Five safety training trends for 2023
Although safety training has always evolved to meet the needs of the workplace, best practices focused primarily on physical safety and compliance issues. While these remain high on the list of priorities, the fundamental changes brought on by the pandemic broadened the perception of safety and psychological safety and mental health and wellness have emerged as the top trends.
Effective training that reflects the current workplace and best suits your workforce will not only reduce incidents but will improve employee engagement and retention. Here are five areas to consider.
- Manager or supervisor training — Each year KPA, a provider of Safety Management and Workforce Compliance software, conducts a training and content survey on training topics, areas of focus, and platform features. For both 2022 and 2023, manager or supervisor training was the number one or two requested area focus. According to Gallup, employee engagement began to decline in mid-2021 and slumped to a seven-year low with 32 percent of employees engaged and 17 percent actively disengaged at work in 2022. The stagnation of engagement is one of the biggest threats to organizations, and managers, more than any other factor, influence engagement and performance.While managers remain the lynchpin that holds a team together, their jobs have changed considerably since 2019 and burnout is high. Workplaces that were once considered demanding are now considered toxic or psychologically unsafe. Managers not only have to be up to date on government and industry-specific regulations, new technologies, and stewards of tasks and productivity, but they must also resolve conflicts, coach and mentor employees, manage a hybrid workforce, foster an inclusive workforce, identify workers who may be impaired or struggling with mental health issues, and promote the company culture and values. They are expected to be the anchor for their team by building trust and giving employees the support and resources they need but may not have the skills or time to do so.Organizations can relieve pressure on managers by clarifying priorities, setting clear expectations, opening channels for collaboration, and fresh training to mitigate the skills gap. Training needs will vary by industry and company, but popular topics for 2023 include:
- Psychological safety
- Mental health
- Managing a hybrid workforce
- Situational awareness
- Coaching and mentoring
- Behavioral training
- Conflict resolution
- Time management
- Stress management
- Impairment recognition and response training
- Mental health, well-being — There is a direct correlation between mental wellness and the risk of workplace injury. An employee dealing with stress, depression, or anxiety is at an increased risk of workplace incidents or injuries to themselves or others. The heightened awareness of workers’ mental health during the pandemic helped to destigmatize it in the workplace and many companies have taken tangible steps to educate and support workers struggling with mental health issues. More people in leadership roles are also speaking up about their personal experiences with mental health fostering a safe environment.Yet, pressures on employee mental health and well-being do not remain constant and the shortage of mental health professionals has made it difficult for some workers to get help. It’s important to adjust your programs to reflect the needs of the workforce. While individual needs vary with life situations, for 2023 the macro worries are inflation, cost of living, work-life balance, and possible loss of job. Financial well-being is gaining much attention.Although company-wide programs help bring mental health to the forefront, managers have the most significant impact on workers’ mental health. A report by the Workforce Institute at UKG found managers impact employees’ mental health (69 percent) more than doctors (51 percent) or therapists (41 percent), and even the same as a spouse or partner (69 percent).Traditionally, managers were taught to avoid mental health discussions so they did not violate the ADA, nondiscrimination laws, and privacy issues, but now managers are expected to check in with employees, recognize the signs of stress, and show compassion and concern. While managers shouldn’t play therapist and need to respect boundaries, mental health awareness training can create a higher comfort level and motivation to promote mental health at work and know how to respond.
- First-year employees — Faced with a tight labor market and high turnover, employers are filling jobs from a small pool of workers, many of whom are young and/or inexperienced. Elevated injury rates have long been prevalent among first-year employees. In 2011, 32 percent of workers’ compensation claims were related to first-year employees; in 2021, that figure climbed to 38 percent. While job-specific training is crucial, so are injury prevention programs, such as stretching and exercise, and ergonomic intervention. These types of programs can help physically condition employees and properly educate them on risk factors to prevent cumulative trauma and musculoskeletal disorders, a leading cause of workplace injuries. Self-paced learning and personalized lessons optimized for mobile devices appeal to younger workers.
- Changes in regulations — One of the greatest concerns for employers in training is what OSHA has recently changed or is expected to do during the year. Given the ongoing enforcement paradigm shift at OSHA, it behooves employers to intensify their efforts at compliance.While not definitive, here are areas that warrant attention:Implemented in 2022:
- National emphasis program (NEP) on heat illness prevention for indoor and outdoor workers
- Lowered the bar for employers to be included in its Severe Violator Enforcement Program
- Updated whistleblower investigations manual
2023 planned actions:
- Revisions to combustible dust NEP (implemented January 2023)
- Expanded the use of instance-by-instance citations and discouraged grouping of similar violations under a singular penalty, significantly increasing costs to employers (effective March 26, 2023)
- Update to Hazard Communication Standard
- Standard on COVID-19 in healthcare settings
- Changes in injury reporting
- Heat Illness Prevention for indoor and outdoor workers
- Update to Lockout/Tagout standard
- Emergency response update
- Workplace violence in health care and social assistance
- Revise the standards for occupational exposure to lead
- PMS reform
- Preferred training practices
Length of training: The KPA survey found that the preferred length of training is 10 – 20 minutes for either individuals or groups. Shorter training courses are easier to retain, can keep viewers engaged throughout the process, and get workers back to the job sooner. Deeper dives may be necessary for compliance training, but the training should be insightful, relatable, relevant, and actionable.
Target strategically to those who need it: For information to stick, the employee must find it significant and relevant. The KPA survey found a slight shift in preference for individual training, about 60 percent preferred individual training for their employees.
Integrate elements for various learning styles: Combine visuals and auditory that tell a story with kinesthetic lessons. Video animation, employee interviews, incident re-creations, and interactive exercises are effective tools. Incident re-creations can be particularly impactful in helping employees understand how quickly they can happen and how serious the injury can be.
Make training a continuous process: Training is only effective if it is continuous and reinforced on a day-to-day basis. With new learning tools, there should be no barriers to access and workers should be able to easily find a quick tutorial video or access workflow diagrams, reports they need to fill out, and other material essential to completing their work.
Workers want employers to prioritize safety and they want to be properly trained. A recent survey of manufacturing and warehouse employees conducted by the online survey platform Centiment on behalf of Ansell, a health and safety protection solutions provider, shows that 75 percent of workers are more likely to stay with or join an employer who focuses on safety.