Create Narratives for Better Training


As industrial hygienists and environmental health and safety IH/EHS professionals, communication is an essential skill; but when you think of technical writing and safety training, “creative writing” may not be the first phrase that comes to mind. At AIHA, we believe creativity can help improve the way we help trainees understand, contextualize, and recall content over info-centric approaches. We’re excited to have Jonathan Klane, MS Ed., CIH, CSP, teach PDC 403: Tell a Story — Creative Narratives for Better Training at this year’s AIHce EXP.

His experience and passion will be a great asset for anyone who attends PDC 403, and we sat down with him to dive a little deeper into his narrative.

AIHA: First, could you please tell me a little bit about yourself and your background? 

Jonathan Klane (JK): I’ve been an IH for over 30 years, having taught college and been a consultant, and now I’m the bald-headed safety guy for the Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University. I’m also a Risk Innovation Fellow and a doctorate student studying how narrative affects our risk perceptions. In what little free time I have, I like to write my own stories. I’ve written some creative nonfiction (on adult learning, a chemical investigation, and a fire safety one) and a few “cli-fi” (climate fiction) stories for a contest (I didn’t win, but it was great fun). But my passion is for my many works in progress, including one on a couple of certified industrial hygienists (CIHs).

AIHA: What's your experience and involvement with AIHA and AIHce?

JK: I became a CIH in the ’90s and have been attending AIHce ever since. I first presented on adult learning and taught a train-the-trainer at AIHce. I’ve enjoyed being able to share my experiences with and passion for all things adult learning and how to tell a good story.  

AIHA: How long have you been teaching this course?

JK: This is a much more recent course and an outgrowth of both my training courses as well as my doctorate studies and research. I began presenting on the power of stories in EHS training many years ago when I wrote a paper including about 17 creative nonfiction stories on my adventures in adult learning/training. Cut to a few years ago when I decided to create this course. I taught it last year at another conference, and it received great feedback from the learners. I’m very excited to be able to teach it at AIHce to my peers. 

AIHA: Who should be taking this PDC 403 course?

JK: Well, anyone who wants to learn how to write creative nonfiction narratives to improve his or her IH/EHS training or communications, or for any reason. All of us in IH/EHS have to complete training and communicate risks on technical topics. Narratives using creative nonfiction are memorable, touch us emotionally, engage us, and contextualize the important aspects of risk. 

AIHA: What kind of hands-on practice can participants expect during the course?

JK: Right from our introductions through to the last group shared readings, the learners will be writing and engaging in developing and editing their creative narratives. The course is divided into successive modules that build on previous ones. We engage in both short- and longer-form narratives. The learners can try their hand at a variety of different narratives, or they can choose to work on one narrative throughout the day. 

AIHA: Why is creating effective narratives important in our field?

JK: We have a tough job — conveying a fundamental understanding of risks of chemicals over a working lifetime with technical data. Let’s face it: we often lose our audience to boredom and/or dense details. Having a technique we can use to literally change the narrative, keep our audience’s rapt attention, and create vivid memories is critical to training and communications. 

AIHA: Anything else those interested should know about the PDC 403 course?

JK: Yes; it’s fun! Sure, it’s hard work, too, but it’s well worth it. I’m impressed and amazed by some of the truly compelling narratives the learners created. I’m looking forward to another collection of creative nonfiction narratives. 

We’re certainly looking forward to the creativity that will fill the room during PDC 403 on Sunday, May 5.

Berrak Sarikaya is a natural conversation driver with an undeniable belief in the power of community. A proven content strategist and speaker, she resides in Seattle, WA. Follow her on Twitter.​

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