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September 06, 2013
Yes, you can eliminate new-hire injuries!

Learn why they happen and strategies for preventing them

A laborer on the job less than a month is injured when he slips off a ladder. A new factory worker gets too close to an unguarded press and suffers a serious hand injury. A rookie police officer receives a gunshot wound while on patrol.

According to OSHA, 40 percent of injured employees have been on the job for less than a year. What’s behind these injuries, and is there really anything you can do to eliminate them?

Keeping new workers safe is the subject of this Compliance Report. Learn why these incidents happen—and how to prevent them with a strong safety orientation process.

Off on the right foot

Farmers Insurance Group notes that more than half of new workers injured were employed for less than a month, and one of every eight injuries occurred on the first day of work.

New hires are often young and inexperienced. Federal child labor laws limit work hours for teens and prohibit those under age 18 from dangerous exposure and occupations (such as using power-driven machinery, punch presses, and doing roofing work). But following the law isn’t enough.

Farmers urges businesses to immediately begin safety training that focuses on the specific job function workers will perform. At the minimum, training should address personal protective equipment (PPE), proper lifting, working with or around electricity, and the danger of slips and falls.

According to the insurer, “Management has the right to expect the inexperienced worker to be efficient and productive, but the company has the responsibility to ensure that these employees are receiving proper training and have supervisors that understand the transition between being a young, inexperienced worker and a fully productive, experienced employee.”

What’s the problem? Who’s at fault?

Both employers and employees have a role to play in keeping new hires safe. Chief causes of accidents include the following:

1. Employers assume that new employees know more than they really do and that common sense will keep them safe. Even though workers may be skilled, they don’t necessarily know how to stay safe in a new environment. Similarly, new employees may have little or no knowledge of OSHA regulations, including the General Duty Clause. It guarantees a place of employment that’s free from recognized hazards.

New employees may also lack knowledge (or understanding) about the need to report incidents or near misses. A fall or other incident where no one is badly injured must be reported so that the hazard can be identified and eliminated. And even though reporting is a priority at your workplace, it may not have been the case at the employee’s last job.

Also, employees may be concerned that they’ll be punished or blamed for reporting. Orientation is an opportunity to get the facts on the table and allay such concerns.

2. New employees are often afraid to ask questions. An employee who is afraid to ask because he may sound stupid runs the risk of serious injury. Supervisors need to remind workers that they are happy to answer questions at any time.

Many workplaces assign an experienced employee to act as a guide and mentor for each new hire. Important concerns may come up in a one-on-one setting that might never be addressed in a group orientation.

Pay particular attention to the needs of new employees who have disabilities, and to those who may not read or understand English well.

3. The environment is unfamiliar and people don’t know what to do in an emergency. It’s essential that new hires become quickly familiar with the building and emergency procedures. In fact, OSHA requires that when they are given their initial assignments, all employees must be trained in the parts of the employer’s emergency plan necessary to protect them in case of an emergency.

Think through what you want employees to do and train specifically on those behaviors. For example, if you want everyone to evacuate immediately in case of fire, they must all know the sound of the emergency alarm and which exit routes to take.

4. Employee training focuses on the task, not the hazards. The step-by-step instructions for completing any job task should also address the task’s hazards and how to avoid them. Job training should also incorporate PPE rules and why they are required.

Take time to explain hazards, don’t just recite them. Remember that employees are much more likely to follow safety rules if they understand the reasons for them.

5. Employees lack knowledge about hazardous substances in use. OSHA’s hazard communication (HazCom) standard addresses a worker’s right to know the risks of chemicals and other substances used in the workplace, and how to use them safely.

HazCom training should be given at the time of a worker’s initial assignment and whenever a new physical or health hazards is introduced. It should cover the requirements of the standard, any operations where hazardous chemicals are present, and the location and availability of safety data sheets (SDSs) and other HazCom information.

In 2012, a major update to the HazCom law, with the goal of aligning the standard with the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS), took effect. The amendments to the standard are intended to improve worker understanding of chemical hazards by streamlining and standardizing the way this information is communicated.

The law has a 4-year phase-in period, with the first deadline in December 2013. By the first of that month, employers are required to have completed their training on the new label elements and SDS formats that will be implemented under GHS. So if you’re bringing new workers on board, make sure you stay on top of GHS training deadlines in addition to other HazCom requirements.

