Training Alone Doesn’t Make a Safety Culture

We heard this story a few years back from a safety consultant:

A company that moved into new offices found that its maintenance people were having an unusual number of accidents changing light bulbs. Since they were falling off ladders, the company decided to give them all additional training in how to use ladders.

But after the training sessions, too many of their maintenance men were still falling off their ladders. After looking into the problem more closely they discovered the problem. In the new offices, the ceilings were higher and the ladders were too short. They bought taller ladders and the accident rate quickly went back to normal.

The safety consultant we heard this from said that training is the most frequently suggested solution to reducing accidents, but that many times is not the answer.

We know that driver safety training has its benefits. CEI has heard from more than one driver that one of our lessons taught them something that enabled them to avoid an accident. But we also know that a lack of knowledge isn’t the only reason people have accidents. The main reason is bad driving habits.

So the real way to reduce fleet accidents is to break those habits and change driver behavior. And it can be done. CEI’s DriverCare Risk Manager is a tool that many fleets have used to drive down their accident rates by as much 20 to 30 percent. Training is one component. But there are others, including maintaining current files on driver behavior (for example, their recent history of accidents and motor vehicle violations), scoring them on a scale of risk according to that behavior, and automatically delivering consequences when their score breaks pre-defined risk thresholds.

One of the consequences, by the way, is training – either online, behind the wheel, or both. But fleet and safety managers can also assign training pro-actively, to remind drivers both that safety matters and the right way to drive.

Companies that have low accident rates often have in place a strong “safety culture.” That’s a company-wide value system in which safety is a way of doing business. It starts with commitment from the top levels of management, and it’s reinforced by successive levels all the way down, in both face-to-face communications and every other communication mode. Safety training is a part of a safety culture, but adding training alone to a company with a weak safety culture is probably not enough to make a serious and sustained difference.