Safety Training

A majority of companies in the aggregates industry have a genuine concern about the safety of their employees. In their efforts to ensure employee accidents and injuries are kept to a minimum, safety professionals continually look for that one program, new initiative or “silver bullet” to eliminate unwanted events on company sites or projects.

These efforts often result in a great deal of time and money being spent on employee safety programs and training. We should keep in mind it is important to devote all of the resources needed to improve safety performance of employees. Unfortunately, in some cases, there are some who might question just how effective these programs and training are when unwanted accidents and injuries continue to occur?

A review of Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) workplace injuries reveals a somewhat troubling trend. Data from the past few years indicate the frequency of injuries in the workplace has remained at about the same level. On the positive side, this trend is not getting worse and if compared to the data from several years prior to that, there has been an improvement, but even during those years a similar trend was detected.

Does this mean all of the safety programs companies use or money and time they spend on training are of no value? Absolutely not; but it may mean it is time to evaluate effectiveness of safety programs and training provided to employees. The results of such an evaluation could be used to determine if there are other topics or processes which might be used to improve employees’ safety behavior and thus, lower accident and injury rates. It has been said, “if we continue to do things the same way they have always been done we should probably expect to get the same results.”

If this is truly the case it is probably safe to assume companies, who continue to use the same “flavor of the month” safety programs and provide annual training which covers the same topics year after year, can expect to get the same results when it comes to preventing accidents and injuries on their mine sites.

A cursory literature review of topics typically covered in face-to-face or instructor-led MSHA training are, and have been, the same for many years. Likewise, distance education, computer-based training and e-learning for miners, for the most part, are designed around these same topics. An online search of “MSHA Annual Refresher Training,” in addition to MSHA’s web page, reveals a multitude of companies, consultants, colleges, distance education, computer-based or e-learning sources, which can be used to satisfy annual miner safety training.* For the most part, these sources indicate their training will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Accident Prevention.
  • Changes to Mine Site.
  • Confined Space.
  • Drug/Alcohol Abuse.
  • Electrical Safety.
  • Emergencies/Escape Defensive Driving.
  • Equipment Guarding.
  • Explosives.
  • Fall Protection.
  • Fire Prevention.
  • First Aid.
  • Ground Control.
  • Haz Comm.
  • Hearing Conservation.
  • Highwalls.
  • Lockout/Tag Out.
  • Miners’ Rights.
  • Respiratory Devices.
  • Use of PPE.
  • Water Hazards.

This is not to say these safety topics should not be discussed and when changes to them occur, they must be brought to miners’ attention. But spending several hours each year attempting to teach miners what they already know is ineffective. It can also turn what is a potential learning opportunity, which can also get participants involved, into a session “where they display attitudes of disinterest and dread at the thought of attending a safety training” (Effective Safety Training; p. 2, Wikipedia 2017).

Repetition of topics used in training, which should be focused on changing or improving employees’ safety performance, will become just another effort in teaching them what they already know. However, as pointed out by Robert F. Mager in his first two rules on doing training, this cannot be done:

  • Rule #1: Training is appropriate only when two conditions are present:

    – There is something that one or two people do not know how to do.

    – They need to be able to do it.

  • Rule #2: If they already know how, more training will not help.

One should ask, “At what point does providing MSHA-required safety training, covering the identical topics and using the same delivery processes, neither foster learning nor encourage employee engagement?” Clinging to MSHA training content and processes that have not changed significantly over the past 25 years probably tends to do little to improve or change employee safety performance. When MSHA Annual Refresher Training is conducted, we frequently see most of the following:

  • Tables or desk arranged in classroom style (which discourages discussion and interaction among participants).
  • The primary processes for delivering MSHA training to students remains PowerPoint presentations, videos and lectures.
  • The topics or content of MSHA training sessions, for the most part, remains unchanged.
  • Students tend to be inactive, do not get involved and are rarely engaged in any meaningful discussion or learning activity.
  • Interaction is minimal unless presenters of the class count “clicking” on buttons of a participant’s computer or hand held device.

Training developed around the same topics and delivered by way of PowerPoint presentations, videos and lectures usually encourages participants to remain passive or bored during the sessions and as a result, they will probably not learn or gain new information. As indicated in the SAFESTART education program, “if the refresher training is identical to the original training and it “bores” the trainees, they might not get what they really need out of it.” To improve and make safety training more valuable, trainers might follow the suggestion provided in the article “Effective Safety Training” in which the author states, “It is the trainer’s duty to make safety training fun and educational, which will help the trainees to retain information, enjoy the course and apply the learning to their work and lives.”

Training Delivery Processes

When face-to-face training is provided, trainers or instructors typically use lectures, PowerPoint slides, pictures and videos to deliver their content or programs. In recent years, distance education, computer-based training and e-learning have become popular training delivery processes.

