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Playing at Safety

Published: 15th Feb 2016

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Regardless of an organisation’s size and sector, training is an essential activity.

Providing staff with greater expertise and knowledge is arguably more important for those involved in higher risk industries. Not only do employees need to know about correct procedures, they must also keep up-to-date with the latest health and safety regulations.

As an employer, it is your responsibility to provide information, instruction and training wherever possible to ensure the workforce remains free from harm. However, you must also help them become more competent in carrying out their daily roles and responsibilities, which is often easier said than done.

Traditional training methods such as classroom-based teaching are not particularly well suited to organisations that need to prioritise health and safety. Members of staff often struggle for motivation, while the business itself must find the time and resources to implement employee training.

More and more businesses, therefore, are looking at different training approaches, such as gamification. In addition to overcoming the challenges associated with long-established training techniques, gamification can provide extensive added benefits such as improving memory retention levels and boosting employee morale.

While some employers may sceptically consider workplace fun to be counterintuitive when culturing a safe environment, gamification combines the need for training with more interesting and engaging learning materials.

Training’s components

When it comes to health and safety training, most organisations will formulate a plan that relates to the skills and knowledge needed to avoid accident and injury. This can involve looking at previous instances of workplace injury, near misses, or cases of ill health to learn lessons and gain greater insight into the risks that exist. You may also want to use risk assessments to see where training was identified as a measure for controlling danger and hazards.

Another option is actually consulting employees and asking for their points of view, which should include the opinions of managers and supervisors. You will need to know who is responsible for what, how to identify risks, and where improvements can be made in order to draw up an effective training programme.

This plan of action should be prioritised in order of importance, such as giving precedence to gaps in information that could lead to serious injury. You will also need to consider whether your prime concern is targeting the largest number of staff, or the risks with the potential to cause the most harm.

When this process is complete, you will know exactly what information or expertise is required for staff to comply with health and safety procedures. The real obstacle is choosing a method of training that effectively teaches employees about these risks and how to avoid them.

Challenges of training

The first challenge associated with health and safety training is finding the time for it to take place. Numerous businesses can ill afford to do without their workforce for long periods of time, as it has the potential to impact on productivity and may even lead to health and safety shortcomings. Managers will also be reluctant to let staff leave, while the employees themselves may prefer to work than train.

This isn’t helped by the fact that most training environments do little to stimulate or inspire. Classroom-based teaching typically involves one-way communication, where learners have little to no involvement in their training experience other than being told about health and safety policy.

Along with the potential onset of boredom and disinterest, employees don’t always find they learn much information. Even when trainers do find ways of making the experience more interesting and engaging, it is easy to overwhelm members of staff by delivering all the training content in one hit.

This is particularly dangerous when you need to tell your workforce about changes in technology, corporate policy or industry regulations that relate to health and safety, as they may struggle to remember and apply this information effectively. Through a technique like gamification, however, it is possible to overcome these obstacles.

What is gamification?

Gartner has defined gamification as: “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” Game mechanics can include points, badges and leaderboards, while experience design refers to the journey or storyline a player takes. Although the different applications are vast, it is especially effective with training.

By injecting some fun into training and providing the workforce with rewards, each and every employee will be not only more likely to take part in learning, but also complete the tasks in front of them. Gamification gives members of staff a challenge to complete, provides a framework on how to overcome it, and then offers instant gratification at the end.

It could be argued that all training programmes are dependent on motivation, as without a desire to learn the workforce won’t acquire new knowledge or information. Gamification provides this motivation in a number of different ways. First off, learners are in charge of their own destiny, as they have complete control over this interactive experience. Secondly, assigning value to the game itself and having an interest in the subject also increases motivation levels. Finally, once employees develop competency in something such as a game, they will be more likely to do it again.

While the ability to motivate, encourage, and incentivise staff is all well and good, gamification still needs to address the challenges associated with traditional training, such as time constraints and memory retention. Thankfully, it manages to deal with these issues, too.

The benefits of gamification for workplace training include:

