Expert: Dialogue Makes Safety Training More Effective

Of all the critical components of safety training, Tulane University professor Michael Burke believes dialogue often is the one that's overlooked.

Burke, speaking on Capitol Hill as part of an Oct. 5 congressional briefing that examined strategies to improve workplace safety, emphasized that as "more-engaging" forms of workplace safety training are gaining in popularity, dialogue needs to be incorporated to "enhance the quality of worker reflection."

"As training becomes more engaging, dialogue with others is posited to engender more 'action-focused reflection,' and consequently, greater knowledge acquisition, improved performance and reduced accidents, illnesses, and injuries," explained Burke, who has conducted programs to research the efficacy of worker safety and health training.

According to Burke, "action-focused reflection" is central to learning, as it achieves the following learning objectives:

  • Immerses trainees in a situation for which they have a past, present and future orientation;
  • Forces trainees to infer causal and conditional relations between events and activities;
  • Leads to the development of strategies for handling future events; and
  • Initiates and promotes self-regulatory activities such as confidence for dealing with unforeseen events.

"Learning is a social process and feedback has always been considered important in the development of action-based knowledge and skills," Burke said. "More recently, in contrast to feedback, dialogue has received attention in safety and health skill development."

"Most-Engaged Methods" of Learning More Effective

Burke's conclusions on the efficacy of more-engaged forms of skill and knowledge development stem from a large-scale statistical integration of the safety and health training studies he conducted between 1971 and 2003.

In the analysis, Burke compared and contrasted the effectiveness between the least-engaging methods of training, such as lectures and videos; moderately engaging methods, such as distance learning activities; and most-engaging, such as behavioral modeling and hands-on training.

Study results indicated that the most-engaging methods of training were three times more effective than other less-engaging methods when it came to knowledge acquisition. The most-engaging method of training also was more effective when it came to improvement of safety performance and the reduction of accidents, illnesses and injuries, Burke explained.

"The results are consistent with learning theory propositions concerning the effects of behavioral modeling, dialogue and action-based reflection on knowledge and skill acquisition," he said.

Burke proposed that scientists and granting agencies should better explore the contributions structured dialogue can make to safety and health knowledge acquisition.

"Dialogue, I believe, is a critical element in training and it should definitely be looked into further," he said.

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