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A New Way to Approach Safety Training in the Lab

Active learning engages staff and helps to develop safer habits

Ashley Augspurger, PhD, CIH, CSP

Ashley Augspurger has a PhD in analytical chemistry with a specialty in chemical education research, is a certified industrial hygienist and a certified safety professional. She has worked in chemical...

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Training can take many forms—lectures with slides, videos, documents to read (passive learning), or it can be hands-on training at the lab bench or performing a demonstration in a classroom (active learning). Currently, most training is conducted with passive learning methods and requires learners to check the box when they have completed the task. This method of training and communication leaves learners with the notion that training is an activity that is burdensome and takes away from productivity. 

However, training that incorporates active learning methods helps with information retention and engagement with the learners1,2 and can more easily simulate their work environment. Training doesn’t have to take place in a classroom or online; training should be creative to meet the needs of the learners.3 The primary goals of training are to change behavior, challenge participants’ thinking, and allow for them to ask questions and share their concerns in a safe environment.4 

Examples of active learning

To accomplish these goals, training needs to be learner centered—what are the learners’ experience levels, expectations, and needs? The training activities must be directly related to their work so the barrier of learning transfer is more easily overcome. 

Discussions and brainstorming sessions are a great way to get in-depth conversations about the topic at hand.5 They can challenge traditional ways of thinking and result in creative problem solving if a safe environment has been established.

Microlearning is another example of active learning that can be easily added to the laboratory workspace. Microlearning is small bits of information given as infographics or short videos that are available to workers when they need the information instead of being separated from the lab like a training classroom setting. For example, if workers need reminders on how to use a fume hood safely, then an infographic showing proper sash height can be posted on the fume hoods. Short videos showing how to do a pre-inspection for a piece of equipment can be posted on or near the equipment using a QR code.

Training doesn't have to take place in a classroom or online; training should be creative to meet the needs of the learners.

There are also passive learning approaches that incorporate lectures, webinars, and videos.5 Passive learning may be a more appropriate training method when active learning such as discussions or microlearning don’t fit the topic or the audience. For example, if the instructor is introducing completely new information to their learners, it makes sense to present the content in a lecture format since learners wouldn’t have the background to know what to do for an activity. However, after the foundation has been laid, active learning techniques need to be incorporated to reinforce the foundation. Training doesn’t have to rely only on passive learning or only active learning techniques; both can be used in one training session. 

Steps to develop effective safety training

For those who are tasked with designing and delivering training, using active learning methods doesn't have to be daunting. Here are a few questions to ask yourself when creating or updating training: 

1. What do you want your learners to remember and take away from the training session? These are your goals or learning objectives and will help decide training methods to incorporate into the training session.

2. What do your learners already know or what are their previous experiences? Answering this question will help determine where on the passive/active learning spectrum the training needs to start. If this is new information, then  starting with a brief lecture, video, or reading material would be a good way to begin. If the learners are experts and only need refresher training or to learn a new aspect of the topic, then discussions, microlearning, safe experiments, or on-the-job training would be the approach to choose.

3. How will you know if your training is effective? What measures will you be using to confirm the training session was a success? Pre- and post-tests can show if information was learned at the time of the training session. Learner surveys are another tool, which ask learners if they think they learned information that was presented or if they feel they can apply it to their work. Tests and surveys are helpful to know if information was retained at the end of the training session, but what about the next day, next week, or longer? Other assessments include observations where instructors can walk around the lab and see if workers are employing techniques discussed in the training session. Discussions with individuals are another option. Learning assessments don’t have to be formal.

4. What after-training job aids will be needed? Learners aren’t going to remember everything they need to, regardless of how engaging the training session is. Almost always, an after-training job aid is needed to help learners. This can look like many of the active learning techniques previously mentioned (demonstrations by the learners, short videos, infographics, templates, or checklists). 

Here is a hypothetical situation where these questions could help with training: You are onboarding a group of undergraduate interns who have some laboratory work experience. Over the next few months, they will be working in your lab and need to know the safety protocols you’ve established. You’ve decided to start with emergency response—safety showers, eye washes, and spill kits.

1. What do you want your learner to remember? Where the safety shower, eye wash, and spill kits are located, when they would need to be used, and how to use them.

2. What do your workers already know? The interns should know what these items are, but won’t know where they are in your lab or how to use the equipment and spill kits. 

3. How will you know if your training is effective? If the workers can quickly locate these items when asked and can demonstrate the proper use.

4. What after-learning job aids are needed? Your lab plans to conduct unannounced drills to practice these skills.

Based on the training needs questions and answers you’ve come up with, training could include a short presentation on laboratory emergency response procedures, followed by a tour of the lab and a “dry run” of the safety shower and eye wash. To demonstrate the use of a spill kit, the interns could practice cleaning up water with the spill kits. The short presentation refreshes their previous knowledge of emergency response and when to use emergency response equipment. The demonstrations are an active learning component that gives them practice and builds familiarity in their new work environment.

Designing and delivering training material can be accomplished in a myriad of methods and doesn't have to be confined to a classroom or in a webinar format. As discussed, training can be short videos or infographics available in the lab work space or be discussions and drills. It doesn’t have to be a separate activity that takes away from productivity in the lab—training can be incorporated into daily laboratory processes. By including different active and passive learning techniques, training can be more effective, meet training goals of changing behavior, and challenge thinking as well as meeting learners’ needs.

Have questions for Ashley Augspurger? She will expand upon this topic and discuss how to elevate your lab's safety training at the 2024 Lab Manager Leadership Summit, taking place April 29-May 1, 2024 in Denver, CO. 

Learn more about the Leadership Summit and register here:


1.    Effectiveness of active learning in the arts and sciences, Mellow and Less. Humanities Department Faculty Publications and Research. 2013

2.    Profiling and Supporting Adult Learners, Zheng and Zhang, Synergic Integration of Formal and Informal E-Learning Environments for Adult Lifelong Learners. 

3.    Teaching Laboratory Safety, Augspurger, Hyett-Ringgenberg, Perriello, The Synergist. August 2022.

4.    ANSI/ASSP Z490.1 – Accepted Practices in EHS Training.

5.    Training and Communication; Hazardous Materials Management Desk Reference: Volume III Management Practices. Jonathan Klane.