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Notes on Training a Diverse Workforce on New Practices

I was chatting to my dad recently about his strategies for dealing with the risks of COVID-19 on a farm in the Western Cape in South Africa. He has several people from the local villages that work tending to the plants, animals, and activities. He mentioned the need to implement more hygiene practices, like washing hands more frequently and disinfecting equipment after use – practices that some are not used to doing often or in a specific way.

My thoughts go to individuals in various communities across the world that may perceive and practice what is happening in the world very differently right now.

I am reminded of the health and safety training that we implemented on a construction site with people from India who did not speak the local language, had little education about our health and safety practices, or were familiar with a construction site in a different country. That meant that any items we thought were common sense may not have been to someone else. The indication we were right came from instances of:

  • People using hand tools in creative but ‘unsafe’ ways – this is a normal and resourceful way of using objects in most rural communities but against practices as determined by our UK HSE Manager.
  • People injuring themselves using western facilities – this occurrence was normal given they had only ever used facilities designed for an Asian or eastern population but this was not the items procured or available at the time.

What is also interesting is an illness like depression was attributed by the local population to something like ‘possession’ during the sense-making process. This means that the coronavirus can be made sense of in very different ways for different people now. 

And beliefs are powerful things! Adopting an approach that does not try and change beliefs can be useful in this situation. We found in targeting something that people feel anxious around is that the way in which the situation is handled and the individual treated may have to be different depending on the beliefs that surround an illness or injury. It is important to gain trust as you need the support of the people in the community to change a behaviour. 

What I’ve found working internationally is that safety practices are not common sense across all populations. Risks change for different people. Risk perception is dependent on what an individual identifies as a risk (here is an article around discussing the personal process of risk: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181910/) In many cases you’ll have people identifying and classifying risks based on their personal history, the culture they grew up in, their emotional response to the risk, and if they’ve had previous experience of it in the same setting. If you are managing different populations or teams then education and awareness is important to develop and have available to people.

There is also the added challenge in the education of safety practices in this situation as people may not have had an opportunity to be educated about the topic and may not speak the same language. 

What’s worked are: 

  • Visual images in presentations
  • Demonstrations or simulations on ‘how to’ do something (practical training)
  • The use of translators to describe the issues and concepts
  • Nominating ‘safety champions’ within the group are useful things to do. This is also about the devolution of accountability to others in the community as you make people aware of new concepts and ideas, which helps to gain more trust and commitment.

Interestingly, education about a specific detail or process can be useful, and should be used for specific processes, like how to wash hands and disinfect equipment after use. If the training is coupled with information about the concept or construct and the overarching principles that govern it i.e. why to disinfect, then individuals will be able to more readily identify what to do in situations that are unfamiliar.

A careful consideration of risks and business continuity documentation and practices is necessary https://www.iso.org/news/ref2446.html 

Find out:

  1. What do people know?
  2. What do they need to know?
  3. How will they get to know it?
  4. How will you know when they know it?
  5. How can they be enlisted to support the change in behaviour over a sustained time period?

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