Why Even Bother With Safety Training?


By Phil La Duke
I Know My Shoes Are Untied Mind Your Own Business and Lone Gunman Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence

Like most of you, I have to, as part of my job, periodically sit through grueling, excruciatingly dull, and completely worthless training. Training I don’t need. Training I don’t want on topics I don’t use on my job. I sit, my mind dulled and numbed with boredom because the law says that I must complete this training. So I watch as a disembodied voice reads insipid slides to me.  Computer-Based Training. This is not a shortfall of my employer, we produce excellent, forward-facing and innovative learning tools, and yet when it comes to regulatory training we fall into the same trap that so many other companies do.

So why do we do it? Because the law says I have to.  The law doesn’t care if I have developed courses—far better course in fact—on the subject. The law doesn’t care if this off-the-shelf dreck meets my objectives or needs. The law doesn’t even care if I learn anything from the “training”. In fact, in most cases, the law doesn’t even specify knowledge or skills the course has to cover; it just has to be done…or else.

I have written at length about what’s wrong with safety training and how to fix it, but there just isn’t any will to do fix it. It is said, “give a man a fish he will eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life” (which let’s face it, I need to eat more than one fish a day, but that is, as is so often the case, beside the point) but when it comes to the crap that we so frequently pass off as training the saying might as well be “talk about the theory behind fishing to a man who has no intention of ever going fishing and he will eat just fine.”

I suppose I should take a moment and shut the drooling maws of the mouth-breathers who have a problem with the term “training” because “you TRAIN dogs, you EDUCATE people”. Apart from being trite, this statement is just plain WRONG. There is a difference between “education” (teaching someone ABOUT something) and “training” (teaching someone to DO something).  I think the difference is best illustrated by the old, and brace yourself off-color joke, “you might not mind if your fourth grade daughter gets sex education at school, but you probably don’t want her getting sex training.” As for the term “learning” it too is a bit off the mark. Learning implies that one actually acquires knowledge or skills that he or she was lacking before the course and this isn’t always the case.  Ah well, back to the topic at hand.I am prepared to fully acknowledge that we have to do stupid and pointless things simply because the law says we must, BUT shouldn’t we aspire to do more than merely meet the barest of minimums of the regulation? Shouldn’t we ask what the spirit of the law is, and why the government thinks that this should be a requirement? Why do we do training that we know won’t make one whit of difference? Or more to the point why don’t we use the requirement as a justification for raising awareness, teaching skills, fomenting debate and discourse? I’m glad you asked…


  • Doing it Right Is Expensive. You can buy OSHA accepted training for very little, distribute it via your computer network and meet the requirement. The same course can be used to train iron workers and bull-semen collectors at a cattle breeding ranch.  Even if it violates one of the first rules of Adult Learning, “give the audience the WIIFM (cute speak for What’s In It For Me?” And despite the fact that people tend to tune out messages that they don’t believe apply to them (right or wrong) it is easier to get a low-quality low-cost solution approved by the people holding the purse strings than it is to pay to do it right, and depending on the size of the audience the cost difference isn’t inconsequential. Spending $100,000 to train 30,000 people  amounts to $3 per participant, but spending that Same $100,000 to train 30 people doesn’t make sense.
  • The Government Doesn’t CARE if you need it. I have been forced to take regulatory training on subjects in which I am well versed and even that I have developed and taught. Does this make sense? NO! But since when does the government make sense? The real danger here is that the average worker cannot distinguish between information they really need and the “nice to know” crap that a fraction of the population will ever use.  The result of this confusion is that people tend to treat it ALL as crap.
  • The Government Doesn’t Require Proficiency.  As long as you are able to check the box that someone completed training the government won’t hassle you if the person didn’t get a damned thing out of the event.
  • There Is No Provision In The Law For Testing Out of a Course.  When I was head of Training & OD for a tier-one auto supplier I made it a policy that anyone could come in and “test-out” of a course. I got a lot of cocky (usually engineers) who would argue indignantly that they had 126 years of experience and could probably TEACH the class.  Of that throng, only one hit the required 90% or better to be eligible to get credit for the class without taking it. To his credit he said, I know I know this topic but I would like to take it anyway. Taking this test reminded me that I might need to refresh my skills because it took a lot more thinking to answer some of those questions than I thought it was.  But even though many people were reluctant to test out, I would say approximately 20% of the posttests indicated that people didn’t NEED the course.but it didn’t harm them in anyway. Personally I think it’s insane to sit through courses that I have actually taught, but I am seemingly alone in that regard. Not only is this a waste of time it reinforces management’s idea that we are a bunch of soft headed imbeciles who don’t understand the basics of business.  We all understand we don’t have a choice. 
  • The Regulators Are Concerned With Course Completion Instead of Competence. Government regulators need to get out of the “training” business and instead a demonstration of competency.  What’s the difference? I I hire a journeyman electrician with 15 years experience I don’t need to train him as an electrician, but in the interest of safety I DO need to ascertain his competency before putting him to work.  So why doesn’t the requirement read “Employers shall ensure the competency of all employees in any and all tasks the employees are required to perform”? Because ensuring competency is hard. Think about it. When someone is injured the cause that so many training (and operations for that matter) personnel default to is that the employee was stupid, lazy, complacent, or careless. How often do we even consider that maybe the person never had the adequate skills in the first place.


