Building Accessible Food Safety Training for a Diverse Workforce

Lily Yang (TAG)
Contributing Writer

There are three essential aspects for driving food safety training for a diverse workforce: accessibility, inclusivity, and dynamic responsiveness. The key to food safety education is to meet people where they are and commit to food safety training and education. Document everything: if it doesn’t get documented, then it didn’t happen. For good food safety education to work, there has to be a commitment from the top down, but also a bottom-up education and knowledge transfer. The employees on the floor should be an integral part of the food safety training curriculum. This approach is similar to cultivating a food safety culture. 

Why Is Food Safety and Education Important?

Some of the issues with current food safety training are that some courses and offerings can feel didactic. Many lack inclusivity and accessibility and are challenging to use. Poorly explained jargon and outdated examples further muddle the issues. Still, other food safety educational materials lack assessment capabilities. While these courses may have some positive effects, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

Another issue to consider is that, ultimately, we are all people who live outside of work. Our attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs that we have at work are often similar to how we are in our home lives—and vice versa. Every single person is an individual, and every workforce is diverse. Individuals can approach learning differently, so the goal is to find a path to understanding that allows them to translate the knowledge into their daily lives. 

What Does Accessibility Mean?

Accessibility is designing and developing tools, technologies, and other aspects so that people with or without disabilities can perceive, understand, navigate, and interact within the space to build capacity. Traditionally, many understood accessibility as finding ways to enable access only for people with disabilities. However, many food industry manufacturers are realizing that expanding access beyond this narrow definition is beneficial to increasing overall understanding of and participation in a robust food safety culture. Quite simply, making accessibility for everyone benefits everyone. 

Why Does Accessibility in the Workplace Matter?

Making food safety education accessible acknowledges that everyone is coming to this information from different spaces and different backgrounds. This approach levels the playing field and fosters inclusivity by making material and learning more equitable. Accessibility also acknowledges that many disabilities are not visible but may still profoundly affect how a person participates in the material. An additional benefit that many organizations notice when they target accessibility is that it can also increase usability for everyone and organize the material more intuitively.

What Does Inclusivity Mean?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, inclusivity is “the practice or policy of providing equal access to opportunities and resources for people who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized, such as those having physical or mental disabilities or belonging to other minority groups.” Many people in the workplace may be unaware of their own implicit biases or unconscious behaviors that limit their abilities to see or acknowledge other perspectives. Thinking with more inclusivity allows people in the workplace to be more deliberate and conscious of their actions. 

Weaving Together Accessibility and Inclusivity in Food Safety Training

From beverages to hemp, workforces in the food industry are increasingly multicultural, multinational, and diverse. Diversification in the workforce is a positive development and will continue. Interweaving accessibility and inclusivity can result in significantly facilitating the transfer of information. In food safety, we want learners to be able to easily access information without having to guess what it is they need to know. This process may mean an organization must expand its repertoire to include multi-modal learning, meaning that employees can access concepts through auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or other methods. Focusing on accessibility and inclusivity also supports individual lived experiences and helps people tie in critical concepts with their existing understanding and knowledge. 

There are several components to successful inclusive and accessible food safety training, including:

  • Cultural and linguistic

  • Visual and literacy

  • Audio

  • Technological

  • The training space(s)

  • Responsiveness

Cultural Inclusivity and Linguistic Accessibility

It is essential to align policies with action. When mid-level and upper-level management include individuals from more diversified cultural backgrounds and language speakers, the organization can drive accessibility in food safety training more effectively. These individuals become “drivers of trust,” and employees may feel some relatability in terms of culture and language. Additionally, diversified management can more easily identify potential “pinch points” within the training education. Hiring diverse individuals to liaison and assist with translation, training, and communication enables those people to advocate for any challenges they may observe that could lead to nonconformances. 

Organizations should co-develop training and educational materials with people of similar cultural and linguistic backgrounds as the employees to ensure relatability. Do not fall into the trap of Google Translate to replace translators, native language speakers, posters, graphics, and training materials. While Google Translate has improved over time, it cannot create the same level of accessibility that a translator or native speaker can when presenting the material. Native speakers and translators also facilitate participation by helping learners feel empowered to ask questions and directly interact with the material. Not only do employees come away with a greater understanding of the material, but it shows them that the organization cares about them and their lived experiences.

Finally, keep in mind that although a person may not have the same cultural background or primary language, it does not mean that they do not have any experience with the concept. 

Visual and Literacy Accessibility

There are several ways to increase visual accessibility, including:

  • Non-verbal signage that may include pictures, pictograms, or icons

  • Big text that is eye-catching and also benefits the visually-impaired

  • Uncrowded and uncluttered text—it is ok to deliver main points and have empty space

  • Taking a mindful approach to colors and color recognition for those with visual impairments or color deficiency issues such as color blindness

Some other things to consider when presenting information are:

  • Only video or only text can be boring

  • For ease of comprehension, adapt the material to grade 8 reading level words

  • Incorporate captions or transcription when possible

  • Include alternative text for images

Many training programs present information in slideshows and presentations. By breaking up the information into more slides with less information on each, trainers can help learners stay focused on the material. 

