Safety Training or Safety Education?

The provision of safety information to employees at the time of hire and then on an ongoing basis is a simple and cost effective method to prevent injuries. The delivery of such information attempts to accomplish several objectives; create a body of employee knowledge where they can implement the information given to protect themselves and prevent injuries. Also, it validates the Safety Mission Statement that management seeks to create an organization where workplace safety is part of the culture of the company.

While the delivery of safety information is required by federal law (OSHA) and may be required by your Workers’ Compensation Insurance Carrier it also makes good business sense to prevent and manage injures as they are disruptions to production. While it is not disputed that the delivery of safety information has value, it is a point of contention as to exactly what we provide; Safety Training or Safety Education. I submit that the issue is deeper then mere semantics and use of words. Actually the two phrases have different meaning s by definition.

Educate (verb) means- impart knowledge, instruct, develop mentally.*

Train (verb) means- a series of events, ideas, subject to discipline and instruction.*

* The New American Webster Dictionary

More to the point is that how we frame the safety delivery information system may increase the message, value, impact and therefore safety performance. That is to say that what we communicate determines what we expect. If you communicate principles, and fundamental root information, the employee can build on that knowledge to conduct themselves in such as way as to achieve the expectation of the company. To keep it simple, training shows the “how” to do things and education shows the “why” to do things. Education has more value because we want the employees to be self-thinking and self-deciding to implement hazard control techniques.


So ask yourself- are you providing safety education or safety training? I submit that it is more that just a change of words. For example, let’s assume you want to inform workers that in order to prevent fires they should fill up a gas powered piece of equipment before using it in the morning and then after lunch as the engine will be cooler. That is fire prevention safety training as it provides guidance on a specific task. Fire safety education would address the Fire Triangle where we educate that when an ignition source (the hot engine) combines in sufficient quality with the fuel load (the gas) and with the oxygen present in the ambient air then a fire will occur. Now that the educated worker knows the ingredients to fire they can apply those principles to a broad range of issues such as smoking around chemicals, fueling equipment and vehicles, chemical storage areas, housekeeping, welding safety, hot work permits, etc.

Let’s take another example, lifting and material handling, the number one cause of workplace injures. We train on proper lifting techniques such as step one; get good footing, then good grip, then know you travel path, keep you back straight, etc. I propose that the time spent on back injury education should focus on the limitations of the human body, the anatomical make-up of the spine, the reasons why back injuries occur and the casual factors of risk of injury from lifting. While the outcome desired is to reduce and eliminate back injures it may address this from a different angle. We want employees to see the work area and the need to move materials. Is the current method the best way; how can we avoid and limit lifting totally, not just improper lifting.? The workers that actually do the work may have ideas on the reduction of the risk factors that cause back injuries. We need to deliver back safety education so employees can self identify the best method to reduce the risk of back injuries.

Once a person knows the ‘why’ part of the issue, they can react better to a variety of situations. Furthermore, they may be able to see the issue in such a way as to offer effective control techniques. They see the bigger picture. Isn’t that really what we seek -employee involvement and commitment?


Let’s face it, safety managers have limited time to get the safety message across. Therefore, the time spent on developing the message becomes a question of return on investment. I submit that teaching employees on the academic casual factors to injury prevention will yield better results than on training on the step-by-step process. Safety education provides a higher level of mental recognition where the principles learned can be applied to numerous exposures in the workplace. Safety training has a more narrow focus and indicates action steps to take to prevent injuries.

Chris Conti owns RiskWise, a loss control and injury management company. Chris is a Board Certified Safety Professional and a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter. He can be reached at