Safety education requires more than a dull presentation and a few slides. Risk managers should seek effective methods.

  • Training should be mandatory and wide-reaching.
  • Virtual training options may be effective.
  • Follow with assessments of comprehension.

The days of calling employees into a meeting room and showing them a PowerPoint on the latest safety initiative are waning as risk managers find better ways to teach important lessons. Lecturing employees never worked well, and is increasingly disdained in favor of more creative and interactive teaching techniques.

A good education program will come with a top-down endorsement but a bottom-up empowerment, says Herman Williams, MD, MBA, MPH, managing director with the BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation in Nashville, TN. Ideally, the CEO should endorse the program, he says. But everyone on the front lines should be empowered to “stop the line” if they recognize a threat to safety.

Training must be mandatory. Some organizations go wrong by launching a major safety initiative and only training clinicians, Williams says. In many cases, the safety message should be presented to other workers, including housekeeping, dietary services, and administrative staff.

“You can’t just do a PowerPoint presentation accompanied by a speech,” he says. “We’ve done a presentation, and then broke into small groups to role play scenarios in which this safety issue might come up. One person plays the patient and the other plays the doctor, then you switch so each person gets an opportunity to act on the safety measure.”

Testing also is important, Williams says. Written or online post-tests are options, and you can conduct rounds to spot-check employees on their retention and comprehension of the safety message, he adds.

Virtual Training an Option

Virtual training on an interactive online platform has many advantages over standard in-service lectures and PowerPoint presentations, such as providing universal access to an unlimited number of employees independent of work activities, says Lois Wedlock, director of clinical excellence for IntegriMedical, a company in Phoenix that provides needle-free drug delivery technology.

“In contrast, training that interrupts normal work activity or is done as an add-on to normal workflow is generally less effective,” Wedlock says. “Additionally, virtual training enables employees to complete coursework at their own pace, giving them more control over their time and enabling them to engage with the training content over multiple sessions.”

Training events must be convenient and meaningful to participants while demonstrating to employers that training was completed with documentation of new learned material, she says.

To create value, trainers should begin lessons with a knowledge base that explains the “what” and “why” behind the training, and then continues to the “how-to,” she says. Above all, trainers should respect staff members’ time, which is normally spent taking care of patients. Time is the most valuable asset healthcare workers have, so trainers must be careful to make the most of it.

“One common mistake is when trainers don’t provide another training opportunity for staff who miss sessions as a result of getting called away to perform patient care duties. Additionally, it is wise to avoid scheduling training in the middle of a shift when staff members’ minds are on patient care rather than training,” she says “To help ensure that training is not perceived as redundant or irrelevant, make sure that trainees understand what they will learn will help them carry out their missions.”

Use technology and empower employees to be efficient with options such as virtual training programs that are easily accessible from any electronic device, Wedlock says. A virtual option enables trainees to revisit training sections that may be complex without the pressure of asking for help and drawing attention to themselves because they do not know the answers. Technology also allows efficiency in time for staff to learn at their own pace, while administrators can generate a report of who has completed the required training, she says.

“The era of having designated training days where staff gather to attend an in-service, with most being distracted and only required to sign an attendance sheet without measuring their base of knowledge, is over,” she says.

Measure Knowledge Before and After

Training should include testing to measure participants’ knowledge before and after the training session, Wedlock says. Employees should be required to pass a certification test to complete the class.

After the class is completed, stay in touch with trainees via newsletter, updates, and surveys to determine the effectiveness of the training. Importantly, none of these follow-up activities should interfere with staff members’ patient care activities, Wedlock says.

Digital training tools empower people to learn at their own pace and style by giving them access to a combination of pictures, videos, and voice modules, says David Yanez, CEO of Andonix, a company in Detroit that provides a platform to educate frontline workers on safety.

These features cater to different learning styles because they are powered by artificial intelligence, he says.

“Therefore, leaders can make safety training more situational, circumstantial, and recurrent,” he says. “There are tangible metrics like risk-based measurements and rate of injury, which show that digital training for safety improves in every applicable industry including healthcare.”

“Safety is a bottom-line issue that can have a massively positive impact on an organization and its employees,” Yanez continues. “When safety becomes everyone’s priority, the leadership focus shifts away from enforcement and toward empowerment and enablement. Culture is how people behave when nobody is watching. If safety is about habits, and habits forge culture, then building a culture around workplace safety is the right strategy.”

Yanez suggests watching for these common mistakes in training:

  • not assessing team members to identify their proficiency and training level;
  • not creating a comprehensive program that captures foundational training;
  • assuming all team members have the same learning styles and speed;
  • not linking training to performance, and performance to desired safety behavior;
  • not promoting people based on their safety record and leadership;
  • not evolving and continuously improving the learning system with lessons learned and best practices.


  • Lois Wedlock, Director, Clinical Excellence, IntegriMedical, Phoenix. Email: lois@integrimedical.com.
  • Herman Williams, MD, MBA, MPH, Managing Director, The BDO Center for Healthcare Excellence & Innovation, Nashville, TN. Phone: (786) 596-2000.
  • David Yanez, CEO, Andonix, Detroit. Email: david.yanez@andonix.com.