Let’s be really blunt: most safety training programs do not work.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 1 million workers suffer from back injuries on the job every year. Improper lifting techniques account for 3 out of 4 back injuries in the workplace. Back injuries are responsible for 1 out of every 5 workplace injuries or illnesses. The annual cost of back injuries to employers is counted in billions of dollars. 25% of all compensation claims are for back injuries. And we haven’t even begun to count the cost of the pain and suffering that employees experience. Nor have we considered the wider impact that an injury can have on the relationships, family, and friends of the injured person.

While the above statistics focus on back injuries, other parts of the musculoskeletal system are not exempt. 34% of all lost-workday injuries and illnesses are related to musculoskeletal disorders, many of which are caused by improper lifting. These incidents occur despite the implementation of safety and lifting programs.
So how do you make safety training stick?
The ineffectiveness of most programs is built into their nature. By nature, programs are temporary and finite. They have a defined beginning and a definite end. Programs are typically “one-and-done” affairs. And they are generally ineffective at producing long-lasting, meaningful results when it comes to lifting and material handling. A safety program often fails because once the initial thrust of a program is over, people revert to what is familiar. And for us human beings, that which is familiar is almost always the easier path to take.
For many companies, a safety training program’s lifespan goes something like this.
● Corporate, concerned about the detrimental effect of poor lifting habits on the bottom line, chooses the program du jour.
● They implement the program in Operations through Safety, often with much publicity and hype.
● Employees participate in the program.
● Overnight, illustrated safety posters featuring large, friendly fonts appear magically around the workspace. The atmosphere buzzes with chatter about the new safety initiative.
● Fast forward a few weeks. The safety program has now become an event, based on a nice idea.
● Corporate check the safety program off their list of priorities.
● Posters lose their shine and become part of the background clutter.
● The safety training program is now lost in the drift of old lifting habits.
● Safe material handling returns to the status quo.
● Statistics show a temporary decrease in injuries, but the decrease is just a blip in a line of blips that follow every safety training. And will likely follow the next one. And the next one.
The problem is that, once the program loses its newness and novelty, interest – and adherence –wanes. A good example of this is the ‘squat’ method of lifting. Almost anyone who has had to learn how to handle heavy materials at work has been taught the following:

ᐅ Keep your back straight.
ᐅ Place your feet shoulder width apart.
ᐅ Squat down.
ᐅ Lift with your legs, not your back.
ᐅ Keep the weight near your torso.

Yet, we still injure our backs. Because most of us learned to lift incorrectly from the time we were young. And, once the training program is over, we do what is familiar – and therefore easier – to us. Most programs don’t equip us to deal with our own habitual lifting behaviors once the program is over. By the way, the ‘squat’ method is not the most effective way to lift. Squatting causes most people to rest on the balls of the feet, which requires muscular strength to maintain. That strength is now no longer available for lifting. Also, placing the feet shoulder width apart means that the knees can easily get in the way of the load to be lifted, putting additional stress on other areas of the back and joints.
Another problem with programs is that they do not factor in our natural ability to forget. People forget what they’ve learned at an astounding rate. Just as there is a ‘learning curve,’ there is also a ‘forgetting curve.’ The Forgetting Curve predicts that retention of new information drops to 40% within 2 – 3 days. As retention declines, the pull of familiar habits increases. Combatting this tendency toward the familiar requires the implementation of a system that extends beyond the scope of a program. A safe material handling success story begins with a commitment to train your employees over time. Effectiveness comes with ongoing training. Incorporate positive feedback, incentives, coaching, reviews, and audits as part of the daily routine. Correcting poor lifting habits then become an opportunity, rather than a scolding. Once we get away from program-based training, safe material handling has the opportunity to become a value, rather than a priority.
PowerLift Back Safety Training offers a material handling safety system that has been tried and tested by over 800 companies across almost every industry. This is a totally different training system than most people have experienced in the past. It’s different because it’s practical on the job and it actually works. With a safety training system like PowerLift, your company can drastically reduce the number of strain and injuries at each location. Click here to learn more about how PowerLift can make a palpable difference in your companies safety today.

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