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How do we learn to work more safely?

Many companies pay a lot of attention to training to work safely. The problem with many training methods, however, is that the lessons do not stick. So we need to see how we can anchor the lessons better. This is why training (doesn't) last.

Three days, 72 hours, after you receive information about something, you are reminded of the following:

  • 10% of the text, the words that have passed

  • 65% of the visual information perceived

  • 90% of the video seen

  • 98% of the video if the person then carries out what they learned themselves

Or a bit more poetic:

‘If you tell me, I will listen, if you show me, I will see, but if you let me experience, I will learn’ ~ Laozi

This means that lessons should preferably be presented as living visual material and that the trainee then implements what has been learned. Then it sticks. And this is knowledge that has actually been known for years. Why is so little done with it? I have seen this #information in books (such as the quote from Laozi), but also in several presentations and #training. I think because of the higher costs for the training material. But what good is training that has already evaporated in three days? Then you can better save those 'lower' costs.


The human body has about eleven million sensory receptors. About 10 million of these are related to 'seeing'. A small change in what you see can lead to a big change in what you do. See here that lessons are more memorable if visual material is used instead of via text. And let most companies have the cupboards full of them!


"Where there are rules, there is no attention" ~ Jaap Peters, Arbo congress 2019

If absolutely everything is bound by #rules, how will employees know which activities entail a genuinely high #risk? If everything is important, then nothing is important. Only use rules where the risks are high to emphasize the importance. There is also a strong tendency towards the so-called risk regulation reflex (#RRR). Something happens and we immediately set up a rule or a #procedure without making a cost-benefit analysis. Throughout my career I have experienced that rules are kind of 'sacred':

"Thou shalt act according to the rules"

And if then work is done according to the rules, it is thought that no accidents can happen,

"Because we work according to the rules"

And then there are the rules that few or perhaps no one adheres to. Patronising, not or difficult to apply, or little meaningful rules, are created by an RRR that applies to a very specific situation and is subsequently widely rolled out (and which management will apply disciplinary again if things go wrong). The stick behind the door:

"We didn't work according to the rules and now we have this problem"

That raised finger does not encourage safe behaviour. It encourages non-thinking and only keeps colouring between the lines. It also seems pretty easy:

"These rules are there for a reason, what do you think? Just follow the rules, then the chance of accidents is small!"

A BOHICA (bend-over-here-it-comes-again). Rules should always be judged in which spirit they originated. And is that rule logical, applicable in this situation?

It is never effective to run safety on the 'automatic', on the rules. Guidelines can be useful if certain activities took place before or are often performed to look back at how the dangers were curbed at the time, but the current situation must really be faced.

The big problem with rules is that #riskthinking stops and we go on 'automatic pilot' and no longer see that the situation is slightly different from what the rule was drawn up for. Therefore, be scarce with rules, but stimulate the risk questions. An example of "going on autopilot":

"At the beginning of my career, as a supervisor, I found myself in a situation where the sulfuric acid dosing in a sunflower oil refinery had become blocked. There was a clear protocol for such situations. Concentrated sulfuric acid is a dangerous substance. We had the whole 'check list'. and the technician, equipped with all personal protective equipment (PPE), was ready to open the system When the pipe was unscrewed at the pump, sulfuric acid sprayed on all sides, and despite the PPE it reached the relevant technician the face and in my neck. Without PPE the injury would have been much greater. By acting appropriately (lots of water, then to the burn center) neither of us was injured. But what had gone wrong? It' check list', after a thorough incident analysis, proved not to have been sufficient to guarantee that the system had been depressurized."

A typical example of doing everything according to the rules without thinking through whether we had sufficiently understood the dangers.

The absolute rules that must not be violated under any circumstances are the so-called 'red rules', sometimes also referred to as 'life saving rules'. So stimulate thinking and learning to see dangers and then how to curb those dangers.

Making elephant trails

The average person is very likely to break the safety rules after a while because this is the way human habits work, because people always want to improve something or make something easier. They are going to make elephant trails. Systems built on the premise of informed compliance with a set of rules rarely work in the long run.


  • In order to make lessons stick, you must provide living visual material and have it followed by letting the 'pupil' do it themselves.

  • If you lay down everything in rules, everything seems important, with the result that in the end nothing is important anymore.

Translated: Flipthinking

'If you've explained something to a child 100 times and he still doesn't get it, then the child is not the slow learner'


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