An Interactive Case Example In The Aggregates Industry.
By Joe McGuire, PhD, Emily Haas, PhD and Lucas Simpson, GSP
In the last year companies have had to swiftly institute changes to efficiently conduct their operations – many of which are likely to remain as standard best practices in safety and health (S&H). An important part of S&H management includes required, annual worker education or training that, up until now, was primarily conducted face-to-face on worksites.
Consequently, if asked to describe the challenges encountered while arranging annual refresher training (ART) for the workforce right now, it is likely that several barriers could be discussed. Although these issues are not unique to the mining industry, they have been at the forefront of mine S&H educators who are tasked with developing and delivering annual refresher and new miner training each year per the Mine Safety and Health Administration’s (MSHA) requirements. Fortunately, a multitude of resources from various companies and consultants, colleges, distance education, computer-based, or e-learning options are available. These resources can often be adapted, used verbatim or contracted.
In recent years, virtual learning formats have become more readily available to the mining community. Virtual learning allows students to interact, connect and share their learning materials with other students and teachers out of the classroom by using video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Skype. Even though virtual formats might appear to be the most feasible option right now, Klatt’s meta-review concludes that comprehension is much higher when participants are engaged and active .
When educational or training delivery processes are selected that allow participation and interaction, individuals retain up to 70% of what they say and 90% of what they do . Consequently, it is important that organizations and trainings adapt to the advantages and disadvantages of options available to them to continue high-quality training that best facilitates knowledge and skill-building. To assist with this effort, authors provide a consolidated list of such pros and cons for safety trainers (refer to the Appendix Table at the end of this article).
Regarding mining organizations, management has had to decide how effective training can be provided, that is progressive in its skill building, while still protecting the S&H of their workforce. This choice alone comes with concerns that initiate logistical challenges while accomplishing training goals. The purpose of this article is to discuss a framework that can help deliver high-quality training in the current situation by providing a case example of updated MSHA trainings in action.
These trainings were applied in a modified, face-to-face environment that focused on interactive engagement with workers. Additionally, within this interactive training option, a focus on soft skill development was highly desirable among management and the hourly workforce. Incorporation of these competencies is also discussed as a necessity to build into future trainings. Hopefully, reviewing how several companies delivered and structured their MSHA Refresher Training in 2020 can provide targeted direction to those trying to plan the best way to facilitate ART in 2021.
Development of Interactive Safety Training
In recent years, the MSHA training used by many aggregates companies has been revamped to include and highlight the teaching and improving of soft skills at work, rather than only technical, task-based skills [i.e., 2-9]. These safety educators have refreshed, rewritten and used MSHA training that spends an ample amount of time on communication, leadership, team building, and risk assessment. Further, case studies incorporating such soft skills have been designed and incorporated during these trainings [7,8,10]. Providing employees with structured case studies that facilitate small group discussions helps to generate interaction, come up with ideas, questions, suggestions, and solutions to problems or issues.
This interactive process is more effective with helping adults learn than simply giving facts, rules and other information for them to recall later . Regarding interactive training or group discussions, we are referring to interactive engagement, specifically, as a teaching and training method. Interactive engagement is a method that utilizes open-ended questions to challenge individuals, working together in small groups, to solve a problem . Often, interactive engagement methods are supported with an instructor functioning as a coach using guided materials but not traditional classroom-based resources, such as PowerPoint slides .
The development of this training, which includes several case studies that work to improve employee soft skills by progressing through hard skill tasks, won programmatic training awards from MSHA in 2014, 2017, 2019 and 2020, after spending several years to build momentum and improve the teaching of soft skill content [e.g., 7-10]. To date, these trainings have been taught with large groups – upwards of 200 mine workers.
Although these skills can be taught virtually, the newness of this focus on soft skill development in the mining industry necessitates an instructor that can break them into small groups, probe conversations with miners and be patient as they adapt to open conversation around these topics. In other words, soft skills can be more difficult to teach, harder to evaluate, and require more face-to-face time. Further, research has shown that too much virtual education can contribute to a deterioration of social skills . To that end, at the least, a blended approach combining a virtual approach with face-to-face time may be needed to properly teach soft skills to mine workers.
Small, Physically Distanced Groups
Having worked with several companies throughout 2020, the authors adapted training setups throughout the year to continue providing face-to-face, interactive MSHA Annual Refresher and New Hire Training to mine workers. Specifically, many companies felt that interactive training could be accomplished in small, physically distanced groups that comply with public health guidance.
