Select and Groom an Effective Safety Trainer

March 1, 2009
Identifying the person with the right skills to be a safety trainer for your rental organization is a challenge in itself. Here are some characteristics of an effective safety trainer that may help.

If you are facing the prospect of selecting an individual from within your organization to deliver safety training, let me first offer you my most sincere congratulations and next, my condolences. Congratulations for making the decision to use internal talent to handle the training, which is the best way to go in my opinion. If you really want to cover all the bases, then selecting the right person with an intrinsic knowledge of the tasks, systems, equipment and people within your company is certainly a step in the right direction.

Now, about that “right” person I just mentioned; that's where my aforementioned condolences come into play. Selecting the right person for just about any task can be trying at the best of times, however, selecting a safety trainer with the right stuff, and there is a lot of ‘stuff’ required, can prove to be, well…frustrating. Let's take a closer look at this issue and see if we can make it less frustrating by recognizing and avoiding some of the common pitfalls encountered in the process.

There are many who presume that relative practical experience in a given vocation alone is the primary criterion in the selection of a trainer. Although there is no arguing that practical experience is an invaluable asset to a trainer, an argument could certainly be made in support of the notion that doing a task, and training someone to do a task requires an entirely different skill set.

The rationale behind using the most experienced practitioner of a task — such as a forklift or aerial lift operator — as the trainer for that task seems sound in theory but in practice is fraught with problems. This operator, let's call him Barney, may have years of productive, incident-free operational experience to his credit. However, during training he tends to use colorful metaphors that include many words that rhyme with ‘truck’ but do not relate to the truck. Barney is also impatient, non-communicative, thinks safety is a joke and passes all of his bad habits along to his trainees. In short, Barney's record indicates he is a great operator but he is an absolutely terrible trainer.

So, what type of person should you be looking at for the position of safety trainer within your organization? Let's take a look at some of the most desirable traits of great trainers.


Your trainer has got to want to do this type of work. All the good ones have a high level of topical knowledge, organizational skills and public speaking abilities but only the great ones can infuse an honest passion into the mix. I'm talking about passion that is borne out of recognition of the fact that what they do saves lives. You will usually be able to identify those with passion by their willingness to participate in safety-related matters, voice their concerns and diligently seek solutions to problems.


Surprisingly, knowledge comes in second to passion because all the knowledge in the world won't add up to a hill of beans without it. However, a trainer's degree of knowledge in a relevant topic must be high and as solid as a rock for it is upon this foundation of knowledge that the additional attributes of confidence, credibility and trust are anchored. The person you seek for your trainer may not currently possess the required knowledge but will likely exhibit the thirst to acquire it.


It has been said that once we come to regard something as the truth, we extinguish the possibility of future discovery. Great trainers are open-minded and realize that the road to perfecting their craft leads not to conclusion but to greater discovery. Look for the type of person willing to entertain options and try new things.

Great listener

Mark Twain once remarked; “I never learned anything while my mouth was open.” Of course this remark was one of many tongue-in-cheek quips by Twain, but it contains an underlying sentiment that speaks to the importance of listening. Perhaps the single greatest asset of a great trainer is the ability to communicate. Good communicators know that communication is not merely the ability to speak but to listen. In fact, for communication to occur, information must be transmitted (speaking) and received (listening), which suggests that listening is not only an important component within the communication process but is indeed 50 percent of the equation. Great trainers gain a tremendous amount of useful information by honestly listening to their trainees rather than simply remaining quiet until they stop talking.

Consider the chart on page 32 and see if you can apply the good listening traits to anyone in your organization. If you can, chances are you have found a potentially great trainer.


Have you ever known a person that is a planner? The type that will not make a move before embarking on a mission, project, vacation or anything until every conceivable detail of the endeavor is considered and contingencies are made? If so, this is exactly the type of character trait a trainer needs so put her/him on your short list. Having a solid written training/lesson plan is prudent for two big reasons:

  1. It enhances the overall organization of the training program, which aids in the trainers ability to deliver it consistently and accurately.
  2. It may be requested for inspection by regulatory and/or court authorities in the event of an incident investigation or related legal litigation.

Failing to plan is the same as planning to fail.


Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning “constant, incremental improvement” and it's a consistent trait among those who excel in their chosen field. The spirit of Kaizan is related to the open mindedness and listening skills we discussed earlier in that they are the conduits through which information is gathered, sorted and hopefully converted into new thoughts, ideas and occasionally, improvement in one way or another. Good trainers are able to convey to their trainees that learning goes on well after the program ends. Great trainers apply the same philosophy to themselves and constantly grow.

Takes action

“Walk it like you talk it.” I'm guessing that you have probably heard that phrase a couple of thousand times over the past few years and as it is with so many phrases that become part of our pop culture, they are popular because they are true. Anyone calling others to action must take action as well or risk being labeled a hypocrite. Trainers ask that trainees follow through by taking the lessons learned back to their jobs and practicing them consistently. Therefore, trainers must answer their calls to action by reacting to questions, finding answers to the ones they don't know and getting back to the trainees that ask them; spending extra time with those that don't get it or can't do it; and just generally reacting to trainees and following through with them.

Now, the grooming

OK, let's assume that you have found the perfect candidate with all the requisite skills and traits of a great trainer. What now? Well, now it's time for you to walk the talk and get him/her the items they will need to get the job done.

Such as:

  • Formal training — Your candidate may possess all of the aforementioned items but they still need to be shown how to put them all together and use them properly before you can call her/him a trainer.
  • Materials — These will include things like written manuals, DVDs, models, tests, evaluation forms, record sheets and any other training aids and/or materials relative to the subject.
  • Environment — There is going to be classroom training and field training where powered industrial equipment is involved so your trainer is going to need proper facilities for both.
  • Equipment — Whatever type of machinery or gear is involved in the training will have to be allocated for use on the program, cleaned and ready to go come game day.
  • Authority — Give your training some bite by giving your trainer some teeth. Nothing is more frustrating for a trainer than putting forth an enormous effort only to watch all of their hard work evaporate over time as everyone slides back into their old habits. Give your trainer a means to correct operators in the field by bestowing them with the authority to do so.
  • Support — Get behind your trainer and the training program by enforcing the rules, procedures and methods taught. Make sure that supervisors and selected management personnel receive the training they need to take an active role in enforcing safety policy as per their regulated responsibilities.

In summation, the person that will likely make the best safety trainer is the type of person with the following attributes:

  • A passion for safety with an honest belief in the value of training.
  • An elevated knowledge of the subject that is used as the foundation for confidence, credibility and trust.
  • Open-minded to new possibilities.
  • Excellent listening and sensory perception skills.
  • Plan oriented — detailed and organized.
  • Always strives for improvement (Kaizen).
  • Action oriented — reacts and follows through.

Once you have identified your candidate, get him/her outfitted with the following:

  • Formal training.
  • Comprehensive training materials.
  • A suitable environment for classroom training and field operations.
  • Equipment that is up to snuff and ready to go.
  • Authority to continue training after the program.
  • Support from the company management.

As you can see, selecting and grooming a trainer is no easy task and, once completed, requires diligent and ongoing investment and support. But take heart, an investment is exactly what good safety training is with returns that can be measured in terms of life and limb as well as dollars and cents.

Rob Vetter is technical director for IVES Training Group in Blaine, Wash., and a veteran in occupational safety and health. He has developed, implemented, delivered and maintained mobile equipment training programs within the manufacturing and distribution industries.

POOR LISTENER EFFECTIVE LISTENER Tends to “wool-gather” with slow speakers. Thinks and mentally summarizes, weighs the evidence, listens between the lines to tones of voice and evidence. Subject is dry so tunes out speaker. Finds ‘what's in it for me’ and stays tuned in. Distracted easily. Fights distractions, sees past bad communication habits, knows how to concentrate. Takes intensive notes, but the more notes taken, the less value; has only one way to take notes. Has 2-3 ways to take notes and organize important information while remaining tuned in to speaker. Is over stimulated, tends to seek and enter into arguments. Doesn't judge until comprehension is complete. Inexperienced in listening to difficult material; has usually sought light, recreational materials. Uses “heavier” materials to regularly exercise the mind. Deaf spots or blind words catch his or her attention. Interprets color words, and doesn't get hung up on them. Shows no energy output. Holds eye contact and helps speaker along by showing an active body state. Judges delivery -- tunes out. Judges content, skips over delivery errors. Listens for facts. Listens for central ideas.