So here we are folks, more than halfway along the Green Brick Road of Safety and the Emerald City is in sight. It’s been an enlightening trip for me as well and I want to thank you all for the positive responses and fabulous comments on this series. As I’m sure you remember, we began our journey with Hazard Analysis, to find potential hazards if any, so we can determine the appropriate PPE. We also discovered the importance of Housekeeping in preventing accidents. All three large critical segments of workplace safety. So, after this, are there still more ways to protect your employees? Yes, there is and it is Training.
Training is the most important part of safety. Let me say it again, Training is the most important part of safety and works best when it’s delivered concisely, consistently, a little entertaining, and with employee engagement and participation. This goes for all types of training from new employee orientation to forklift certification to the operation of machinery to safety meetings to emergency evacuation procedures. Training is not a one-time deal but should be a continuous process of learning, education, recertification, development, and growth for building a well-trained and confident team, able to react to any situation as one, at a moment’s notice. The results of a training program speak for themselves with increased productivity, reduction in accidents and sick days as well as increased employee retention which is critical to maintaining a consistent operation, especially in these days of the “skills gap”. No different than Doctors and lawyers who have continuous education throughout their careers as they learn of the latest techniques and tools available for diagnosis and cures. If you treat training as a joke, that’s how it’ll be perceived and what you’ll get back in return so this is your opportunity to set the tone and demonstrate to your staff or company that you take it seriously.
After you assess what training your company offers you can begin to develop a training program to tailor to your needs. By putting a training program together now you’ll be ahead of the game if you find yourself with several new hires or seasonal temporary employees. You know what daily tasks need to be accomplished by your team for success and you want to develop your training based on what the job entails. Some companies already have written job descriptions handy that you can use as a template to help but I have found more often than not that many have very old out of date or incomplete job descriptions on file and you’ll probably find training material the same way. That’s not bad, it gives you the opportunity to make it all yours.
I would also gather company-written standard operational procedures, policies, and any other information that you think an employee needs to know for loading trucks or picking orders safely and efficiently. If you work in a food processing plant or food distribution warehouse you should also include HACCP procedures. Once you get all the information together and set up on your computer/laptop you’ll see how extremely easy it is to edit and update this information as things change. Then a great habit to develop would be to review job descriptions, procedures, and training at least once a year to keep your workers safe, practices current and regulatory obligations filled.
Some companies are very good about giving you the talking points for the monthly safety meetings along with colorful handouts which are helpful but may come across as just spoon-feeding safety to your employees! Like a scene from Island of Dr. Moreau. What is the law? Do not put your hands into moving parts. This would be great if you were training parrots to repeat back to you. You want to discuss the topic with your staff. Get their involvement by asking for feedback on what happens on the floor when they deal with a situation. At one company during a discussion on Lock Out Tag Out I found out that the workers couldn’t LOTO one machine since the electrical box was so old (I think Edison made it himself) there was no way to put a lock on it. The company told me it wasn’t in the budget to change it out at this time so to protect my staff and the company I made it procedure to call one of the staff electricians to remove the fuses so we could then lock the housing so no one could start the machine. I was very surprised how soon that electrical panel replacement got moved up, approved, and installed.
So when you get that company material don’t be afraid to make a few adjustments to encourage employee engagement. Are there additional handouts you can use, videos, power-points, or other media to aid your presentation in getting the point across? When discussing PPE don’t forget to utilize staff in demonstrating how to properly wear and adjust, and get a conversation going. I know some companies want training rushed through and done quickly but that only trivializes the whole process. You want people to buy into the program and if they don’t find the training interesting, they won’t listen. When they’re part of the training, everyone listens and learns.
If the need arises for training material to cover a new procedure or piece of equipment, you want to get it to the staff before you go live, well if you want success anyway. We were transitioning to a new WMS. We had one of their consultants on hand to help us with the process. One of our jobs was to fill 2000 lb. bags with product and then produce a barcoded label that was scanned as it moved to a location in the warehouse. There was no training material and workers on all shifts were making daily errors. I asked the all-mighty consultant when we could expect written instructions for the workers and stop the bleeding. It’s coming. It’s coming. I couldn’t wait any longer, too many things were at stake, time wasted correcting inventory, loss of confidence in the staff, the stupidity of it all so I put together a two-sheet instruction manual along with barcode placards and we brought the errors to ZERO. I asked and watched my staff about the process and what would help them. They got exactly that and the issue disappeared.
