HR Management & Compliance

Are You Making the Best Use of Classroom Space?

In today’s Advisor, we hear about new and innovative ways to use classroom training.

James E.  Leemann, PhD, is president of the Leemann Group (, which helps businesses improve safety, health, and environmental performance. He is also an assistant professor in Tulane University’s Center for Applied Environmental Public Health.
“There’s been somewhat of an epiphany within the safety, health, and environmental community when it comes to training in what I still consider austere financial times,” says Leemann. He says senior management is starting to ask “very pointed questions” about the value they’re getting from the training they’re buying.
As a result, many companies are deciding against sending large numbers of people to off-site training in favor of online options. When live training is the choice, however, Leemann agrees with Ross Luko of Amerisafe Safety Services ( that relevance is the key.

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On-Site Activity

Leemann recently traveled to a national laboratory to conduct on-site training to address a variety of “incidental accidents” that had occurred at the facility in recent months. Rather than deliver the standard messaging in a classroom environment, Leemann developed a 4-hour course he called “Dissolving Hazards.” Offered to just 20 employees at a time, the course required participants to search a couple of actual labs for 100 hazards, which Leemann had staged.
Employee teams were given one point for each hazard found. Among them were improperly stored combustibles, mislabeled chemicals, trip hazards, a ladder placed in front of a fire alarm, and boxes piled on a filing cabinet.
“Nobody passed—the highest score was 62,” he recalls. The training worked because it was focused and conducted in the employees’ regular work environment. Adds Leemann, “It was in the context of what they see day in and day out, rather than taking them to a place they’d never seen before.” He also gave participants a safety climate survey to assess their attitudes and perceptions about safety.
According to Leemann, the best trainers have content knowledge, enthusiasm, and the capacity to entertain. He once asked a friend who specializes in communications for advice about becoming a better speaker and trainer. The friend recommended watching TED Talks (, the short, popular presentations known as “Ideas Worth Spreading.”
Leemann says this is an excellent, cost-effective way to learn. He finds it especially valuable to observe how multiple speakers address the same topic.

Points About PowerPoint

Like many in the field, Leemann warns about “death by PowerPoint®,” calling the slide and text program “the poorest way to communicate ever created by man.” Overloading slides with words can defeat the purpose of using images and does nothing to enhance training.
When asked to develop a presentation on safety and sustainability, Leemann responded with a 30-slide deck that didn’t include a single word. “I just talked from the images and a couple of years later, I still get email from people who actually remember what I said!”
For training ideas and inspiration, Leemann turns to the writings of international communications expert and trainer Garr Reynolds. His books include Presentation Zen and The Naked Presenter. He also recommends the book Engineering a Safer World—Systems Thinking Applied to Safety by MIT professor Nancy G. Leveson. The topics addressed in the book include the fast pace of technological change, emerging hazards, the growing complexity of relationships between people and automation, and changing views of safety.

Game the System

Leemann is also a fan of game technology, which has become more accessible and less costly for safety trainers. He uses it for the final exam in the course he teaches at Tulane University. The student plays the role of a safety professional at a boatbuilding company and must make a series of correct decisions to move through the various levels of the game.

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In tomorrow’s Advisor, we’ll get more tips from another training expert on how to make the best use of classroom space.

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