When any of these are used to provide safety education, they may be only somewhat effective in helping participants attain an understanding of safety behavior and compliance. They may be less effective because these types of delivery processes generally encourage participants to be passive; allow only minimal interaction and virtually no engagement. In case of distance education, computer-based training or e-learning, there is limited or no opportunity to ask questions. On-going safety education or training, presented using these delivery processes, is sometimes seen by participants as less than exciting and repetitive; therefore, it may be only marginally effective and transfer minimal knowledge.

A literature review indicates there may be better ways to help participants learn and thus, retain information from educational or training events in which they take part. Many studies dealing with “retained learning” indicate individuals generally retain only (Klatt 1999):

  • 10 percent of what is read to them.
  • 20 percent of what they hear.
  • 30 percent of what they see.

On the other hand, these same studies show retained learning is much higher when participants are engaged and active. If educational or training processes are selected which allow individuals freedom to participate, interact or ask questions they retain:

  • 70 percent of what they say.
  • 90 percent of what they say and do.

Research on most effective training techniques or processes indicate classroom or instructor-led remains the most popular delivery process used by trainers. Ken Taylor stated, in his article “Face-To-Face Training Still Leads the Way,” that two studies conducted by Training Industry Inc. in 2012 found “the most effective modalities for training were face-to-face instructor-led courses and coaching.” While these techniques are personal or face-to-face processes, too often they are not interactive and success of training is dependent upon the skills and effectiveness of the instructor.

Current research on the effectiveness of distance education, computer-based training and e-learning is mixed; but there seems to be a consensus that both are fairly effective delivery processes in some situations. For example, learning “hard skills” such as technical skills, how to do a task, operate a piece of equipment or a tool can be done effectively using these processes. On the other hand, using distance learning, computer-based training or E-learning for teaching or improving “soft skills,” such as communication, leadership, safety, team cooperation and time or management development, may not attain the same results. Soft skills are more difficult to teach, harder to evaluate and require more face-to-face time between instructor and students. A blended approach combining distance education, computer based training or e-learning with face-to-face time will increase their effectiveness and acceptance.

Research has also found adult learning is improved when it is interactive, “hands-on” and life experiences are incorporated into training sessions. Providing adult learners with structured case studies, group discussions and other learning activities will generate interaction and conversations which encourages them to come up with ideas, questions, suggestions and solutions to problems or issues.

This process is more effective with helping adults learn than simply giving facts, rules and other information for them to remember. As Pike (1989) stated, “Repetition of information adults have already learned will not increase their level of knowledge and will probably do very little to change their opinions, beliefs or behaviors. Adults will learn what they want or need to know and will reject what they perceive to be of little or no value to them.”

Comfort Zone

We all seem to do the best work when we stay within our comfort zone; however, to move beyond teaching people what they already know requires trainers or instructors to explore other topics and content areas. Whether we consider ourselves a trainer or instructor, we tend to become a bit anxious and apprehensive if we are asked to present materials or teach outside our area of expertise.

We spend years in educational or training programs growing our knowledge base; after which, we devote a great deal of time to planning and developing training sessions or classes based on what we have learned. Stepping outside of our comfort zone can be stressful; however, it might be the first step in developing classes with content that focuses on bringing new learning to participants. In the end, our responsibility or “duty” is to our students, not to our content or what we know.

Breaking Traditions

From 2014 to 2017, five safety educational workbooks were developed as tools to help deliver MSHA Annual Eight Hour Refresher Training to those working in the mining industry. This educational process, designed to get employees to become active and more engaged, uses no PowerPoint slides and the “teacher” is replaced with a “facilitator” who does not lecture but uses workbooks to guide student learning. The facilitator encourages students to do the work and as a result, they become more engaged and hopefully learn new information which will keep them from being in an accident or injured at work.

Based on survey data and comments from miners who have participated in this MSHA training, it appears this employee educational process has been highly successful. Further, it demonstrates exposing employees to higher level educational topics which deal with more than traditional training content should be considered when trying to reduce accidents, eliminate injuries and improve a company’s safety culture.

In 2014, Cessford Construction Co. (an Oldcastle Materials Group company) made a decision to break from tradition by providing employees with annual MSHA Refresher Training which was not “just the same old thing” delivered by PowerPoints, videos and lectures. What took its place was a workbook titled “MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. I.” Using it, and coached by a facilitator, participants were required to read, encouraged to take part in small group discussions, and answer questions about various safety topics. Because this workbook, as a training delivery process, proved to be so successful additional workbooks focused on taking MSHA Annual Refresher Training to a higher level were developed and used in 2015, 2016 and 2017.