I see a resurgence in BBS (Blame-Based Safety) where a new crop of snake oil salesmen proudly assert (without a shred of proof) that the workers’ behavior (and not the system inwhic the worker works) is the root of all injuries. None of them ask, or even seem interested in why an otherwise intelligent and grown-ass employee would choose to put themselves in the line of fire.  We are quick to blame but slow to examine the circumstances that we ourselves have created that encourage unsafe behaviors and poor decision making.

Recently the United States Senate failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 and last week the National Rifle Association announced its opposition of its renewal. My book, Lone Gunman: Rewriting the Handbook On Workplace Violence Prevention is not against gun rights in fact, I grew up around guns, know how to use them, and am a damned good shot (something you halfwits who send me death threats might want to consider) but it does detail the high  but it does address the profound correlation between domestic violence and workplace violence. This is all new material that cannot be found anywhere else. In light of all the talk and panic around gun violence, and the shamefully bad advice some “experts” are giving I hope some of you will read it and pass it along to your executives,HR or your tyrant of a boss and it leads to substantial safety improvements (go ahead, expense it, they will be glad you did.) If you have a daughter, wife, girlfriend, or just care about people getting murdered in the workplace BUY THIS BOOK. It can be purchased in hardcover or paperback (and now as an eBook) at Amazon or Barnes & Noble 

As I have said, this isn’t a book that is pro- or anti-gun ownership rights.The book has extensive sections on spotting an unstable employee (some people’s lives will take a dark and desperate turn long after you have hired them but there are always signs), the types of work environments that tend to trigger these events, and I recently returned from Dublin, Ireland where I spoke on how companies can leverage technology to protect workers from workplace violence.  But all the books, and magazines, and speeches in the world won’t change a damned thing if you keep thinking that it can’t (or probably won’t) happen to you or someone you love. You can bet your life that we will see more similar shootings in the weeks or months as people who are currently at the brink of sanity see the news reports and think, “now’s the time”. WAKE UP, PEOPLE!!!! This book is pepper with the sarcasm, self-deprecating humor of the first book, but it also makes use of my extensive knowledge of violence prevention in the workforce (that I gained as head of training and OD for a global manufacturer.) 

Of course, my first book is still for sale, and many are saying that anyone serious about worker safety should have it in their library.  You might rightly ask yourself, why on God’s green Earth would I read a book that contains previously released material? Simple, like the rain-forest and the polar bears my work is disappearing from the web very quickly.  All but a handful of my works for Facility Management Magazine is gone, and you can basically only go back two years on my blog (eight year’s worth of my work that ranges in quality from magnificent to mindless dreck is lost forever save in the pages of my book.) And besides, about a third of the book is new material that cannot be found anywhere else. So BUY IT. It will teach you, entertain you, and make you want to read more. It can be ordered here I Know My Shoes Are Untied. Mind Your Own Business or on Barnes & Noble.com. What are you waiting for?