6. New workers do not thoroughly understand the importance of using PPE or how to use it properly. Injury stats show that an alarming number of injured workers were not wearing PPE that could have prevented, or reduced the severity of, injuries.

It is the employer’s job to conduct a comprehensive assessment of each job to determine if—and what—PPE is needed. The more managers understand about the job and the specific hazards, the better able they are to select the right PPE.

Savvy employers often involve workers in the selection of protective gear, as “owning” the decision encourages compliance. Other recommendations are to dramatize the consequences of failing to use required PPE and to lead by example. That means everybody complies with the rules—even a payroll clerk visiting the shop floor for a few minutes.

7. The worksite does not convey the message. Workers need to be told convincingly that safety is a priority. But words aren’t enough—they also need to see actions that reinforce the message. Examples include:

  • A clean and orderly workplace,
  • Drills to practice emergency procedures,
  • Supervisors who promptly and politely answer questions,
  • Properly labeled hazardous substances,
  • Readily accessible SDSs, and
  • Compliance with PPE rules by employees at all levels.

Impress your new employees with actions that demonstrate your commitment to safety. And put them on notice that there are consequences for failure to comply with the rules.

Because first impressions count

THE OSHA PERSPECTIVE

What does OSHA expect when it comes to protecting new employees? Doug Kalinowski is director of OSHA’s Directorate of Cooperative and State Programs.

Says Kalinowski, “One of our concerns is that if you are temporary, the employer may not invest the necessary resources in training.” He cites a 2012 case in which an employee was crushed by a palletizer on his first day at work.

OSHA found that the employer had not trained temporary workers on lockout/tagout procedures to prevent accidental equipment start-ups. Nor were steps taken to ensure that its own employees were following these procedures.

OSHA administrator Dr. David Michaels summed up the tragedy when he commented, “A worker’s first day at work shouldn’t be his last day on earth. Employers are responsible for ensuring the safe conditions of all their employees, including those who are temporary.” He added that had Bacardi met its obligations, “This tragic loss of life could have been prevented.”

Kalinowski does see some signs of improvement. “Many companies have figured out that protecting workers is not only the right thing to do, but makes good business sense.”  The return on investment in training is high, especially in view of the cost of accidents and the slim profit margin under which most businesses operate.

He agrees that orientation is the time to start communicating that commitment to a culture of safety. More employers are also recognizing that a culture of safety cannot exist independently from a culture of quality and productivity.

Worker engagement is a top priority for OSHA. And Kalinowski believes getting seasoned employees involved in orientation is a good way to increase involvement. “More experienced workers have stories to tell and examples to give. If I am an adult learner, I remember more from a story or an example than from a list of facts on a PowerPoint.”

He concludes, “New employees want to do a good job and go the extra mile, but without a good orientation, they may be cutting corners.” And that can lead to tragedy.

Safety orientation is one of the first opportunities for you to communicate your commitment to employee protection. It’s an important message for new hires to hear; it’s also your duty under the law. Your business can be cited and fined if OSHA discovers that employees have not been properly trained in workplace hazards.

Inspectors may look for records that indicate exactly when and where training was conducted, who was in charge, and what topics were covered.

Plan carefully. Decide what messages you want employees to take away, then build content accordingly. Recommended topics include:

  • Company safety policies and work rules;
  • General hazards in the work area;
  • Specific hazards involved in each task the employee performs;
  • Hazards associated with other areas of the facility;
  • Safe work practices and procedures;
  • The location of emergency equipment (fire extinguishers, eyewash stations, first-aid supplies, etc.);
  • Smoking regulations;
  • Emergency evacuation procedures and routes;
  • Who to talk to regarding safety concerns, questions;
  • Steps to take in case of an accident or near-miss;
  • Reporting procedures;
  • Selection, use, and care of PPE;
  • Use of tools and equipment;
  • Safe lifting techniques and material-handling procedures; and
  • Proper handling, use, and storage of hazardous materials and location of SDSs.

Some employers use a safety orientation checklist to ensure that relevant topics have been covered. The checklist should be signed by participating employees and maintained in personnel files.

Other companies like to be up front with new hires about the cost associated with various types of accidents. Others bring in an employee who sustained an injury to talk about what happened and its effect on the worker and his or her family. It may sound a bit negative for an orientation, but those who use the technique say a first-hand account captures employees’ attention like little else.

