is important your participants are not kept sitting stagnant for long periods of time or they will likely have trouble paying attention to the information given)
  • Change in tempo or strategy to keep the atmosphere from becoming stifling, boring or heavy
  • Proper temperature to avoid heat stress, noting the ideal temperature is 70 degrees for optimal focus and concentration (Harner)
  • Natural lighting is best for improving mood and concentration, but glare and dim lighting will have a negative affect on participants

Social Interaction and Competition

Evidence has been shown to support enhanced learning through cooperative work. However, it is important to note the dangers of competition, which can make certain employees reluctant to participate wholeheartedly in training activities. Whether afraid to look foolish or afraid to “lose” in an unspoken competition, social pressure can affect your participants.

It is best to work with small groups to encourage engaged learning for everyone involved. Smaller groups free individuals from the intimidating nature of a larger group. At the same time, each group will want to look good in light of the larger group and work together to achieve the goals set before them.

Motivation and Engagement

One of the biggest challenges facing safety educators is apathy. The apathy may be derived from the perceived notion that the learner already knows the training. As such, workers and staff are often predisposed to feel they are wasting their time – even if it is on the company’s dime. The notion that something lacks value will cause a subconscious attitude towards the session that prohibits efficient learning. It is very important, then, for educators to answer the question "why do I have to take this" in a way that clearly illustrate the value and need for the training course being presented.

Because the brain has a built-in bias to experience pleasure, your participants will seek ways to benefit from the training.

Commitment and Consistency

Humans will go to great lengths to get their words and actions to align. Encouraging your employees to learn proper techniques may be as simple as getting them to commit to those practices ahead of time publicly. Often, when something has been publicly or expressly stated, an individual is more likely to follow through with the promised outcome. This means that encouraging employees to set their own codes of conduct, best practices and safety standards can improve the participation on a deeper level.

Critical Thinking and Memory Recall

You want employees to adapt and problem-solve, but you still need to feel confident they will work within the safety guidelines in place. Simply doling out rules is not enough. Individuals can easily fall back into monotonous bad habits. 

You will need to work with the learners to help develop critical thinking that allows them to work through challenging circumstances by using memory recall of safety guidelines simultaneously. 

  • Perfect repetition will help with recall and learned muscle memory
  • Discuss situations where rules or guidelines may be challenged and how to successfully proceed
  • Fight the forgetting curve and improve memory recall by provide ongoing follow-up

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Topics: Safety Training