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Defining "Education"

DuPont - The Wrong Way vs. The Right Way.

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

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

The KSA process.
(Click to enlarge)

Safety education informs, persuades, and motivates students to be involved and work safely. The most important goal of safety education is to show why working safely 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.

The KSA Education Process

What is the process we can use to make sure employees are most effectively educated? We call it the KSA Education Process and it involves three basic strategies to educate employees so they can gain knowledge, increase their skills, and improve abilities: instruction, training, and experience.

  1. Instruction transfers Knowledge. This is where the educational process begins. We must know something before we can do something.
  2. Training provides initial Skills. Once we know something, we can focus on learning how to do something.
  3. Experience over time improves Abilities Learners gain experience outside the classroom, where the "real education" occurs. Only with experience will we improve our overall performance.

We'll discuss each of these educational strategies in the upcoming modules, but first let's take a look in the next section at the psychological process of being educated. Understanding the underlying psychology of the process of being educated will help us understand that everything that occurs, both internally and externally, experience educates us.

Education is a Continual Process

Everything we see and hear educates us.
(Click to enlarge)

Now let's see how we each go through a continual educational process. Refer to the illustration below. 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 educates 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.

For instance, Bob witnesses Gloria get hit on the head with a wrench someone dropped while working overhead. Now let's look at the process:

  • Thoughts. Bob thinks, "Gloria was just hit and might be hurt."
  • Feelings. Immediately, Bob's very concerned about Gloria's accident, but is relieved when he learns she was wearing a hard hat.
  • Beliefs. He is sure that, because Gloria was wearing a hard hat, she didn't get hurt.
  • Attitudes. Gloria's near miss changes Bob's attitude about the importance of wearing hard hats.
  • Decisions. He decides to start wearing a hard hat at work.
  • Actions. So, he walks over to the supply room, gets a hard hat and wears it every day at work.
  • Results. Bob doesn't get hurt, and the other workers he warns do not get hurt either.
  • Education. The results (consequences): Bob's experience educates him about the importance of wearing hard hats. His changed behaviors and actions (leadership) help to improve the corporate safety culture.

It's important to know that the steps in this process are not necessarily linear in nature. It's probably more appropriate to think of the educational KSA process as all steps occurring all the time.


Safety Education Explains the Consequences

So, why did Bob change his behavior in the previous scenario?

What he saw affected what he immediately thought and felt, and ultimately made him a believer. His actions and experience confirmed his beliefs.

While safety education, according to OSHA, describes the "who, what, where, how and when," safety education should also explain "why" safety is important to employee and corporate success. In fact, the "why" may be the most important point to emphasize.

It's important to know that the most frequently expressed reason employees do not work safely is because they don't know "why" it's important. Employees will listen to what management thinks is important. If management does not stress the importance of working safe, eventually employees will not believe it is that important. To most effectively emphasize the importance of safety, the employer must educate employees about the consequences of their performance.

What are Consequences

Consequences are the "events" that immediately follow a behavior. The event is contingent on the behavior, meaning that they occur only if the behavior occurs.

For safety education to be truly effective in the long term, it must emphasize two major kinds of consequences:

  1. Reinforcers are those consequences that cause an increase the behaviors they follow. For instance, recognizing employees for safety performance will increase safe behaviors.
  2. Punishers are those consequences that cause a decrease the behaviors they follow. For instance, ignoring safe performance will eventually decrease the number of safe behaviors.

It's also important to emphasize the natural and system consequences of behaviors.

  • Natural consequences are those that inevitably occur as a result of a behavior.
  • System consequences are those imposed by external entity (person or the organization) in response to a behavior.

Let's take a closer look at natural and system consequences.

Natural Consequences


Effective safety education will help employees and organizations understand they are naturally rewarded or punished for their behaviors: They basically "do it to themselves."

Natural consequences occur naturally. They are unplanned, inevitable, and occur automatically.

Examples of natural consequences include:

  • Bob hits his thumb with a hammer.
  • Judy gets a lot of sleep so she is always alert and a top performer on the job.
  • Suffering a strain as a result of using improper lifting techniques
  • Robert gets laughed at when he slips and falls.

Natural consequences may also affect an organization.

More examples of natural consequences as a result of organizational behaviors include:

  • Management ignores safety programs and accident costs naturally go up.
  • Effective leadership will improve employee morale and productivity.
  • A lack of adequate supervision results in poor production and more accidents.
  • An unreasonable workload creates a lot of stress and high turnover.

Gary, a previous 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, or logical consequences are chosen by another person or the organization in response to a behavior or action. Employees and organizations are punished or rewarded by someone else. There are two primary categories of system consequences:

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

  • Bob suffers disciplinary action for a safety rule violation.
  • Gloria receive informal verbal recognition for a job well done
  • Flavio receives formal tangible rewards for active participation in a safety committee.
  • Emmy is laughed at by his co-workers for being clumsy with a hammer.
  • Judy receives an award for her top performance at work.

Employer System Consequences. Equally important is educating management on the 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:

  • XYZ Construction is plagued with many OSHA inspections due to the poor workers' compensation rate.
  • ABC Construction is recognized in the industry for their great safety record.
  • OSHA citations and penalties are assessed as a result of an inspection.
  • Civil/criminal law suits after a fatality.
  • The company has a hard time getting new clients due to a poor safety record


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.

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