Published by The Advocacy Committee of the
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Preaching or Teaching: The Use of Narrative in Safety Training

Occupational Hazards (Cleveland, OH) , April 13, 2005


Narrative storytelling can be an effective way to impart useful safety and health information to employees without insulting them or putting them to sleep.

Elaine Cullen, Ph.D., CMSP, is chief of Health Communication at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's Spokane Research Laboratory as well as an award-winning filmmaker. She says:

"We are storytellers in this country. There is an oral tradition among what I call the skilled blue collar workers: miners, foundry workers, construction workers, deep sea fishermen, the military. You learn by working with someone who knows how to do your job. You are an apprentice. You are mentored."

Cullen adds that when an experienced miner sees a new hire doing something really stupid, he often steps in and says, "Let me tell you a story. I had a new hand do something like that before ... " and he goes on to detail some negative consequence ranging from injury to death. Sometimes the stories are true, sometimes they're not. But they're always effective, says Cullen.

Subjects Covered: business, education

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