customer experiences

Digital learning boosts safe working in the port

17 March 2017 • 4 min reading time

The Port of Rotterdam aspires to be the safest and most sustainable mainport by 2020. That imposes great demands on the companies operating in the port, and on the professional skills of their employees. They are being assisted in this by Sam (Safety At MainPort), a new digital learning platform.

When TNO researchers interviewed maintenance managers and employees in the Port of Rotterdam, it became clear that, by itself, acquiring technical skills and a basic knowledge of safety just won’t cut it. In response to this need, the Malmberg publishing company – together with iTanks and TNO – developed the Sam digital learning platform, to encourage people to engage in continuous learning about safety. “There is more to Sam than simply teaching people procedures,” explains Dr Karen Oude Hengel, a Work, Health & Technology researcher at TNO. “The teaching method used is intended to instil safe behaviour in the DNA of contractors’ employees working in the port area, to the point at which they take the initiative to practice realistic situations with co-workers every week. In this way, reactive learning becomes proactive. People retain the knowledge acquired through this new form of learning much better than they would if they just took the occasional course and did some tests. This is because the latter type of knowledge soon fades away again.”

Re-enacting unsafe situations

“Drawing on TNO’s knowledge of safety and health at work, we got to work to build a digital platform,” says Geeske Steeneken, Malmberg’s Sam Business Unit Manager. “We were astonished that something like this was not already available. All of the existing safety-related material was based on a very traditional design. Going digital gives you many more options. For instance, it enables you to practice visually realistic situations. You can even re-enact unsafe situations, something that is totally impossible in real life, of course. All of these aspects add value.”

“For contractors, there is more at stake here than getting their employees to engage in continuous learning, this also enables them to demonstrate to their clients how serious they are about safety. That creates trust”

Theory built on everyday practice

Her colleague, John Nouwens, Business Unit Manager for senior secondary vocational education and training, adds that: “We have now developed a series of modules for a wide range of activities and situations, which port employees can practice on a tablet computer. Employers in the petrochemical industry give their employees quite a lot of time for training. However, this usually takes the classical form of instruct, apply, test. For the majority of those using the platform, however, this is not very effective. This is because they are very practically-minded people, so you really shouldn’t burden them with endless lessons on theory. Which is why, in our teaching model, we take the opposite approach. We offer theoretical material in a practical context, in the form of work-related situations with which the employees are very familiar.”


“Here in the port, all safety-related matters are incredibly well organized,” says Geeske. “Yet everything you are taught about processes and procedures is quite general in scope. Individual employees do not get the feeling that any of this relates directly to them. The course materials that we have developed for Sam have all been designed from the viewpoint of the individual employee, carrying out specific activities in a specific place. In other words, they perform exercises that are based on familiar situations in the workplace. The aim is to activate their knowledge, and to challenge them to weigh up various courses of action in specific situations. You can teach them all the theory you like, but what really matters is using that knowledge effectively in your own situation in the workplace.”

“Sam is intended to change people’s behaviour, making them more aware of safety issues”

Practising Sam with co-workers

The employees of ten different companies have already started working with Sam. They practice in the workplace for ten minutes each week (usually in groups of five to ten) using a module that is relevant to what is happening there and then. For instance, the following week they might be scheduled to work on a refinery site or in a tank storage facility, as part of a crew working at height. A special module has been developed for this. “When you are working in the practical situation, the following week, this knowledge will be right at the front of your mind,” says Karen. “The employees work and learn together with their co-workers. It also encourages people to get involved. The responses received have been positive, they enjoy learning in this way. There are no dry and dusty classroom lessons on theory. Instead, they explore familiar practical situations with their colleagues, in the company cafeteria. For contractors, there is more at stake here than getting their employees to engage in continuous learning. It is also a way of demonstrating to their clients, which are often large petrochemical companies, how serious they are about safety. That creates trust.”

Changing behaviour

John points out that “The contractors’ response is the same one that we had at the start, why didn’t we already have something like this? They now consider it vital for their employees to work on their skills, week in, week out. That would have been impossible without a digital learning environment. And the employees themselves take great pride in showing that they have completed the modules successfully. Sam is intended to change people’s behaviour, making them more aware of safety issues.”

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