Tips and trends: Zurich North America

Suzanne Poeschel is director of capability development and risk engineering for Zurich North America. She works with insured companies to ensure that workers go home safe and that claims are mitigated or eliminated. For Poeschel, orientation is an important moment to demonstrate your safety culture.

She emphasizes that it’s not just new employees but also those new to a task or process who require orientation. “It’s really important that they get an orientation to understand their rights and what’s expected.”

The best orientation program is not a stand-alone, but is part of a comprehensive safety program. She recommends an integrated approach that blends lecture-style instruction with more active learning.  “You could ask questions about the information to establish give and take. In construction we call it the sharing of scars—it’s the idea that ‘I’ve seen this happen and I don’t want it to happen to you.’”

If you use videos, follow up on the content with live discussion about what was presented. Poeschel emphasizes keeping the information practical and conveying it in terms workers understand. “Demonstrate why they should be wearing eye protection or why they need respirators. Make them understand what’s in it for them,” she suggests.

Other tips:

  • Use periodic “knowledge checks” to ensure employees are getting the messages.
  • Ask open-ended (not yes and no) questions to encourage engagement.
  • Ask employees their view of how a safety situation should be handled. Even inexperienced workers may have good ideas, and they like being asked.
  • Make sure new hires know on the first day how to reach their supervisor and what to do in case of an emergency.
  • Consider waiting a few days for an in-depth safety orientation. That way, employees know what the job entails, including the risks.
  • Assign a safety mentor for the first 60 or 90 days.
  • Take advantage of in-house talent. Use your CEO, or perhaps a respected line employee with good safety habits, to conduct part of the orientation.

Tips and trends: Smithfield Foods

Smithfield Foods is a global producer of bacon, sausage, deli meat, and other products. According to vice president Keira Lombardo, “Properly trained employees are our best asset.”

All new hires undergo a 3- to 4-day process, of which a day and a half is devoted to safety and health. The focus is on hands-on demonstrations and interactive participation. If employees don’t demonstrate understanding of a segment, the material is reviewed further.

According to Lombardo, facility safety professionals conduct site-specific training in emergency plans, ergonomics, control of hazardous energy, chemical safety, hazard communications, machine guarding, and other areas. “Many locations offer mentoring programs that allow employees to discuss issues with, and learn techniques from, experienced staff,” she adds.

Smithfield recently standardized guidelines for continued health and safety education for all managers, supervisors, and safety professionals.

In 2011, Smithfield spent more than $4 million to train 36,500 U.S. employees. They received some 371,000 hours of training—about 10 hours per person. Ongoing audits help identify opportunities for enhanced training.

Smithfield is currently focusing on encouraging and tracking engagement and has developed a health and safety performance scorecard to document worker activities and involvement across nine metrics.

Tips and trends: Pearson Safety Services

Donna Pearson Chadwick is president/owner of Pearson Safety Services. She sees orientation as an opportunity “to instill the qualities that motivate employees to achieve safety excellence.”

She adds, “New employee safety orientation that educates staff on your company’s specialized safety culture creates an environment in which every worker is personally committed to his or her own safety, as well as the safety of every single one of their colleagues.”

Chadwick recommends that even seasoned employees participate in an annual safety orientation. It’s “an excellent refresher course for even the most safety-conscious employee.”

Tips and trends: Workers Compensation Fund

Workers Compensation Fund (WCF), a nonprofit insurer of Utah businesses, offers these suggestions for reducing risk for new employees:

  • Require all applicants to complete a written employment application and provide past employment history and references.
  • Implement a drug-free workplace policy that includes at least preemployment and postaccident drug screening.
  • Give new employees a detailed safety orientation and make sure they understand policies, safe work procedures, and safety rules.
  • If the job requires exposure to specific physical demands or temperature extremes, allow new employees a conditioning period.
  • Do not allow new employees to operate equipment until they have been properly trained and have proven their skills.
  • Provide new workers with hard-hat stickers or other means to ensure that experienced employees look out for them.
  • Require new hires to participate in safety meetings.

Inclusive approach

As you consider making improvements to your safety orientation program, don’t forget contract employees, those transferred from other departments, and temporary workers. Regardless of who is legally responsible for their safety, it’s in your best interest to share with anyone working at your company the same rules and expectations.

Last spring, OSHA announced a renewed initiative to protect temporary workers. As part of the program, inspectors will use a special code to note when temporary workers are exposed to safety and health violations, and will assess whether they have received required training in a language and vocabulary they can understand.

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