Whatever the training you are going to give always prepare beforehand and get your materials printed, assembled, and then rehearse your presentation. Make sure you are prepared to discuss and know what you are talking about. There is nothing worse than giving out bad information or being contradicted by an employee. Depending on your geographical location it would be a big help if you have the training material translated into Spanish. Some workers may understand English much easier than they can read it and this is information you want to make sure you get across.
General Orientation – Usually given by HR to all new company employees but you can tailor a general orientation training for your department or section of the company and highlight areas other employees may not have to observe like safety glasses, lunch breaks, and sanitation. After orientation buddy, the new employee with a worker to be mentored and help get the lay of the land.
Forklift Certification – You can do it in-house or pay a trainer to come in and handle it. Either way works but if you have your own trainer you can do the certification any time you need to and they know the facility better and can speak about the layout and hidden dangers. Under no circumstances should you allow any worker to operate a forklift without obtaining proper training.
Seasonal/Temporary Employee – Using the same materials for regular new employees and having materials ready will make their training a lot easier. Even though they are temporary workers they are still human beings and should be treated with the same respect as everyone else. Even if their first language isn’t English that doesn’t mean they are any less intelligent and you never know who’ll surprise you with a great idea to save time and money for the operation
Safety Training – This can be in the form of a monthly meeting which is most common. Usually, only one topic is covered like avoiding arc flash or LOTO. When you give training and you are not sure about something, it is perfectly o.k. to tell an employee you don’t know the answer but that you’ll find out and then make sure you get back to them in a timely manner. Drop the ball once and no one will come to you for anything ever again.
Tailgate/toolbox – meetings are an excellent way to communicate to your staff as well as build your own confidence when it comes to public speaking as these gatherings are more informal to a smaller group of people that are held weekly onsite and last no more than 15 minutes. You can utilize these meetings to discuss a safety issue that just came up or demonstrate a new feature on a piece of equipment or teach a new technique, all to keep safety on their minds and them, focused. They are also suited for a busy work environment since you can break your staff up into smaller groups and keep everyone else working until it’s their turn.
Huddles – Before the shift begins, gather your troops and give a quick rundown of the day, how we’re going to tackle it, and any specific dangers to be aware of. If it’s going to be very hot, remind employees to stay hydrated, if it’s raining, remind them about slick floors. No more than 10 minutes to get everyone on board and going.
WHAT SHOULD YOU TALK ABOUT? The best topic is those most related to recent events in your facility that causes you to pull your hair out. Was there a recent near-miss reported in the warehouse or did you observe an employee lifting incorrectly? Another topic could be to discuss an accident that occurred in a sister plant or in the local area and how can we avoid a similar one. Keep a reminder list for yourself about seasonal topics you’d like to cover throughout the year as well like staying hydrated on extremely hot days, and emergency evacuation. Need more inspiration, just google “Tailgate meeting topics”, and you’ll wind up with many great suggestions, or sign up to follow this blog.
HOW DO YOU GET EMPLOYEES TO LISTEN? Well, food always seems to be a way to attract people, and offering donuts once in a while is nice but the best way to get them to listen is to get employees involved by having them demonstrate and share their experiences. When I would cover LOTO, (Lock Out Tag Out) instead of me droning on about the associated hazards I would pick a piece of equipment, begin the tailgate there and have one of the top operators actually perform the lockout tag out on the unit. The whole nine yards. When they did an outstanding job and they always did, they were given a coupon for a free lunch at the local deli I had previously set up. You also want to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable learning and ask questions so they need to know upfront there is no such thing as a stupid question about safety, EVER!
Don’t ever hesitate to run your operation the way you see fit but make sure to be upfront with workers and explain the rules clearly including the consequences if the rules are not followed but make sure they’re reasonable, consistent, and not unattainable. Make sure to document all training (safety and equipment) by using a sign-in sheet and make sure all employees attending sign to acknowledge their attendance, attach copies of the training material used for that meeting, and keep them for your records. If you are delivering training and meetings on a consistent basis you will find that a well-trained team does impact your bottom line for the better with a sustainable knowledgeable workforce.
The Green Brick Road of Safety is not an imaginary magical place. You don’t need to locate any secret hidden portals or drink any potions, it has always been there before you all along. It’s the road that leads to a safe and productive workplace. Become a safety advocate, it costs nothing to join. Keep your fellow employees safe and always keep the dialogue on safety moving forward. The life you save may be your own. Be sure to stay tuned for our next leg on this journey and don’t miss an issue.