Therefore, company personnel and trainers updated design and logistical criteria like that recommended by the University of Kansas’ education department , who argue that establishing training groups of two to four was an acceptable adaptation when complying with public health guidance compared to previous, large classroom designs. The University of Kansas also argued in their recent experiment that trying to combine in-person and live-stream classes and activities into one session severely diminished the experience of participants on both sides . This should be considered when deciding whether a hybrid training approach might work for mine sites.
Case Example: Ash Grove Cement
Ash Grove Cement, a CRH Company, has an operation based out of Louisville, Neb., that employs approximately 125 workers. The company operates a large quarry and processes aggregates used to manufacture cement on site. Consequently, it is subject to MSHA regulations and training requirements. Normally, Ash Grove Cement would divide emloyees into large groups and deliver face-to-face training over a two- or three-day period. Given the current limitations, the company’s senior managers and safety professionals met to discuss more creative ways to deliver their annual 8-Hour MSHA Refresher Training by the end of October 2020.
Use Train-the-Trainer Sessions to Establish a Consistent Framework – Initially, senior managers decided to use an outside facilitator to provide a “train-the-trainer” session to all front-line managers and leaders to help them provide impactful, resonant face-to-face training that stimulated group discussions. This training used the previously referenced workbook  to guide workers through basic safety topics, changes at the mine site and speaking up when unsafe conditions or behaviors are observed.
During the initial train-the-trainer session, managers learned how to apply the workbook as a guide to organize eight, one-hour sessions that allowed space and time for interaction during these critical safety and health topics. Additionally, the shorter trainings throughout a month still satisfied the required 8-Hour MSHA Refresher Training.
At first, management felt this option would 1) allow for training consistency; and 2) provide managers with skills and the resources to take on a primary role in delivering training to their direct employees. However, these train-the-trainer sessions also gave front-line managers and leaders practice in facilitating small group, interactive discussions, which was a convenient skill to acquire this past year as companies had to comply with regularly updated public health guidance to conduct these sessions.
Interactive Demonstration of Training Activities – After the train-the-trainer sessions, the company opted to further support knowledge and skill development in this area and brought an outside facilitator on site to assist their safety manager in providing the required training to all workers. To accommodate the 24-hour per day operations at the plant, workers were scheduled to attend one of 12 sessions.
The classes, which were conducted over a three-week period, ranged in size from four to 14 workers (as opposed to 50 or 60). Additionally, the rooms were organized differently to support fewer people at more tables across the room, which also encouraged small group activities. For all these small in-person training sessions it is important to note that current OSHA, CDC and state guidelines were referenced and followed.
However, guidelines are not specifically discussed herein due to continuous updates to local workplace guidelines. Even though all managers and trainers should consult their own state department’s guidelines prior to holding ARTs at work, it is likely that training can be adapted to support knowledge gain and retention while maintaining worker safety.
Training objectives centered on workers developing an understanding of both MSHA’s and the company’s policies and expectations on safety issues. In addition, it was hoped they would leave the session knowing what MSHA and the company expected from them. Topics covered during this training ranged from basic safety topics to helping employees understand the importance of speaking up when they observe unsafe situations, conditions or behaviors.
While many day-to-day safety topics were covered, emphasis was placed on Safety Drivers, Lock Out/Tag Out/Try Out, Use of PPE (including that used for Fall Protection), Task Training, Hazard Identification, Assessment and Mitigation, and the Importance of Speaking Up. All topics were delivered using interactive processes outlined in the updated training such as small group discussions, shared experiences, case studies, and brief lectures or videos to reinforce activities.
Training Evaluation – After training was completed, participants completed a class evaluation and provided open-ended comments about the training. Between 95% and 98% of participants strongly agreed that the training provided was: 1) a good refresher on the basics of safety; 2) designed to get them involved and active in the topics; 3) a reminder of important rules, policies, and best practices to keep them and their coworkers safe; 4) more useful than the typical PowerPoint/lecture-based approach; 5) informative in improving daily risk assessment capabilities; 6) designed to help identify equipment and mine site hazards; 7) able to educate them about the importance of speaking up if something unsafe is observed; and 8) critical to help improve communication and conversations about safety at the workplace.
Additionally, there were 156 comments provided by employees, 85% of which were positive and 15% of which were negative or areas for improvement. Most negative comments were outside the scope of the training itself and focused more on the tangible resources available to them during the day such as comfort of the chairs or room temperature.