While the content or topics inMSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. I” were typical of those covered in traditional safety training, the delivery process was much different and more effective as shown from data generated by surveys and comments from participants. Rather than following a “teacher centered” model, this delivery process might be considered as “student centered” where the trainer becomes a facilitator guiding the learning process rather than one who simply lectures. Based on survey data and comments, it appeared this educational process helped students learn new information, even though they may have attended previous sessions where the same topics were presented using PowerPoint slides, videos and lectures.

In 2015 it was decided to raise MSHA training to a higher level by going beyond a repeat of traditional safety topics. A majority of the contents in “MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. II” concentrated on providing higher level discussions and safety education for employees dealing with:

  • Hazard Identification.
  • Risk Assessment.
  • Hazard Mitigation.
  • Task Training.
  • Trends in Injuries.

This workbook also provided employees training on:

  • Miners’ Rights.
  • Changes at the Mine Site.
  • Emergency Response (First Aid).

By helping employees gain a deeper understanding of these processes, they will better understand the role they play in preventing accidents, injuries and fatalities in the workplace. Helping employees understand “why” is critical to learning, improving safety performance and preventing unwanted events while at work.

Research shows when leadership is weak or missing, a company’s safety culture and its employees’ safety performance are affected in a negative manner. To assist employees with understanding these relationships, the contents of “MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. III,” like Vol. II, take employees to an even higher level with its main theme of leadership and its importance to safety. In addition, a secondary theme dealing with effects of stress on job performance and safety is provided. The majority of the content of Vol. III focuses on:

  • Leadership as it Relates to Safety.
  • The Effects of Stress in the Workplace.
  • Work Place Examinations.

Helping employees understand they may be required to step up and become leaders and how leadership is related to reducing accidents, injuries and fatalities on mine sites is information a majority of employees will typically not receive in annual MSHA training.

Also in this workbook is included material covering the topics of:

  • Miners’ Rights.
  • Changes at the Mine Site.
  • Emergency Response (First Aid).

“MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. IV” is a special edition developed for the National Stone, Sand and Gravel Association (NSSGA) for use in their New Manager Development Academy. It contains subject matter and specific exercises selected from the other four workbooks.

It is important to note the content chosen for “MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. V” was selected by employees working in the mining industry. An opinion survey completed by over 1,000 miners overwhelmingly (96 percent) indicated that:

  • When in training, they want to be treated like adults.
  • They want to be active and involved in training rather than sitting all day.
  • They would like to have input into what they want to learn and not just be told what they want to learn.

In 2017, another 253 miners were asked the following question, “If you had an opportunity, to pick one safety related training topic you would like to learn more about, what would it be?” They were asked to write their topic on a piece of paper and when all were tallied the following topics were chosen:

  • Leadership.
  • Team Building.
  • Communication Skills.
  • Task Training.
  • Computer Skill Development.

The majority of “MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. V” is devoted to the topics selected by this group of employees. These topics are all critical to the success of a company’s safety programs and to the health and well-being its employees. If a company does not have strong leaders at all levels, who promote safety and working together as a team, the odds of reducing accidents and injuries in their workplaces are greatly reduced. Equally important to success with employee safety is open and frequent communication up and down the chain of command. Leadership, team building and communication are not topics one sees in typical MSHA Annual Refresher Training.

As in the other workbooks the following topics were included:

  • Miners’ Rights.
  • Changes at the Mine Site.
  • Emergency Response (First Aid).

Survey Results

Following are results from survey items which reflect opinions of several hundred miners who participated in annual MSHA Refresher Training using these workbooks and delivery process. The strength of each response on a scale of from 1 to 7 (with 7 being highest) and the high percentage of employee agreement to each item indicate the class content and delivery process were well received and extremely effective in providing new information on safety to a majority of participants.

MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. I (General Safety Topics)
  • 85 percent of those who participated indicated they learned more about safety from this MSHA Annual Refresher Training program than previous sessions that used only PowerPoints, lectures and movie presentations. (Average score of 6.2).
  • 95 percent of employees said this MSHA refresher training allowed them an opportunity to participate in what was going on. (Average score of 6.3).
  • 87 percent of those in the classes said by using the workbook they believe they learned more about the safety topics that were discussed. (Average score of 6.0).
  • 89 percent agreed participating in exercises, which dealt with safety topics covered during this training program, helped them understand the content better. (Average score of 6.2).
MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. II (Risk Assessment Process)
  • 95 percent of employees indicated by participating in activities and using the workbook they have a better understanding of the Risk Assessment Process. (Average score of 6.2).
  • 97 percent of participants believe activities designed to help them identify equipment and mine site hazards will make them more aware of them while they are doing their job. (Average score of 6.3).
  • 98 percent of respondents said participating in activities or exercises helps them understand more about the topics discussed during the training. (Average score of 6.4).
  • 97 percent of participants believe discussions dealing with hazard identification, risk assessment and ways to mitigate hazards helps them understand what they mean and how they relate to staying safer at work. (Average score of 6.4).
MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. III (Leadership/Job Related Stress)
  • 91 percent of employees indicated in this MSHA Annual Refresher Training they learned leadership is an important part of being safe in the workplace. (Average score of 6.6).
  • 98 percent of respondents believe from this MSHA Training session it is clear leadership is everyone’s business. (Average score of 6.7).
  • 98 percent of participants agreed because of this MSHA Training session they now understand accountability is each person’s responsibility. (Average score of 6.6).
MSHA Annual Refresher Education Vol. V (Leadership/Teams/Communication)
  • 98 percent of participants in this MSHA Annual Refresher Training indicated they learned leadership is an important part of being safe in the workplace. (Average score of 6.5).
  • 98 percent of participants said it became clear leadership is everyone’s business. (Average score of 6.4).
  • 98 percent of participants said they learned the importance of team work and how to build teams. (Average score of 6.4).
  • 96 percent of participants indicated they learned making team decisions leads to higher levels of employee engagement. (Average score of 6.4).
  • 98 percent said during this training they learned about communication and its importance to staying safer at work. (Average score of 6.3).


