The Hot Work House

"DO I have to go to safety training again?" "Is this the same safety training video that we saw last year?" Most safety professionals have had to field these questions at one time or another. Like most of us, I knew I wanted to do something different, but I wasn't sure what cost-effective options were available.

Through some hot work near-miss experiences, I quickly learned incident prevention is the key to a successful hot work safety program. There are few second chances when cutting and welding are introduced to the work area. After a 2001 near-miss hot work incident, my top priority was to upgrade the company's hot work safety program. To accomplish this, I first updated the company policy and hot work permit, then conducted classroom safety training for management personnel responsible for signing and approving these jobs.

In retrospect, my training class was good but not outstanding. Employees listened to me review the new policy and then answer a question or two. After the training, I was told by a couple of trainees I should have focused more on the permit and specific hazards in our manufacturing plants. I made a promise to myself that I would do something better next year.

When I began planning my annual 2002 hot work safety classes, I knew I did not want to conduct routine training for this important topic. I wanted employees to perform a practical hot work permit exercise, but I didn't think it would be practical to set this up in one of our manufacturing plants because of space constraints, logistics, time, etc. When I started thinking about a more manageable training commitment, I wondered if it would be possible to build a miniature production area and maintenance shop.

The first step was to find someone qualified for the job. I searched the Internet under the search terms "miniatures" and "dollhouse makers" until I found some local contacts. I called a dollhouse maker and he was willing to meet with me. I brought my idea to him, and he initially showed me the types of dollhouse boxes that were available. After our discussion, it was clear to me that a "mid-range" dollhouse (from this point on, known as the "training model") able to house a two-level production area and maintenance shop would work best. The training model designer even visited our production plants to get a more accurate visual image of what I wanted.

Next, I made a list of the specific items I wanted inside the training model. This included miniature items such as employees, welding equipment, 55-gallon drums, welding blankets, and fire extinguishers. Some of these items could be bought off the shelf, while others had to be built and painted by the designer. I explained I wanted the model contents to be affordable, authentic, and movable.

The final step was to organize the "miniatures" in a way that allowed us to include our specific company's hot work concerns and to maximize the training experience. We did our best to add safety signs, posters, labels, etc. to make the model look as realistic as possible. The designer even added electrical wiring for overhead lighting.

Results: It Is a Small World, After All
The training experience is behind me now, and I am very satisfied with the results. Employees participated enthusiastically and described the experience with words like "cool," "fun," and "great idea." I conducted the practical exercise using the training model in groups of two or three and watched employees work together and fill out our company hot work permit while trying to address "pre-planted" safety issues such as flammables close to the work area, sprinkler system riser valve closed, etc.

Employees intensely discussed different ways to address safety problems. I quickly learned there was often more than one solution to a problem. Many employees even noticed equipment details and safety problems I had not even planned into the training exercise! It was interesting to observe how different people interacted with the same training model. Some verbally explained what they would do, while others demonstrated their countermeasures by moving many of the pieces around to create a hazard-free hot work area.

If one defines success by holding an employee's interest and evoking some passion during safety training while safety hazards are being identified and remedied, then I was successful. In the end, this unique model cost little more than a new safety video. Like most safety managers, I have shelves of safety videos.

I recently read a safety article that stated that "creativity is a dying concept in safety." It said that safety professionals had to find more creative ways to engage employees (Professional Safety, November 2002 issue, Page 20). I took a chance, tried something different, and learned as much from the experience as did the training participants.

This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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