How important is new-employee training?
By Gustavo A. Gonzalez
Imagine that production is falling behind and we need more plant workers. We quickly hire two new employees, do all the necessary paperwork in the office, call in the plant supervisor and hand the new employees over to him. The supervisor hands the new employees their hard hats and safety glasses and puts them to work. Now maybe we can get back on schedule.
But wait just a moment! Haven’t we forgotten something? No matter how far behind we are, we can’t forget about the all-important new-employee safety orientation.
By not providing the new employees a safety orientation, not only have we violated some OSHA standards or Canadian standards, but we have just introduced into our operation two possible liabilities.
Not only is the safety orientation required, it is a moral and ethical issue that employers owe to their employees. Employers have a duty to protect their workers from injury and illness on the job and to have everyone in the plant go home injury free and healthy each day.
Precast plants can be dangerous places with all kind of hazards, even with seasoned and trained employees. So what can we expect from the two new untrained employees? Will they know how to react in an emergency situation? Will they know how to report an accident? Do they know about hazardous materials handling or why a lock and tag are installed on a disconnect switch? Imagine yourself in their place, facing the stress of a brand-new job, not knowing anyone or even what to do in the event of an unforeseeable event. Without proper training, new employees are placed into a difficult situation.
At a minimum, OSHA requires that new-employee safety orientation training include the following programs. Although Canadian standards may differ somewhat, these topics can easily be incorporated into a Canadian plant’s training program.
- Hazardous Communication, or HAZCOM, also known as The Right to Know. OSHA standard 1910.1200(h) lists specific training requirements for hazardous materials in the workplace. Among other things, employees must know the location of the program, list of chemicals, Material Safety Data Sheets, labeling system used and personal protection equipment (PPE) required.
- Lock-out/Tag-out (for affected employees) is listed under 1910.147 (c)(7)(i)(8).
- Emergency Action Plan. Training required by OSHA under 1910.38(f) includes instructions on what to do in case of fire, medical emergencies, weather conditions, chemical spills, plant evacuations and workplace violence.
- Hearing Protection. If employees are required to use hearing protection, then they must be trained under OSHA standard 1910.95.
- Respiratory Protection. Any employee using a respirator must be trained in accordance with 1910.134(c)(1)(vi) and (vii).
- Personal Protective Equipment. Found under 1910.132(f)(1), training must include the reasons why to use it, how to use it, when to use it and how to take care of it.
- Electrical Safety (unqualified employees). This must include the possible hazards found around electrical equipment and the dos and don’ts of its use. It is required by OSHA under 1910.332(b)(2).
- Confined Space. Every employee must be aware of the confined spaces in the plant and instructed not to go into them unless qualified to do so under 1910.146(c)(2).
- Blood-borne Pathogens. Since employees may be exposed to blood at one time or another, perhaps due to injuries, cuts and lacerations suffered by co-workers, they should be aware of the precautions to be taken if such exposure occurs. BBP training is under 1910.1030(g)(2)(i).
Besides the above required minimum training, it is also good practice to take this opportunity to introduce the new candidates to any other safety related issues or company policies that they should be aware of, such as:
- Safety rules and regulations
- Return to Work Policy (if any)
- Accident reporting procedures
- Any other safety policy in place
One important factor in this orientation training is taking the new employee on a plant tour. During this time you can point out the different aspects of the operation and special safety pointers for different types of equipment or machinery, work flow and traffic patterns. Areas of main concern should include the rebar department, the batching plant and/or mixing area, the overhead cranes and mobile equipment operation. You should emphasize as much as possible that they are not allowed to operate any of this equipment until they have been trained and authorized to do so. You should also give them the opportunity to ask questions and address their concerns on any particular subject.
It is important to emphasize that most, if not all, of this training requires that the company have in place programs or policies that adhere to the OSHA standards and Canadian regulations. In the case of OSHA, they must be site specific. This is a case where one size does not fit all, so if you purchase or obtain a generic HAZCOM or Emergency Action Plan program, it will have to be customized for your operation. OSHA has on their Web site some of these programs that you can download and adapt to your specific needs. It is also important to realize that if you are not familiar with the OSHA regulations, help from a safety professional is advisable.
A good, productive safety orientation will take at least eight hours, depending on the information to be presented and the level of comprehension of the subject being trained. This is time well spent, because when that individual leaves your office with the hard hat and glasses, you at least know that he or she has a basic understanding of the rules and regulations and is aware of your commitment to safety.
Perhaps the most effective way to ensure that they really understood what they were taught is to give new hires a short written test on each subject at the end of the presentation. Rather than testing their level of knowledge on the subject, look for their understanding and comprehension of it. Review any missed answers and explain them in detail to ensure they understood the material.
Once the training is complete, have the new employees sign a document stating that they have been trained. Remember the old saying, “If it is not on paper, it did not happen.” This should apply to any other training as well.
The new-employee safety orientation is not the end of training, but rather the beginning. It is the first and most important link in the long chain of training that will follow. Make this first link a strong one and keep adding to it. Remember, if you set precast walls, double tees, manholes or any other structures, you need a solid foundation. Therefore let us make safety orientation training a concrete reality built on a solid, concrete base.