My good friend Rich and I sat in the back of a crowded community college classroom on a sunny day in December. We were there to complete what someone had inaccurately advertised as safety training. It was actually an OSHA 511 outreach course. Neither of us wanted to be there. I’ll admit we both had a bit of a chip on our shoulders since we’d both been CSPs for years at that point, but the main reason we didn’t want to be there? The instructor. She was about two happy meals sort of half a happy meal.
This topic was suggested by a reader named Max. A few weeks ago he wrote in and asked if I would address the idea that “management doesn’t make time for their people to attend safety training.” It’s a common problem for safety practitioners, no doubt. So I got to thinking. Why is it such a problem? Then I remembered that day and something occurred to me. It’s our fault.
Training is always a mixed bag. Sometimes you get someone who’s fun and engaging and really understands how to impart knowledge. Other times you get the instructor who reads every word on a PowerPoint slide filled with 8 point comic sans font. Instructors often faced with one common problem, though: no one wants to be there.
Sometimes I should just keep my mouth shut…
Such was the case with Hamburglar the OSHA 511 Instructor. I recall Rich had “excused” himself from one of the modules and was no doubt enjoying a nice, relaxing extended lunch while he left me to suffer. The instructor clicked forward on her laser pointer and the title “Introduction to Confined Space Entry” popped onto the screen.
“Can anyone tell me if that trash can in the corner is a confined space?” she asked her
victims students. I voraciously shook my head no and then looked around the room to notice that everyone else was doing the opposite.
“That’s right,” she affirmed. “It is a confined space.”
“It’s a confined space because you could put your head in it.” It was a 13-gallon trash can, mind you.
“You can stick your head in a toilet, too. That doesn’t make it a confined space. It makes you an idiot with wet hair.”
We went back and forth for quite a while about it until she’d had enough and played the “we’ll just have to agree to disagree” card. I’m sure I sounded like a pompous know-it-all throughout the episode, but I have a huge problem with safety “professionals” spouting nonsense and then standing behind their imaginary moral high ground when corrected. It’s not that the act of being wrong is a problem, it only becomes one when we believe our words are absolute truth.
Teach what you know, or learn until you do…
Everyone gets it wrong, especially those who train. I’ve been called on my mistakes and lack of knowledge many times. There’s nothing wrong with that. The key is accepting your mistakes and shortcomings and using them to make you better.
So here’s what it boiled down to in my 511 class. I was combative and defensive because most of the other students (except my friend Rich) were not like me. They were actually there to learn the basics of OSHA. Some of them were hoping to use the course as a springboard to break into the profession. Many had even paid their own way to be there only to be taught by someone who didn’t know the difference between a confined space and the empty chasm between her ears.
That takes me back to Max’s topic suggestion. Perhaps the reason managers won’t make time to send their people to training is because they find no value in what we have to say. If you find yourself dealing with that predicament, do some serious self-assessment. No one expects you to know everything, but you should at least know what you’re talking about. Think about it this way, would you pay to hear you give a safety presentation?
It’s OK if you can’t answer that affirmatively, but you need to accept that and work on it. Once what your words are worth it, people will come.