One additional aspect to consider from a visual standpoint is font color and color combinations. Black/gray, red/green, and blue/yellow combinations are difficult to distinguish for many people with visual impairments. Many design programs utilize a color palette generator that can assist in developing signage and materials that will help designers avoid less accessible color combinations.

Audio Accessibility

There may be occasions when organizations within the food industry conduct training in large, open areas such as fields. Instead of only using a microphone and potentially failing to reach individuals with hearing impairments, consider using multiple speakers or people who can provide communication by surrounding the area. Perhaps individuals are training within a noisy and busy manufacturing setting—they can benefit from using individual headsets and radios rather than straining to hear a presenter. Of course, it may be better to scale back the sound in smaller spaces, and listening devices may not be necessary. 

Often the technologies available provide useful tools for increasing accessibility. For example, many slideshow and video platforms provide automatically-generated captions, but you may need to select the function first. Many of the tools that can enhance accessibility are built-in to the various platforms and provide cost-effective solutions. 

Technological and Presentation Accessibility

There are many types of training programs, and some are more intuitive to use than others. By working with educators and specific training programs, in conjunction with input from employees, an organization can develop more intuitive and interactive material. Also, utilize and shuffle through different teaching modals to help people stay more engaged. Mix audio, visuals, and interactive functions. Presenting some material in a hands-on setting as experiential learning can also be a powerful learning tool in accessible food safety training. Employing technology in assessments, drills, and teach-back sessions is also important. These tactics can help employees to practice potential situations. Finally, it is essential to make the examples relevant to the learners.

Training App Tips

Some organizations are turning to multiple platforms to facilitate learning and are including versatile mobile apps and tablet programs. Many training apps and software programs are available, with many different features and capabilities. The type of app or program an organization selects may depend on many factors, but these tips can help guide the organization to making a better choice:

  • Responsiveness: Look for apps and programs that respond to questions about how to increase accessibility.

  • Design: App design can hurt or help accessibility—look for developers that will collaborate on design and user experience.

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The Training Space Matters

A person’s lived experiences can shape their responsiveness or ability to learn with a space, so considering the training space is essential. For example, a veteran or an individual with a previous trauma may struggle to stay focused on learning within a fully-enclosed area for long periods of time. While finding an ideal space for everyone can be challenging, there are ways to mitigate the challenges by not penalizing individuals for needing to move periodically, stand, or pace. In larger spaces, it may be beneficial to allow individuals to eat, drink, or use the restroom as needed. Organizations may also need to consider shade and protection from the elements, as well as adequate seating, desk space, and even how facilitators arrange learners within the area in relation to each other and the presenter. 

Consider Time Limits

While food safety training and education are vital and comprise critical information, presenters should consider time limits and attention spans. It can be a challenge for many people to concentrate on material for longer than 20-25 minutes at a time. Often organizations schedule training events that may take hours or even an entire day or longer. Experts suggest breaking up the material into smaller, more digestible units and encouraging movement or stretching in between. One popular method for studying and absorbing information is the Pomodoro Technique.

The Pomodoro Technique

Francesco Cirillo developed the Pomodoro Technique in the 1980s as a university student struggling to stay focused on assignments and studies. The Pomodoro Technique, named after the tomato-shaped timer Cirillo first used, encourages working on a task in 25-minute increments, with a five-minute break in between. After four ‘Pomodoros,’ the person can take a more extended, 25-30 minute break. In addition to measured periods of time for study or work, the Pomodoro Technique also utilizes three rules:

  • It is crucial to break down substantial projects into more actionable pieces

  • Group small and simple tasks together within a Pomodoro

  • Don’t break the Pomodoro time—set aside other projects for after the Pomodoro

It All Comes Down to Responsiveness

How can you be sure that what you’re doing is actually accessible, inclusive, and supportive of a diverse workspace? One thing you can do is validate the effectiveness of your training. This is where including your diverse workforce as co-developers is beneficial. They can ensure that what you’re doing is both accessible and inclusive and that it will make sense to the people you are teaching. Be mindful of group training and potential or perceived power dynamics. 

Remember to make the presentation of the material dynamic and interesting. Formulaic presentations won’t be as engaging, and mixing things up can ensure employees stay more focused. Also, be alert to ways to make training more adaptable and flexible. For example, new technological tools like interactive apps can enhance the material. Incorporating physical activity can also keep people ‘checked in.’ Additionally, provide access to additional educational opportunities for employees, including literacy aids and courses. Making educational material and tools accessible helps employees be the best they can be and fosters better relationships across plant floors and departments.

Finally, create the space for honest feedback. This process can be as simple as providing a form that encourages learners to discuss how they feel about the concepts, material, or how the information is delivered and what the learners want. Gathering feedback allows trainers and organizations to continuously improve education and training inclusivity and accessibility. 

Building Better Accessible Training Programs

Ultimately, there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach—there can’t be, by design. Organizations can move beyond accessible food safety training to approaching the entire workspace from an inclusive and accessible standpoint. There are many different learning styles, whether an organization uses them or not. By acknowledging these different styles and remaining dynamic, organizations can truly meet people where they are and build greater capacity within the food safety system and throughout the industry.

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