Putting Safety Training Online – Coursework Should Go Beyond ‘Check The Box’

Dave Zielinski

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When Jack Hawkins, director of risk control, started working at the Coca-Cola Bottling Cos. in Charlotte, N.C., safety training was conducted through instructor-led courses and CD-based video learning. While those offline formats met regulatory objectives, they fell short of other training goals. “We often start the day at 5 a.m., and—for younger employees especially—having to come in and sit in the classroom at that hour for safety training wasn’t conducive to motivation,” Hawkins says.

The company has since migrated to eLearning for safety education. Employees can get online instruction from remote locations or from dedicated computer stations at 50 product distribution centers in nine states. Content is accessed by employees via a software-as-a-service model from vendor UL PureSafety in Franklin, Tenn., an option Hawkins chose for its user-friendliness and instructionally sound content.

“We didn’t want our people to have to be computer scientists to log onto the site, find their safety lessons and take the training,” Hawkins says.

Most of the company’s safety training is conducted around driver safety and workplace injury and accident prevention to comply with requirements from the U.S. Department of Transportation and OSHA. Hawkins says the learning management system supporting the online training has been a benefit in tracking compliance.

With a new ability to monitor companywide training completion percentages, Hawkins could see early in training implementation that at the end of a given month, only 60 percent of employees had completed assigned safety lessons.

To boost that rate, Hawkins began publicizing training completion “scorecards” by location and department. Within months, spurred by the scorecards and supervisors’ encouragement, employees had achieved 80 percent compliance. Now, “We are close to 100 percent compliance for the 65,000 safety lessons our employee population takes over the course of a year,” Hawkins says. Coca-Cola Bottling structures the training in a way that keeps workplace safety issues top of mind for employees. “We don’t want people to be able to simply log onto the site in January and take their 12 safety lessons and be done,” Hawkins says. “The system allows us to assign one or two lessons a month across the whole organization, so people can’t work ahead.”

Keeping eLearning engaging for employees is vital, Hawkins says. Most training sessions are kept to 20 to 30 minutes, including testing time, and each has some form of interactive exercise to hold learners’ attention.

eLearning has had a positive impact on workplace safety performance, Hawkins says. According to a company-developed “risk dashboard” that details injury and vehicle accident rates for all operating units, Coca-Cola Bottling has had fewer injuries and vehicle accidents each year for the past five years, he says.

“We’ve reduced the overall frequency of vehicle injuries and accidents about 50 percent in that time, and, as a result, the cost of those losses is down 50 percent on an annualized basis,” Hawkins says.

This article originally appeared in the January 2013 issue of HR Magazine. Click here to read the rest of this article on SHRM.org.