What makes an effective ergonomics training class? Certainly, the more experienced the trainer is the more effective the training class will be. But simply knowing the course content inside and out and being able to share it doesn't guarantee successful knowledge or skills transfer. To reference a banner I once saw posted in a training room at Toyota, "If the team member did not learn, the instructor did not teach."
A good instructor must use a variety of techniques to engage training participants; there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Here are five tips we think are critical to delivering effective ergonomics training.
1. Know your audience – Great training, like any human interaction, is about making a connection with your trainees. One key to implementing a successful training session is to customize your content and materials to your audience. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of the employees in the class not only will help drive your message home, it will help tailor the discussion points. For example:
• Managers and supervisors tend to be more strategic and think with the "big picture" in mind. A question they may ask is, "How am I going to support this?"
• Engineers tend to be more technical and need data to verify the credibility of the content. They may ask, "What exactly do I need to know, and how am I going to be measured?"
• Employees tend to relate course content to their everyday situations. They may be thinking, "How does this affect me and my job?"
Taking the time to understand your audience and being prepared to "speak their language" will help make your training session run more smoothly. After you have a few sessions under your belt, stick to what works best for you, and keep the content simple.
2. Be visual and tactile – Use pictures and examples to which your audience can relate. Examples of ergonomic risk from a foundry or automotive assembly plant will not be effective in getting your message across to delivery drivers and sales reps who work out in the field. Provide relatable images and scenarios to get employees' attention and keep them engaged. This will encourage them to share and discuss their own experiences.
If possible, take a tour of your trainees' operation before the class begins. Make it a priority to understand the process, language and technology they use. Snap a few pictures and make mental notes to use as examples during your session.
Adults learn by relating new information to things they already know and have experienced. For instance, if you're describing the difference between a power grip and a pinch grip, use clear images and a comprehensive description to differentiate between them. If possible, have participants demonstrate the use of both types of grips. This hands-on approach greatly improves the learning process.
3. Connect the dots – The secret to making ergonomics information "click" with training participants is to teach them to see and think their way from problem to solution. For the most part, ergonomics is pretty simple; if you're bent over, the work is too low, and if you're reaching above your head, the work is too high. The trainer's job not only is to show people how to recognize these issues, but to teach them how to identify what's causing the issues and to find reasonable solutions.
For example, if presented with a work scenario in which an employee regularly must lift a 25-pound box off the floor and place it on a cart, participants should be able to answer these three questions:
• What is the issue? The employee uses awkward back postures to pick up boxes.
• What is the point-of-cause? The box is stored on the floor.
• What is the solution? Provide a lift table or platform to raise the box so it won't be stored on the floor.
4. Get real and practical – Most of us learn by seeing and doing. You can stand in front of a group all day long and lecture on how to perform a risk assessment, but the information may not sink in until participants can experience doing the risk assessment themselves. Incorporate a field experience, if possible. Take the group to a workplace that will allow them do assessments on actual jobs in real time. This is the best way for participants to gain experience and build confidence using the tools that are being taught. This approach also will generate discussions, questions and feedback, which will enhance and deepen the learning process.
The key not only is to point your participants in the right direction, but to allow them to struggle just a bit so that they can figure out how to complete the assessment on their own.
5. Leave with a plan – A great training program accomplishes nothing other than making people smarter. To drive your ergonomics process forward, you must provide participants with a plan to utilize all of the skills they learned. We call this the "surviving the next 90 days" part of the training, and it enables every participant to take action immediately after the training class.
Nothing rallies people to a plan like goals. Help your trainees establish activity-based goals and metrics before starting their ergonomics programs. Here are a few examples:
• Complete five assessments per month.
• Implement three, high-impact solutions per job.
• Engage two employees in each assessment. Next, assign responsibility to team members. For example, who will be responsible for:
• Completing assessments in each department?
• Responding to reports of discomfort or injuries?
• Establishing countermeasures?
• Completing follow-up assessments?
There definitely is a lot to consider when preparing an ergonomics training class, but these five tips will help you deliver an effective and sustainable program and will get you moving in the right direction.
James Mallon is executive vice president and Greg Cresswell, CPE, is managing consultant for Humantech, which combines the science of ergonomics with its unique 30-Inch View – where people, work and environment intersect. For more information, visit http://www.humantech.com.