Skip Navigation

The Big Picture

Education vs. Training

The truth is, you can not NOT teach.
Everything you say and do teaches someone something about you.

Defining "Education"

Education: The term "educate" originates from the Latin, Ed-u-cer-e (ey-doo-ker-ey), which means "that which leads out of ignorance." Education is actually anything that brings us out of ignorance and helps to improve our skills, knowledge and attitudes (SKA).

John F. Rekes, PE, CIH, CSP, says it well: "Education is a process through which learners gain new understanding, acquire new skills, and/or change their attitudes."

Education in its broadest sense is any act or experience that has a formative effect on the mind, character or physical ability of an individual. In its technical sense education is the process by which society deliberately transmits its accumulated knowledge, skills and values from one generation to another. (Wikipedia)

Training: Rekes goes on to describe training as "a more specialized form of education that focuses on developing or improving skills. While training incorporates educational theories, principles and practices, its focus is on performance. The goal of training is for learners to be able to do something new or better than before."

Is Your Training Program Effective? Occupational Hazards, August 1999

According to the American Society for Training and Development, training and development focus on identifying, assessing and, through planned learning, helping develop the key SKA competencies that enable individuals to perform current or future jobs.

The outcome: The educational process can be quite complex and learning usually takes place on many levels. An educational program can be successful even if the learners can't do anything new or different at the end of the program.

Safety Education


In the safety arena, education primarily explains general principles and concepts.

Safety education informs, persuades, and motivates students. The most important goal is to show why safety is important. Why do you think most employees don't do what they are supposed to do in the workplace? It's because they don't know why it's important to do it! Consequently, the most important thing we can do as safety trainers is to make sure our students know why working safely is important.

So, how do we become educated in safety? We become educated in safety in many ways including:

  • personal experience outside the classroom - where the real education occurs;
  • formal classroom instruction - great for gaining new knowledge; and
  • On-The-Job Training - best for gaining new skills.

Continual Process

Refer to the illustration to the right. Think of this as a continual repeating process. We are educated by everything to which we are aware. What we see and hear in the external environment automatically us as follows:

  • Internally, education shapes our thoughts.
  • The body automatically responds to our thoughts with feelings (emotional response).
  • Thoughts and feelings, over time, influence our beliefs and attitudes.
  • Beliefs and attitudes determine the decisions we make
  • Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and the decisions we make influence our external behaviors.
  • Our behaviors result in consequences that, in turn, educate us once again and the process repeats.
Continual repeating process
(Click to enlarge)

For instance, Bob witnesses Gloria get hit on the head with a piece of lumber. Bob thinks, "Wow, Gloria might be hurt." This thought causes a feeling of concern to wash over Bob. He sees that Gloria was not hurt because she was wearing a hard hat. He believes the hard hat prevented the injury and resolves to always wear a hard hat at work and to make sure others do the same. He decides he better start wearing a hard hat right now. So, he walks over to the supply room, gets a hard hat and wears it every day at work. Consequently, he doesn't get hurt, and the several other workers he warns do not get hurt either. This improvement (change) in the external work environment reshapes his thoughts and initiates the process in others. Then, the process continues indefinitely.

Safety Education Explains the Consequences

So, why did Bob change his behavior? He became a believer! While safety education describes the "who, what, where, how and when" about safety, it should most importantly explain the "why" of safety. Effective safety education must tell learners why it is important to use safe procedures and practices.

The more we understand the importance of safety procedures and practices, the more likely we will use them. To make sure everyone knows why safety is important, it's most effective to emphasize the natural and system consequences of their safety behaviors. Why? Because people do what they do because of consequences they think will result. Let's take a closer look at natural and system consequences.

Natural Consequences

Natural consequences are those that naturally occur as a result of what an employee or organization does.

  • Natural consequences occur automatically. They result in some kind of physical or psychological hurt or health to an employee. Bob hits his thumb with a hammer. Ouch! Judy gets a lot of sleep so she is always alert and a top performer on the job. Yippee!
  • Natural consequences will also affect an organization. XYZ Construction, Inc. ignores safety programs and accident costs naturally go up. Ouch! ABC Construction, Inc. makes sure everyone has proper safety training and "consequently" they naturally experience very few injuries. Yippee!

Employees and organizations are naturally punished or rewarded for their personal and corporate behaviors: They "do it to themselves."

Educating employees on the natural consequences of their personal choices and behavior helps employees understand how their failure to use safe procedures and practices will result in injuries and illnesses. Additionally, employees will understand how working safely results in physical and mental health.

More examples of natural consequences include:

  • Suffering a strain as a result of using improper lifting techniques
  • Chronic illness from continual exposure to hazardous substances

An organization's poor safety culture will naturally result in an unsafe and unhealthful workforce. On the other hand, effective safety management systems and cultures naturally result in a workplace that experiences safe and healthful conditions.

More examples of natural consequences of organizational behavior include:

  • High accident rate due to a lack of adequate supervision
  • Low morale due to unreasonable workloads

Gary, a recent OSHAcademy student wrote, "I stress to my co-workers that a life jacket is mandatory on deck. We hired a young guy who was a swimmer in college. He thought his swimming skills were such that he did not need the jacket. We educated him on hypothermia and that he could not save himself if he fell over in 35 degree water. Once he understood the facts, he wore the jacket at all times, because he wanted to, not because he had to."

System Consequences

System consequences are those actions taken by another person in response to an employee's choices and behaviors. They are also the actions taken by an external organization as a result of organizations performance. In this case, the employee and organization are punished or rewarded by someone else for the choices they have made.

  • System consequences will affect each employee. Bob is laughed at by his coworkers for being clumsy with a hammer. Oh that hurts! Judy receives an award for her top performance at work. Yippee Yahoo!
  • System consequences will also affect an organization in response to corporate behavior. XYZ Construction, Inc., is plagued with many OSHA inspections due to the poor workers' compensation rate. The pocketbook suffers! ABC, Construction, Inc., is recognized in the industry for their great safety record. Great rewards!

It's important to educate employees on the system consequences for performance when they are hired. Examples of system consequences to employees include:

  • disciplinary action for a safety rule violation;
  • informal verbal recognition for a job well done; or
  • formal tangible rewards for active participation in a safety committee.

Equally important is educating management on system consequences of organizational behavior. Managers need to know how effective safety management systems impact the way in which regulatory agencies and the community react. System consequences to the employer might include:

  • OSHA citations and penalties assessed as a result of an inspection;
  • Civil/Criminal law suits after a fatality; or
  • industry recognition for excellence in safety.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. The goal of _________ is for learners to be able to do something new or better than before.

2. When does the real education occur?

3. Safety education focuses on why safety is important. Safety training focuses primarily on ________:

4. Damage to equipment, high workers compensation costs, and low morale are all examples of:

5. Discipline, OSHA penalties, recognition and monetary rewards are all examples of:

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.

OSHAcademy Ultimate Guide Banner Ad