Drip Feed Safety Education

A drip fed safety education programme may have more impact than a big bang

Training sessions

“Delivering a training session, even to people you know is stressful. Not least because whilst the session may only last an hour it can take days to create something that covers every issue that needs to be addressed.

But there are sound commercial reasons for investing time and energy in training.

Money saving potential 

If a one hour training session delivered to just 10 people results in a one percent improvement in safety you could be saving your company close too two hundred hours of production time annually. That is the same as having an extra employee for five weeks.

Memory is the weak link in training

In reality a single training session is unlikely to achieve these commercial advantages because, people only remember

  • 10 percent of what they read,
  • 20 percent of what they hear,
  • 30 percent of what they see,
  • 50 percent of what they hear and see,
  • 70 percent of what they say and write, and
  • 90 percent of what they do and talk about.

Even if you included all these activities in your training session, six months after the event they would remember less than 20% of what they left the course knowing, Mevsim, Guldal, Ozcakar and Saygin (2008).

Realistically the most you can expect people to remember six months after a training session is less than a fifth of what you covered.

Over training

Some trainers compensate for this by providing more information in a training session than is really necessary.

As a result they run the risk of the trainees remembering information that is irrelevant to the real issue.

Think differently

Achieving a commercial advantage means thinking differently about training.

The training session is not in itself a result. It is a tool in a change process that aims to achieve employee behaviours that deliver a commercial advantage.

Reluctant learners

If employees decide that they do not want to change their behaviour you could end up in a process that goes a little bit like

  1. You will find it easier to do if you do it this way
  2. How many times do I have to tell you?
  3. I am getting tired of telling you
  4. This is the last time I will tell you
  5. Good-bye

Change happens 

No matter how senior you are or how powerful you may believe yourself to be, change is not something that you can force an employee to do.

Change happens because people perceive that changing their behaviour will deliver a benefit for them.

Safety education is no different 

In the context of safety training this has to be more than simply the avoidance of injury or death.

After all accidents always happen to other people, and the peer group approval of involvement in an unsafe practice may, as numerous on-line postings have proven, be more attractive than any reward or deterrent an employer could offer.

Focus on outcomes

The trick is to present the result of the change process rather than the change itself in a way that the employee will find attractive.

To do this you have to stop thinking about on-off big bang training sessions that treat everyone the same. Instead focus on a continuous learning process that treats everyone as an individual, and helps them to identify how they will benefit from the change.

Learning styles

There are generally speaking four ways in which people learn. These were identified by Honey and Mumford (1986) as

  • Activists: are people who learn by doing, and have to do it now. They are relatively bored with the detail and what happens next.
  • Reflectors: are people who examine a problem from many different perspectives before deciding to move forward
  • Theorists: are people who like logic and theoretical models. They have to have everything very ordered and know that A has to come before B
  • Pragmatists: are people who like a challenge, and investigating new ideas that will allow them to address the problem successfully.

Preferred styles

We are capable of using all of these learning styles depending on the situation, but we all have one that we prefer more than the others.

Likewise when we train we also have a preferred training style. Therefore as long as our training style matches the learning style of the trainee the training will be successful. Otherwise we potentially, only appeal to 25% of the trainees, and losing 75% of the potential commercial benefits that the training could have delivered.

Learning tends to be a continuous process of small gains rather than the big wins that training courses are often expected to deliver.

Increased chances of success

To increase your chances of success you need to provide learning opportunities that appeal to each learning style

  • Activists learn most from activities that allow them to get stuck into a problem and find their own solution
  • Reflectors learn most from activities that allow them to watch other people
  • Theorists learn most from activities that ask them to think about a theory or model and how it could be applied
  • Pragmatists learn most from activities that provide them with an obvious link between the activity and their job

Repeat after me

There is a traditional view that to make learning stick you have to repeat the learning activities again and again.

There is some evidence that this works.

People of pre millenial generations will remember learning their multiplication tables by rote.The military use drill in the same way and actors rehearse a play repeatedly to ensure that they learn their lines.

It is an approach that has been proven Annis and Annis (1987) to increase understanding and improve recall. But when you are interested in creating behaviour change there is evidence that this sort of uniform repetition of a learning activity has little impact.

As early as 1949 research conducted by CL McTavish showed that whilst duplicating learning activities twice delivered additional learning, there were rapid decreases in the marginal returns after the third repetition.

Regular, frequent, but different 

So don’t use the same learning activities more than twice in quick succession. Instead opt for a strategy that looks like a healthy diet, a variety of small meals taken regularly and frequently.

Drip feed learning has to be a mixture of activities, some formalised, but others that are more casual even unexpected.

A different approach

You could start with a short class room session. On another day you could show a video and encourage people to discuss it. You might even show the video again in a non-training location like the canteen. Then hold a structured discussion as part of a team meeting, which could be followed by a practical exercise in a subsequent meeting. The key is to make the learning activities short and sweet.