  1. Increasing the accessibility of training. Although gamification is not a new concept, it has grown in prominence over the past few years due to the technology available. Members of staff can participate in training on a work computer or via their smartphone while at home. This allows the workforce to learn at a time and place that suits their preferences, but also means they don’t have to be sent away on lengthy training courses.
  2. Lowering the cost of training. Rather than sending employees on a training course whenever new industry regulations or health and safety legislation is introduced, gamification can be adapted and modified according to the content you want to teach. The game elements and mechanics will stay the same, but the materials your employees’ access can be different every time.Grabbing the attention of employees. It can be an uphill struggle to grab the attention of employees when talking about the serious nature of health and safety, but gamification can make this subject a lot more interesting. In fact, gamification has a track record of working particularly well with compliance training, as the implementation of game elements and mechanics gives staff something to identify with, but also makes the experience much more enjoyable.
  3. Grabbing the attention of employees. It can be an uphill struggle to grab the attention of employees when talking about the serious nature of health and safety, but gamification can make this subject a lot more interesting. In fact, gamification has a track record of working particularly well with compliance training, as the implementation of game elements and mechanics gives staff something to identify with, but also makes the experience much more enjoyable.
  4. Putting employees in competition with each other. An important part of gaming is competition, as players have an inherent desire and motivation to beat one another. This can transfer over to the workplace, too, with online leaderboards and ranking charts for completing training modules. Employees will desperately want to beat their colleagues with gamification tasks and thus increase individual learning capacities.Making subjects relatable to real-world scenarios. Formulate real-world scenarios or situations where the learner’s choice will lead to a certain consequence or outcome. This makes training much more relatable and true to life, giving staff a unique and memorable insight into what could happen if the wrong decision is made.
  5. Making subjects relatable to real-world scenarios. Formulate real-world scenarios or situations where the learner’s choice will lead to a certain consequence or outcome. This makes training much more relatable and true to life, giving staff a unique and memorable insight into what could happen if the wrong decision is made.Improving proficiency and memory retention. Having looked at the effectiveness of gamification over the duration of a year, professor Traci Sitzmann from the University of Colorado in Denver found that skill-based knowledge levels increased by 14 per cent, factual-knowledge levels increased by 11 per cent, and retention of material learnt increased by nine per cent.
  6. Improving proficiency and memory retention. Having looked at the effectiveness of gamification over the duration of a year, professor Traci Sitzmann from the University of Colorado in Denver found that skill-based knowledge levels increased by 14 per cent, factual-knowledge levels increased by 11 per cent, and retention of material learnt increased by nine per cent.Bringing about a behavioural change. When combined with the scientific principles of repeated retrieval and spaced repetition, gamification can be used to change employee behaviour, meaning you could end up with a workforce that not only adheres to health and safety policy, but also recognises and reports on potential risks in the future.
  7. Bringing about a behavioural change. When combined with the scientific principles of repeated retrieval and spaced repetition, gamification can be used to change employee behaviour, meaning you could end up with a workforce that not only adheres to health and safety policy, but also recognises and reports on potential risks in the future.
  8. Providing instant feedback. Traditional training generally requires a test or examination after the teaching finishes to determine whether employees have learnt anything. With gamification, on the other hand, feedback can be provided instantly to increase learner engagement, recall and retention. Management can also gain access to performance tools such as activity metrics and knowledge retention rates.
  9. Introducing fun into the workplace. Health and safety might not be a laughing matter, but by incorporating fun into training employees will work more productively, exercise their creativity, and provide greater innovation within their job role. Companies with a fun-orientated culture also have lower levels of absenteeism, greater job satisfaction, less down time and increased employee loyalty.
  10. Flexibility for further training. Along with training that concerns health and safety policy, gamification also provides you with a platform for other workplace subjects. Although some gamification solutions are tailor-made with a specific topic or theme in mind, other off-the-shelf products can be easily adapted and adjusted according to your requirements.

Success stories

Despite the fact this list of benefits will come as good news for businesses wanting to adopt a different approach towards training, other organisations might need a little additional evidence that gamification has worked in the past. Fortunately there’s no shortage of gamification success stories from world-renowned brands, with several specifically concerned with the importance of information-based policies such as health and safety training.

UK Department of Work and Pensions

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) started to use gamification as a result of the desire to decentralise innovation within the organisation. The method was Idea Street, an online ideas-management platform and game that encouraged employees to share their best ideas.

Previous efforts to engage employees were unsuccessful, but Idea Street had around 4,000 users within the first 18 months of its launch and it is said to have generated 1,400 ideas in the same period, 63 of which have been implemented by the organisation.

Walmart

With the objective of providing safety training for 5,000 associates in eight distribution centres, Walmart started to use gamification. Although delivered in just three-minute gamified applications, this training proved highly addictive and very effective.

Not only did employees start talking about their leaderboard rankings, they also discussed the importance of adhering to safety protocols. As a result, there was a 54 per cent decrease in incidents among Walmart’s participating distribution centres.

London Underground

With employees often working in remote conditions and throughout the night, London Underground needed a way to educate its workforce on the latest health and safety guidelines.

It created a deck of playing cards that featured memorable yet easy to consume health and safety facts for employees to play with and learn from. This approach resulted in a 70 per cent increase in engagement and understanding compared to previous initiatives.

Implementing gamification

Most businesses will enlist the services of a specialist provider when implementing gamification for health and safety purposes, as these companies have access to the necessary knowledge and required technologies. However, there are a few things you should bear in mind when adopting gamification to guarantee training success.

With health and safety or compliance training, it makes sense to create an investigation scenario. This narrative provides a fun framework for learning, but also calls on employees to practically apply information in a situation that could plausibly happen at work. The game could involve a central character who gradually gives more clues about what happened and a map of the workplace for employees to identify where accidents might have occurred.

Another option is a board game that members of staff make their way around by answering health and safety questions. Fun elements can be included to keep boredom at bay such as roll again or go back, while constant rewards should be given for greater engagement. An important point here, however, is not to go over the top with gratification, as things could get confusing and motivation levels might drop quite quickly.

Another thing to remember is that gamification should be personalised to the learner’s preferences. As previously mentioned, some members of staff might appreciate training that feels like a video game, while others may not be as comfortable interacting with digital technologies. Try to personalise the gamification training experience by offering a wide variety of game styles.

Also, failing to engage with employees on an emotional level can have a detrimental impact on the success of gamification. Let your workforce know why the training is important and this will boost their desire to learn, while also reinforcing gamification on an emotional level.

Gamification of workplace training

Health and safety training is not without its obstacles, and most high-risk industry organisations will have come up against one or more in the past. The main challenges relate to finding the time, incentivising employees, and ensuring information is sufficiently retained and correctly applied.

By looking at gamification, which follows a storyline or narrative and offers rewards or incentives along the way, these problems can be solved. On top of that, a wide range of additional benefits can also be enjoyed.

While some may be sceptical about whether introducing fun and competitiveness into health and safety policy is a good idea, previous examples have proven that this couldn’t be further from the truth.

Although you will need to find the right gamification approach and carefully consider your course content, there is no reason why playing at safety can’t be a good thing for your business.

Published: 15th Feb 2016 in Health and Safety International

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Jon Davies is the co-founder of training app Wranx, which provides continual training and assessment to help HR and Learning and Development professionals, extending their training and communication strategies out of the classroom and office.
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