Making Safety Training More Effective For Industrial Distributors

There may always be, by necessity, a level of risk in industrial distribution. What can change is how companies prepare their employees for these risks.

Industrial distributors fall prey to many forces – wary buyers in unsettled economies, the uncertainties of new government regulation, oil prices, and weather events that sideline trucks, trains and employees.

But there is another, often underestimated, damper on returns: on-the-job accidents, injuries and illness. Sick or injured employees mean lost manpower, missed deadlines and an unreliable reputation. And fatalities bring human tragedy to your corporate family. 

It’s easy to adopt an “it-can’t-happen-here” mentality, but consider the numbers.

According to a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2013 (the most recent year for which the data has been compiled) service-providing industries in the private sector saw 687 fatal work transportation and warehousing injuries. Within that total, truck transportation injuries accounted for 461 of the fatalities. When it comes to non-fatal injuries and illnesses, the BLS found that injuries accounted for more than 2.8 million (94.8 percent) of the nearly 3 million non-fatal incidents.

Although the BLS found that the occurrence of all incidents, fatal and non-fatal alike, were trending downward, these numbers demonstrate that the risks and associated costs continue.

There may, by necessity, always be a level of risk in industrial distribution. What can change is how companies prepare their employees for these risks. Employees who know what to do when there has been an injury in the warehouse, when a colleague collapses due to cardiac arrest, or when they are on the scene of a transport accident can make the difference between life and death on the job.


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For many workplaces, a cornerstone of an effective workplace safety training program begins with OSHA 10-hour and 30-hour courses. Developed by OSHA, this curriculum is recognized nationally as a standard for workplace safety awareness.

The OSHA 10-hour program provides an overview of OSHA and basic awareness training on the recognition, avoidance, abatement and prevention of workplace hazards; it is targeted to all workers.  The OSHA 30-hour program is aimed at employees with leadership and additional safety responsibilities, such as supervisors, and provides more in-depth coverage of hazard recognition, abatement and prevention as well as worker rights.

Although not all OSHA training is federally mandated, a number of states do require the OSHA 10-hour construction course, including Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire and Rhode Island. Nevada also requires the OSHA 30-hour course for construction supervisors with a mandatory five-year renewal. In addition, many companies, unions and other organizations require employees to successfully complete OSHA 10 or OSHA 30 hour courses for worksite, insurance and job bidding purposes.  

Companies seeking OSHA training look to organizations such as the Summit Training Source, an authorized provider of online OSHA 10 and 30 hour courses.  Summit Training Source has partnered with the American Red Cross, another leader in health and safety preparedness, to deliver both online and classroom OSHA training to companies. The Red Cross also offers companies stand-alone instruction in First Aid/CPR/AED.

The Summit Training Source/American Red Cross partnership program is one of only two OSHA training programs in the country to offer online OSHA courses in Spanish, an especially important factor for those industries such as warehousing with a significant percentage of Spanish speakers.

The OSHA guidelines are the starting point for companies, but it’s up to the trainers to find and use the most effective tools for teaching the material. Trainers such as the Red Cross keep abreast of the research on new training methods and incorporate techniques with proven results.

Ways to Make Employee Training Stick

For those distribution companies considering First Aid/CPR/AED training for employees, the Red Cross recently introduced a new training method aimed at improving the outcomes of medical emergencies in the workplace.

One of the most successful new tools to be researched and applied to training is “simulation learning.” Simulation learning allows learners to test their knowledge of instructional materials using online interactive, scenario-based simulations. These programs offer learners multiple scenarios in which to test a concept or skill. In any given scenario, learners can select from a number of possible actions, each of which results in further situations and possibilities based on the learner’s choice.

Researchers have found the following benefits to simulation learning:

A no-risk experience: Virtual interaction offers a safe environment in which to test knowledge with no fear of causing actual harm. No-risk environments also allow for unlimited attempts at mastering knowledge and decision-making which results in greater learner confidence.

Real-world scenarios: Simulation learning is effective because virtual scenarios can offer engaging psychological realism that bridges the gap between the classroom and the real world. Learners stimulated by realism retain information more effectively.

A new way to train: Although simulation learning is not intended to be a game, many learners find the video-game aspects of the interactions engaging. Learners can train anytime and anywhere they have access to a computer.

Practice makes perfect: Because simulation learning allows learners to repeatedly test their skills and knowledge at their own pace and in a variety of scenarios, it increases the retention of knowledge and leads to automatic responses.

There continues to be analysis of simulation learning and its application to training. In a 2014 survey by Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, researchers asked 4,888 Red Cross instructors for their views about simulation training. The majority of respondents said that it is a good addition to current teaching methods and expressed willingness to use it in their training.

In a separate Red Cross-sponsored analysis of dozens of U.S. Department of Education studies along with interviews with first responders and cognitive experts, researchers found that when combined with traditional classroom experience, simulation learning is more effective in preparing people to act in a crisis than classroom learning or online learning alone.

In response to these promising results, the Red Cross introduced simulation learning into its First Aid/CPR/AED training in early January 2015. Whether the workplace is a warehouse or the factory floor, simulation learning will better prepare workers for life threatening emergencies.


Stephen Rieve is a senior director of preparedness, health and workplace safety programs at the American Red Cross. To learn more about Red Cross workplace training that meets OSHA standards, call 1-800-567-1487 or visit 

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