Making Safety Stick

Making Safety Stick

Dan Hannan

Dan Hannan


Mr. Hannan has been an EHS professional for 24 years and a subject matter expert for Vivid for four years.  Mr. Hannan is Safety Officer at Merjent, Inc. in Minneapolis, MN and is also the Chairman of the National Safety Council’s Safe Communities Division.  Mr. Hannan is an accomplished trainer and presenter on the topic of off-the-job safety.  Feel free to contact Dan at

As an employer you’ve just sent several employees through a day and a half of hazard recognition training. Upon their return you place a copy of their training certificate in their training file. No more worries about these employees. You can expect them to use their new knowledge to remain injury-free indefinitely, right?

Even though the employee is now armed with new information they must still make correct decisions to keep themselves and their coworkers safe. Employers strive to reduce risk by continuously keeping behavior-changing information in front of the worker. So how do you make the information stick? The following will help deliver training and safety messages with staying power.

Make information relevant and meaningful with a direct application. It is believed that nearly 90% of all information we take-in is lost in 72 hours if we don’t have a direct use for it and apply it. Extraneous facts or marginally useful information is not valued and jettisoned by the brain.

Make safety top of mind. In his book “Safety by Objectives,” Dan Peterson recognizes the importance of talking about safety every day. The idea is that a reoccurring event develops a pattern that conditions the brain. This activity drives desired behavior and also communicates to the worker the importance that the company places on safety. In the construction industry this task is completed daily through “tailgate” meetings or “take-five” huddles where the crew discusses the day’s scope of work and safety requirements.

Deliver a consistent safety message. A worker needs to hear a consistent safety message from all levels within the company. This includes front-line supervisors, middle and upper management.  The message needs to be meaningful and frequent to be relevant.

Communicate purpose. Justify the need for the request. Workers value a message when they understand the basis of “why?” Internally, the message is better accepted if someone just clearly explains the reason “why” you are asking the employee to do it.

The power of storytelling. A message is more meaningful when it is personal. A shared story of a workplace or off-the-job injury brings the cause and effect home—to the individual. Peer to peer sharing is very powerful.

Learn by doing. We remember when we are engaged in the learning process. This can be accomplished in the following ways:

  • Get the employee to deliver or complete the safety action item. This could be leading a tailgate meeting, toolbox talk, pre-task or shift plan, safety inspection or even safety committee participation.
  • Make training memorable by making it fun. Use games to challenge and develop team-building experiences. The more senses that are used the greater the retention of information.
  • Use hands-on activities or demonstrations to improve recall.
  • Provide positive feedback often on desired behavior. Research shows that more positive rather than negative feedback has a greater effect on changing behavior. A simple recognition of “thanks for wearing your safety glasses” goes a long way.

The degree to which information “sticks” is ultimately a reflection of the organization’s culture. Requests are internalized and practiced to a greater degree when the employee feels valued and trust has been established between employer and employee.

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