MSHA accident and injury statistics indicate the frequency of incidents occurring on mine sites is not going down. There are probably many reasons for this. For example, a company may not have an effective program which guides or coaches an employee’s safety behavior on one hand to those which have so many safety programs or initiatives it confuses employees who are affected by them.

There appears to be no lack of slogans, programs or initiatives mining companies use when attempting to improve their employees’ safety performance and thereby reduce the number accidents and injuries that occur. But in the end, unplanned events continue to happen on mine sites.

Providing employees with high quality safety education, which actually gets them involved, engaged and from which they learn new information to improve their safety performance, should be the goal of all who provide training. In all likelihood, this will not be accomplished by providing hours of training covering material they already know, using delivery systems which encourage participants to remain passive and where involvement is measured by how many times they push buttons on devices to answer questions.

These will not change until trainers or instructors decide to step out of their comfort zone; conduct research on “non-traditional” safety topics to improve or expand the content of their programs and take time to master new delivery techniques or processes. Failure to improve delivery processes will encourage disengagement and passivity. Failure to learn new information about safety will result in trainers or instructors teaching miners what they already know, not what they (miners) need to know in order to improve their safety performance.

In addition to improving or expanding content of training programs, there are many delivery processes available which encourage participants to become involved, share experiences and learn. But simply showing PowerPoint slides, reading them to students and lecturing is not one of them; having trainees sit in front of a computer monitor with no opportunity to interact or ask questions is another. To develop training which is truly effective and of value, trainers or instructors will need to take time to research and find methods which blend their current delivery processes with those proven to engage participants and where retained learning goes from 10 or 20 percent to 80 percent and higher. Some examples of delivery processes trainers or instructors of MSHA training could look at include:

  • Classroom/Instructor-led Training.
  • Interactive Training.
  • Hands-on or Experiential Training.
  • Distance Education.
  • Computer-Based Training.
  • E-learning.

When considering an alternative training delivery process, trainers or instructors should explore the advantages and disadvantages of each. As pointed out earlier, instructor-led is efficient at presenting a large amount of material to either small or large groups, is cost effective and ensures everyone will hear the same message; but it tends to not be interactive and success of the class is dependent on the presenter’s skills.

Participants enrolled in distance education sessions have shown learning takes place and can be just as effective as traditionally offered training when there is no other choice; in other words, when face-to-face training is not available. Distance education, computer-based training or e-learning allows learning to take place at one’s own pace, can be provided at numerous locations simultaneously and is very effective for teaching “hard” skills; but it tends to be less effective for delivering training dealing with “soft” skills.

The advantages and disadvantages of other delivery processes are quite similar to those of Instructor-led distance education, computer-based training and e-learning. All of them can be more effective if they use a blend of two or more delivery processes together.

The MSHA safety workbooks and delivery process described in this document are an example of what can be developed when one gets outside of his/her comfort zone. Survey data and comments from those having participated in these educational sessions indicate they are a refreshing break from MSHA training that is “the same old thing every year.” As stated earlier, “it is the trainer’s duty to make safety training fun and educational, which will help the trainees to retain information, enjoy the course and apply the learning to their work and lives”. Remember, our responsibility is to our students, not to our content or what we know.


The MSHA web page, not only provides materials on typical safety topics, but often explores others which it encourages safety professionals and trainers use when they are leading required training. Over the past few years task training, risk tolerance and mine site examinations are examples of other topics that could be used in place of those which tend to be repeated year after year. In addition, regional MSHA Educational Field Representatives, if asked, will provide suggestions for topics that they believe will help trainers provide new information and engage participants in the training.

This article was written by Joseph P. McGuire, Ph.D. and Bill Snead, CSP. For more information, contact [email protected].

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