My State:
 Resources: New Employee Orientation
August 15, 2014
Start new workers off on the right foot with a strong safety orientation

It’s as true in safety as it is in anything else: You never get a second chance to make a first impression. When a new worker enters your workplace, you have a chance to convey the importance of your safety program, the basics of your safety culture, and the regard you have for employee safety.

Or … not.

Don’t let workers go onto the floor with the idea that productivity is more important than safety, or that safety is something they need only pay lip service to. Use your new worker orientation to get workers started on the right foot.

Does your orientation need help?

Put yourself in a new worker’s shoes, and try sitting through your new worker orientation. What do you notice?

Are there any introductions and human interactions, or is it all on a screen in the forms of videos or interactive computer training? Is the information essential to the worker’s job, or could the worker justify sleeping through the session? Is the presentation welcoming, or would you resent being made to sit through it?

Point workers toward safety

Consider whether your orientation could be improved if you:

Personalize it. It’s important that workers know the key players in health and safety should they have concerns or needs. Make sure they meet anyone who is essential both to safety and to their job—their supervisor or manager, the chair of the safety committee, and any safety committee members on their team, in their department, or on their shift. Connect new workers to the people who can help keep them safe.

Newly hired workers might not be the only ones who need to go through orientation. Rehired or transferred workers may also benefit.

Make it engaging. Having the human resources director go through the employee manual with a new worker and see that the worker signs an acknowledgment at the end might be efficient, but if you don’t care enough to put more into your training than “sign here,” why should a new worker care about the information provided?

The difficulty is that many of the strategies used to make training a more active, participatory experience—like having workers engage in role-playing, participate in learning games, or perform demonstrations of what they have learned—work best in a group setting. They can be harder to do when you’re training only a single worker.

One strategy that may work well even in a one-on-one setting is storytelling. Stories put information in context and make it more memorable. Use stories from your own experience to relate training content to the real world, and encourage your trainee to do the same. Just the act of relating training materials to his or her own experience and putting it in words aids retention and encourages workers to see the information as important and relevant.

Make it specific. Although it may be important to cover some topics that everyone needs to know—such as how to activate the emergency response system or where the assembly area is in the event of an evacuation—it’s also important that safety training cover the specific hazards of each worker’s job. You may not be able to do this in a video or computer training. In fact, some of this information might be better transmitted directly by a coworker or supervisor.

Make it easier to understand. Workers who don’t understand their training won’t be able to protect themselves. For some new workers, you may need to enhance their understanding by:

  • Using a lower-level vocabulary. A safety data sheet is a legal document and is likely to contain technical terms and jargon that require translation. If it’s information workers need to know, use “cancer-causing” instead of “carcinogenic,” or tell them “this chemical can cause nosebleeds” instead of having them try to figure out what “epistaxis” means.
  • Using a different language. Workers who don’t speak fluent English may need training provided in their native tongue.
  • Using multiple methods of instruction. Workers will better understand material that they not only read or hear, but that is also well-illustrated or offered with hands-on experience.
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