Subsequent Case Uses
After one practical case example with a large company such as Ash Grove, five additional companies – three aggregates producers and two contractor companies, one located in Iowa and another in Nebraska, modeled a similar approach based on their current operation status. With the exception of one aggregate company, the number of participants in these classes were fewer, ultimately increasing the number of trainings typically provided. Surveys conducted after these sessions also generated high results and positive comments like those from the Ash Grove Cement sessions. Based on all the data, these face-to-face, interactive training sessions would clearly be considered successful.
Implications for Mine Worker Safety Training
Considering the flexibility necessary to complete ART, lessons were learned that can be gleaned to improve current and future educational opportunities. Rather than focus on specific guidelines developed to host these trainings, that can be easily found and adapted from MSHA and OSHA guidance, authors felt it important to share successful takeaways for future training considerations.
Maintain Small Group, Interactive Trainings – Historically, in-person trainings have utilized large groups; however, an unexpected benefit of minimizing class sizes has been enhanced perceptions and knowledge building, as reported by participants. Specifically, participant surveys showed that employees prefer to be in smaller groups during training. In our observations, workers tend to be quieter and passive in settings where there are more participants, even if they are co-workers.
For example, workers shared in their evaluation’s comments such as “Our time spent in smaller groups allowed for better discussions” and “Open conversations were much better than monotone videos.” Previous research  also found participation to be much higher in small group settings when compared to larger classes. Additionally, small groups that are spread out have been shown to keep the noise levels down and people able to better communicate with peers .
These small group modules were also shown to keep engagement high for the cumulative training period. For instance, workers noted that the sessions went “very fast” and that the format was “much better than in previous years.” Even if small groups are not attainable in the future, restructuring how the training is delivered over a longer period may be more pragmatic to sustain interaction.
Interactive Sessions to Support Engagement and Skill-Building – During these all-day trainings, individuals received a workbook to use for various individual and small group activities, but no PowerPoint slides are used throughout the day. These methods support the interactive engagement model . The results of the evaluations conducted this year and in recent years support the small group, interactive approaches that were facilitated. Ash Grove workers listed feedback such as “I really like the fact we talked together more … it made in more interactive and interesting.”
Additionally, a common response was that the interaction in place of normal PowerPoints was appreciated. These results support other research in that traditional lecture and modules often support passive approaches that do not produce the desired effect . Additionally, another company that became aware of this training model indicated that these workers’ jobs “are all hands on so it’s hard to expect them to retain a PowerPoint or online training program” and that interaction helps their workers remember information . Therefore, although it might help check a box for compliance, passive presentations may not help workers improve safety performance.
Incorporate Soft Skill Development – The final takeaway is that mine workers appreciated and gained value from having the opportunity to build soft skills. As discussed earlier, there is a mandated list of topics provided by MSHA that must be covered yearly, but others can be added. These added and different skills being emphasized within these trainings did not go unnoticed in participants’ evaluations.
Workers indicated that the topics were “different than in the past,” and they valued the “new approach to the training.” Specifically, offering smaller interactive group sessions aided soft skill development such as leadership, communication and team building – all highly desired practices by mine workers [8, 18]. Although learning how to teach and facilitate learning in this area may be more difficult for task-based experts in mining, finding training topics or resources in these areas may help companies start to build a program module in soft skills training. By developing these skills, companies can expect to see improved production and safety performance.
During times of stress and anxiety it may be easy to default to easier options to get things done. For example, in June 2020, Dom Tolli, vice president of product development at the American Red Cross, stated, “… it’s easy to postpone all non-essential training” [19, np]. However, Tolli went on to say that there are safe ways to effectively train workers right now, and the need to be innovative is necessary. To that end it is our hope that by updating and outlining personal training objectives and designs that have been used this year in the aggregates sector can help maintain and improve effective training techniques at respective operations.
Joseph McGuire, Ph.D. is an independent safety and health consultant ([email protected]), Emily J. Haas, Ph.D. is a research health scientist for NIOSH ([email protected]), and Lucas Simpson, B.S. is a safety manager for Ash Grove Cement, a CRH Company ([email protected] ).
Disclaimer: The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mention of any company or product does not constitute endorsement by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). In addition, citations to websites external to NIOSH do not constitute NIOSH endorsement of the sponsoring organizations or their programs or products.
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