Kimberly A. Blanchard is an experienced safety consultant for HR outsourcing firm G&A Partners, where she provides hands-on safety training, conducts on-site safety audits and assessments and designs recommended workplace policies and practices to mitigate the occurrence of job-related incidents and accidents. Visit gnapartners.com.
Making sure employees know their safety requirements is critical not just for the success of the business, but also for the safety of employees and the environment. If every person in an organization was fully engaged and committed to creating a safe environment, the number of safety incidents and near misses would be almost nonexistent. In order for a workplace safety program to truly be effective, employers need to ensure that every person is not only aware of the company’s safety policies and knows how to recognize potential hazards, but also truly understands those policies and his/her role in creating a safe working environment. Effectively communicating a safety program, policies and procedures can be challenging, but there are several ways to accomplish it.
1. Make Understanding a Priority
Years ago, The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) coined the phrase “right to know” in regard to the hazard communication (hazcom) standard, which basically states that employees have the “right to know” what chemical hazards they may be exposed to on the jobsite. When the final ruling came out in 2012, OSHA modified that phrase to “right to understand.” While this change may seem simple, the switch from “know” to “understand” put much more responsibility on employers. This “right to understand” concept has been adopted and applied to encompass all safety training topics. One of the best ways to ensure that employees truly understand the safety program at your company is through frequent training.
2. Practice Safe Habits
Almost everyone has heard the age-old saying, “practice makes perfect,” and that is exactly what companies need to consider when they think of safety training. No one can learn everything they need to know about a safety topic in a short, 1-hour session covered once a year. What employees might have retained from their safety training on ladders or fall protection that month will soon be forgotten when a machine breaks down or a deadline gets shortened. Training needs to be constant, and while you can always stop work to hold a toolbox talk or training, on-the-job reminders can be very beneficial, too.
Train supervisors or even encourage employees to monitor others for safe practices. Create a way to report both the positive and negative safety practices, and come up with a way to retrain or correct the negative and reward the positive. The more often employees are thinking about safety, the better.
3. Be Creative
Training is no longer just about showing up and signing in—effective training is about having the employees be able to explain what they learned, what hazards they may face and what procedures they need to follow. Successfully getting all employees to understand a safety policy or procedure is not always that easy. That is where companies need to get creative. Some employees might need handouts to review, some may need hands-on experience and some may need the principle explained in a different language or multiple times. Using a variety of different tools in a training session can help those employees who learn in different ways. Some of these items can even been used after the training is over, so that there is a constant reminder. The real key is to understand your employees, their needs and their learning styles. Everyone learns in different ways, so training needs to be adjusted to the audience.
4. Make it Relevant
While there are many general, OSHA-required standards and regulations that need to be covered, it is important to add in information that is industry, company and/or site specific. Adding in information relevant to employees’ jobs will not only engage the workers, but will also help them better relate the current OSHA standards and regulations to their own work. Including prior safety accident, incidents or near misses into the safety training will not only engage the employees, but might also help the material hit close to home. When workers can relate to an event or a story of someone they knew who has been directly affected by an injury, they are more likely to not only remember the procedures, but also follow them.
5. Focus on Continual Evolution
A safety manual that has not been revised or revisited in years is no better than a paperweight. With ever-changing regulations, it’s imperative that a company’s safety program evolves with its operations. When changes are made, it is imperative that employees are notified and trained accordingly.
It is also critical that employers regularly look at both their operations. When it comes to operations, a simple change of a machine or the extension of work hours might not seem like a big deal, but these small changes can drastically change the way safety needs to be handled. A machine might pose a different safety issue than it did before, and it might require additional training or personal protective equipment (PPE). Maybe adding those 2 extra hours onto the last shift puts your employees at risk of working in the dark, which requires more lighting or might require the company to find an after-hours clinic or adjust its emergency action plan in case of an injury. These scenarios are just a few that can occur when small changes are made. Ongoing evaluations of operations are always a best practice, but it is equally as vital to review and make necessary changes after an accident, incident or near miss. Companies should review the event, identify the root cause and make sure that whatever caused or led to the injury is remediated.
6. Get Involved
Safety isn’t just about compliance—it should be a way of life and a part of the culture at a company. If a company wants to set a precedent that workers’ safety is important, then everyone should participate to show no one is above safety, including upper management. While it is important that upper management understands how to be safe at work, attending training will also help with employee morale.
Even the CEO of a company needs to take time out of his or her schedule and attend safety training. If the crew member sees that even the CEO is going to training and participating, he/she will understand and appreciate that the company really does pride itself on working safe. Company buy-in is critical because if the workers do not buy in to safety, then all the time, effort and resources spent training on safety is useless. Leading by example helps ensure all levels of the organization are involved in the safety program.