It’s well-known that workers who are new to a jobsite are at the highest risk of injury. And every worker on a site was new to that site at one time. Whether they are a direct hire, subcontractor or a temporary worker, they all need to receive a site-specific safety orientation before they start work.
The scope and quality of this safety training often varies from company to company, and even site to site. In some cases, workers are shown a short video, told to sign a piece of paper verifying they’ve been trained and then get to work. In others, they may be given an OSH handbook, a copy of the company’s safety program and code of conduct policy along with other orientation materials, then given a few minutes to review and sign that they’ve received everything. These approaches are clearly inadequate. The safety orientation is an employee’s first impression of how seriously an employer takes safety, so you shouldn’t squander this opportunity to set expectations about your company’s safety culture.
The main problem facing any safety orientation is time, as employers usually want their new hires to get to work as soon as possible. By making a safety orientation efficient, organized, serious and empathetic to workers, employers can overcome this hurdle and start new hires off on the right foot. But what does an effective safety orientation look like, and who should be giving it? Review these eight key areas to see how your safety orientation stacks up.
- Site-specific information:
- Have you explained the hazards that are present or anticipated on site?
- Do workers know how these hazards will be dealt with?
- Are workers clear on what personal protection equipment (PPE) is required, including proper fit, storage and maintenance?
- Hazard assessments:
- Are workers trained to assess hazards using job safety analysis (JSA) procedures and plan for safety in performing tasks?
- Are workers familiar with other methods in which hazards will be assessed (e.g., inspections, checklists, prior work and safety experience, etc.)?
- Hazard identification:
- Do workers know who to notify if they identify a safety or health problem?
- Are they encouraged to identify and report unsafe conditions to a supervisor?
- Are workers authorized to correct unsafe conditions?
- What other procedures are workers trained to follow after a safety or health problem is identified?
- Safety culture:
- Are workers oriented to your company’s safety philosophy?
- Do workers know the difference between your safety philosophy and that of other companies they’ve worked for in the past?
- Have workers been reminded that they have the right to a safe job and the right to refuse unsafe work?
- Have workers been reminded of their rights under OSHA and their right to contact OSHA if they feel it is necessary?
- Are workers encouraged to report any injuries, including near misses or close calls?
- Are workers informed on how to report an incident or injury, and told they won’t be disciplined for reporting one?
- Are workers clear on how they will be informed of the results of incident investigations?
- Do you stress that reporting incidents is the only way to continuously improve the safety program?
- How are workers encouraged to participate in the safety program?
- Are workers included on joint safety committees or as safety stewards/liaisons?
- Are workers introduced to current members of the safety committee and/or site safety representatives?
- Is the orientation interactive? Do workers have an opportunity to ask questions or initiate discussion?
- How are workers alerted in an emergency?
- Are workers clear on what procedures to follow in an emergency?
- Do workers know where first-aid kits, fire extinguishers, etc. are located?
The safety orientation should be presented by trained instructors or persons of authority (supervisors, foremen, safety directors), but participation by experienced workers at the site can also be helpful. Having field staff conduct or participate in the orientation shows new hires that the orientation is more than lip service, and will make them more prone to take it seriously. Involving experienced field staff or other workers on site also provides an opportunity to bring personal stories to the orientation, which can help demonstrate the importance of the safety program and its rules. Rather than a whirlwind of checklists and safety manuals, a safety orientation should be practical, hands-on and focus on what an employee needs to know to stay safe on the job.
The safety orientation should be just the beginning of the safety process on your jobsite. Toolbox talks each week should continue the process. Follow-up is critical to make sure the orientation was effective. Monitor workers to see if they are identifying and correcting hazards, speaking up if they see a problem and reporting injuries and close calls. Anonymous safety climate surveys are a good way to gauge whether workers really believe the company is serious about safety.
An effective safety orientation is the cornerstone of any safety program. It provides workers with valuable information and shows that safety is taken seriously on the jobsite.
[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]