Learning does not always have to be collective. You can use internet technology to deliver e-learning and podcasts to individual employees at any location with an internet connection.

You can reinforce your learning messages with posters displayed on the notice boards where people expect to see them, or in unusual places like the backs of toilet doors, behind coat racks. You could even turn poster images in to screen savers, or backgrounds. But remember every time someone sees a poster or electronic image it is a repetition of a learning message so ensure that you change them frequently.

Stanford Five-City Project

The Stanford Five-City Project (1978) shows the potential that this approach has to achieve results. They compared the different affects of a healthy heart education campaign in different North American towns.

In some a big bang approach was adopted in others a drip feed approach.

Over time the changes in the levels of heart disease in the towns were measured.

The largest drop in heart disease was in the towns that had used the drip feed approach.

Lessons from advertising

Changing the message frequently but the content of the message is not radically changed. Subtly is the key to ensuring consistency of the message.

Drip feed learning programmes could learn a lot from the advertising industry.

Faced with only a few moments to communicate their message about a product or service the advertiser relies on key words, phrases and images to grab our attention and build a positive impression that will lead to a change in behaviour. We buy the product they are promoting.

Research conducted by Ofen-Noy, Dudai, and Karni (2003) showed that adopting this same approach in a learning programme increased the amount of knowledge trainees retained and resulted in more behaviour change.

This is because using key words and phrases helps the trainee to create a positive picture in their imagination that reinforces the change in behaviour that the employer wants to achieve.

Phrases and Slogans

I am sure for example that you can name the products that these slogans promoted

  • The supermarket that does little things because every little bit helps
  • The car that is safer by design
  • Or the soft drink that enables you to teach the world to sing

Or the issues that these slogans sought to address

  • Coughs and sneezes spread diseases
  • Walls have ears
  • A stitch in time saves nine

Perhaps you also know what these phrases and acronyms relate to

  • Know the P*A*S*S* word
  • Some tools are irreplaceable


Many of the world’s most successful commercial training programmes centre on large scale training courses. But one other feature they also share are the additional take-a-ways that reinforce the learning messages and key behaviours that help to ensure that what has been taught in the training programme is not forgotten.

To many people these mouse mats, pens, bags, mugs, caps etc, are simply trinkets and trash, but every time someone uses them they are reminded of the behaviour the employer wants to promote.

Walk the talk

Like all other forms of training, drip feed learning does not take place in isolation from the rest of the business. The success of the approach is dependent on constant reinforcement of the messages from all areas of the business.

All the gains your drip feed strategy has delivered can be destroyed in the time it takes a manager to make a decision or take an action, which might only be an off the cuff comment, that is contrary to the messages about behaviour that you have been trying to promote. Managers not only need to buy in to and publicly support your learning strategy they also need to ensure that they consciously practice what you teach. This may require a drip feed programme specifically for your management team.

Policies, procedures, audit processes and performance management systems can if not reviewed and amended reinforce old undesirable working practices. You must work with other departments to ensure that they are changed to support the behaviours your learning strategy is aiming to create.

Perhaps most importantly when an employee buys into and adopts the behaviour promoted by the learning strategy you must ensure that you celebrate their actions, and the results it has delivered. This serves as positive reinforcement of the learning and will encourage other employees to follow suit.


  • Annis Linda F and Annis David B (1987), Does Practice Make Perfect? The Effects of Repetition on Student Learning, Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (Washington, DC, April 20-24, 1987).
  • Fortmann S P, Winkleby M A, Flora J A, Haskell W L, Taylor C B, (1978) Effect of Long-term Community Health Education on Blood Pressure and Hypertension Control: The Stanford Five City Project, American Journal of Epidemiology Vol 132 No4:629-646
  • Honey P, and Mumford A, (1986) Using your Learning Style, Peter Honey, UK
  • McTavish CL and others (1949) Effects of Repetitive Film Showings on Learning, Pennsylvania State University
  • Mevsim V, Guldal D, Ozcakar N and Saygin O (2008) What was retained? The assessment of the training for the peer trainers’ course on short and long term basis, 1Department of Family Medicine, Dokuz Eylul University Medical Faculty, Izmir, Turkey Department of Econometrics, Dokuz Eylul University Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Izmir, Turkey BMC Public Health 2008, 8:24doi:10.1186/1471-2458-8-24
  • Ofen-Noy N1, Dudai Y, Karni A, (2003) Skill Learning in Mirror Reading: How Repetition Determines Acquisition, Department of Neurobiology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot 76100, Israel, Brain-Behavior Research Center, Haifa University, Mt. Carmel 31905, Israel, Science Direct.com, Elsiver, UK.

Thank you

This article was originally commissioned by SHP Magazine, the official magazine of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, and is reproduced with their kind permission. 

Any Course Save Up to 97% Now at John Academy Online Courses
Sign Up for free and get £10 Voucher Now!