I was recently asked, “What is the biggest safety issue that you face?”. I had to think about that for a minute because the management of risk is never over. There is an element of risk in everything we do. Whether it’s work or play, risk is everywhere. I began to ask myself, Is there a specific issue that appears most frequently that results in an impact on the area of risk? I found that we can identify an area that fit that criteria. It’s new employees. The first year of employment is a surprisingly dangerous period. One third of non-fatal injuries occur to employees who have been on the job less than a year. A quarter of those injuries are frequently serious, resulting in lost time of more than a month. The first 90 days are the most dangerous because new workers have a huge knowledge gap that increases their chances of getting hurt. What about experienced new hires? New hires with experience still meet the same risk criteria because they must learn the culture and working environment unique to every company. They may bring with them, bad habits that have been learned that need correction. We may be in the same kind of business, but we all have different ways of going about it. That creates a learning gap that that must be filled, and that gap statistically takes about six months to fill.
The question then is, how do we work to eliminate or minimize the risk to these new employees? We can focus on lifesaving rules. Things that exist that can be a hazard to the worker. The first stage is an effective orientation. Many times, we rely on field workers to spend time training new employees. While that is an effective and vital function, it doesn’t always equip the new employee with a sense of their own personal safety or a clear understanding of the work environment. An effective orientation includes an overview of the kind of work being performed. This can be done through classroom and hands on functions. Videos, tests, lectures, and interactive discussion can provide an overview of the functions and culture of the company. If there is a means of identifying the new employee to make them visible to existing employees, such as a green hard hat, that is going to be helpful in assimilation because it identifies the employee who may need coaching and mentoring. Establishing a site mentor to help a new employee to become a safe and contributive member of the crew, is very helpful, however, the selection of the mentor is critical. Choosing an experienced co-worker who is willing to take on the responsibility of mentoring adds value to the process.
We all need employees. We can’t exist without a team of people rowing in the right direction. We also need to train those new employees and equip them to be able to make a safe and effective contribution to the process.