Why fear, and fun, make safety training stick

Having fun on the Industrial Biodynamics Slip Simulator

Dread Safety Training? That Might be a Good Thing

When people use the word “dread” when talking about safety training they are usually referring to their lack of desire to to participate.

When Mike Burke, business professor at Tulane University talks about dread, he’s talking about the psychological factor that leads to successful safety training.

Burke and his co-authors published The Dread Factor: How Hazards and Safety Training Influence Learning and Performance. After analyzing the data from safety studies from 16 countries and spanning a sample size of nearly 25,000, it was clear that people need to experience a certain level of dread or fear to understand why they need training.

How to not dread safety training

So, what are the essential elements to safety training success? In a recent interview, Burke said,

“In short, there is a lot of action and dialogue.”

While discussing the success of Industrial Biodynamic’s Slip Simulator™, Burke said he was not surprised by the dramatic reduction in accidents clients report.

“And, most likely they’re not just doing that just because they are trained on it they are doing it because they are interacting with others who are involved in the training on the simulator,” Burke said.

“They are learning from others. That’s what is missing a lot in simulation. The success of simulation is the social interaction.”

Research and client feedback show that employees trained on the Slip Simulator™ see a 65%-80% reduction in slips, trips and falls. One study showed that even people watching the training – those who don’t actually get in the harness – demonstrate a 30% reduction.

Sam Retenski, Slip Simulator™ trainer at Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York said she and her team have trained nearly 1,400 employees. All but one of the 1,400 employees mastered walking on the slippery floor, Retenski said, and in that case fun was the culprit in the training failure.

“She was laughing so hard that she couldn’t stand,” Retenski said. “I mean she was laughing with a red face and tears coming down.”

Retenski said the most effective safety training is fun. “We’ve been told; when I get a good class; it sounds like happy hour at a bar; we have so much fun.”

Chris Cruise, Slip Simulator™ trainer at GE Appliances said,

“It’s the most fun I have had safety training. The training is unique and hands-on which keeps operators engaged. We have implemented this training for all new employees.”

Why it works

Lead Slip Simulator™ trainer, Jim Kleinsteuber, said what makes the Slip Simulator™ unique is the control users have over modifying the training to meet their company’s particular challenges. For instance, meter readers practice walking while carrying meter reading equipment. Kleinsteuber was particularly impressed by one request to incorporate umbrellas.

“I thought what is this, Mary Poppins?” Kleinsteuber said. As it turns out meter readers will use small umbrellas as bite shields and pop them open when dogs come at them. Trainees who mastered the Slip Simulator™ without the umbrellas had to train further to develop their skills using them.

“I thought now this is relevant,” Kleinsteuber said. “The users tailor it to their needs.”

Kleinsteuber has trained thousands of people on the Slip Simulator™ many of whom incorporated their creativity into the training. He has helped oil and gas employees practice opening valves while standing on the simulator and security forces practice drawing guns and helped office workers learn to fear using smartphones on slippery walking surfaces.

Effective safety training is not just about making it fun; it’s about dread and fear

Burke said,

“They may be engaged in a sense in a positive way but they are also aware of the severity of what is occurring especially like on your simulator when you use an obstacle. That creates a discussion in the room.”

“The dialogue between the trainees as well as between the trainer and trainees is important. All of it is important in terms of creating a slight realization or fear of what would occur if they did not do things perfectly. And that is just developed more with others,” Burke said.

Although there is some benefit to watching a technique to learn there really is no substitute for hands-on or kinesthetic learning.

Employees who practice safe protocols can be trained and “developed, in part, vicariously, visually, but it’s best developed in the actual simulation and being involved with others at the same time,” Burke concluded.

If you want to learn more about how your company can reduce slip and fall accidents, contact Industrial
Biodynamics at