By Katherine Scott, editorial coordinator
In the oil and gas trade, proper safety training can mean the difference between life and death. The goal of every teaching program should be to create training that attracts and retains people’s attention and motivates them to change their behavior for the better, said Elaine Cullen, safety and health consultant for the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and president of Prima Consulting Services.
Speaking at the 2012 IADC Health, Safety, Environment and Training Conference on 8 February in Houston, Ms Cullen highlighted 10 ways to create more effective training. Data indicate that from 1993 to 2010, the fatality rate in the US oil and gas extraction industry was about nine times higher than the rate for all other US industries combined, she said, demonstrating that valuable training is imperative. “Young people particularly are vulnerable, and there are a whole lot of young people coming (into this industry).”
Further, for maximum value, training must be done right the first time. “If you’re going to put the time and the energy into training people, then you should do it well,” she said.
1. Get and keep attention
Effective training starts with capturing the attention of those who choose to show up. Traditional training often relies on classroom lectures, but “a straight lecture, especially for these (young people), is just not going to work,” Ms Cullen said.
Learning tools, such as videos and hands-on activities, should be incorporated to encourage trainees to reflect upon what they’re learning. “You have to really have them make a choice to change something, whether that’s ‘I’m going to do it this way now’ or ‘I didn’t know that so now I will try it.’ They make a choice,” she explained. “Somehow you convince them that they need to do it.”
2. Borrow from other industries
Integrating training lessons from outside industries can add a new perspective. “Borrowing from other industries works as long as they have something in common,” such the oil and gas industry with the mining, construction and electrical industries. “Oil and gas people are fascinated by miners and commercial fishermen; they perceive them as hardworking and that their work involves risk. They accept them as valid colleagues because of the work they do.”
However, borrowing from other industries shouldn’t be overused. “Workers are very sensitive to having training that is specific to their work,” Ms Cullen said. “They believe they are worth it and that using training materials from other industries isn’t always going to work, even if the points are the same.”
3. Develop culturally acceptable training
“Culture is the gatekeeper for everything that happens in the workplace,” Ms Cullen emphasized. Training that uses the actual tools, locations and scenarios that workers face will make the experience both more authentic and much more interesting, she explained. “That means they will pay closer attention, which goes back to the first goal.”
Ms Cullen added that improvements in training come from understanding the culture or mentality that exists within a group. For example, some believe that they are the only ones tough enough for the job, she said. “You have to work with that if you’re going to be developing training materials.”
4. Use credible insiders for training input
Training shouldn’t be kept to words on a page; it should benefit from those with years of experience. “The people who do this work every day know what the real hazards are, as well as what should be done to mitigate them. They are the experts, especially those who are known to be ‘masters’; other workers know who they are and respect them,” Ms Cullen said. “If you use these people to give the messages, they will have the attention of the workers because they are credible.”
Credible insiders can also have a better chance of affecting the way trainees approach their work. “Remember that the goal is to convince workers to change the way they do things; to move the ‘focus of control’ from external, i.e. the boss, to internal, ‘I do it because it’s the right way to do it,’ ” she said. “Only trusted, admired insiders have the power to communicate this.”
5. Use tribal language
“Workers have slang for tools, people and processes,” Ms Cullen said.
Using the same language as the workers sends the message that the training is made for them and that trainers understand what they do, she explained.
6. Use accepted cultural norms
Ms Cullen also encourages incorporating employee beliefs into training. For example, showing a poster that says “A roughneck’s like a redneck, only tougher,” indicates a very specific value. “There are hot buttons, switches that you can use to turn on interest,” she said.
Further, train them using the cultural values they will experience in the field. “If you’re going to train oil and gas people, then make it about oil and gas,” she said.
7. Use insider stories
“Stories are the most valuable thing that you have,” Ms Cullen stated. Stories of wisdom gathered from people who have experience in the industry are often the ones that have the greatest impact. “It’s not knowledge transfer; it’s wisdom transfer. These guys are survivors, and they have lots to share. We need to capture that.”
8. Constantly gather information
It’s also necessary to reassess and rebuild the work force model in consideration of what’s going on in the field, Ms Cullen said. “Having a Hispanic work team or a woman on your team or young people supervising older people are cultural differences, and you have to pay attention to those. If you ignore those, you have no chance of communicating with your crew or training them. It’s the key.”
9. Understand moral obligation to train employees well
Simply training someone doesn’t mean it’s been done in an effective way, Ms Cullen said, specifying that legal and moral training obligations are separate issues. “The moral obligation is to train them well. The legal one is to train them; there’s a difference.”
10. Understand diversity of future work force
As the industry experiences a large influx of newcomers, a final step to achieving more efficient training is to recognize what kind of workers will be coming. “They know that they are going to be really hurting (for people). What they’re going to have to do is look to non-traditional, meaning (for example) women in non-traditional occupations,” Ms Cullen said.
The future is going to be much more diverse and multicultural. “It’s not going to be the way we do things now, but (the industry is) going to have to learn how to (handle the change) safely,” she added.
Most importantly, Ms Cullen believes you have to take advantage of the valuable tools the industry already has.
“You’ve got a new kind of work force coming, and the most effective way to train them is to capture the wisdom of the people who know how to do it. Capture the wisdom of the experts before they’re gone. They’re incredible.”
This article is based on a presentation at the 2012 IADC Health, Safety, Environment and Training Conference, 7-8 February, Houston.