It's not enough to assume a fresh workforce, even if eager, will magically divine the safest ways to do new jobs.
Starting Up Safety
- By Robert Pater
- Jul 01, 2008
How can you make a first step solid? Ergonomically, starting
up a new site is the best time to institute new design
interventions. Put the desired tools and workstation setups
into place up front, rather than playing catch-up
later. Similarly, this is true for setting desired behaviors.
Even in an uncertain economy, many organizations still begin
new ventures. If not building new sites, numerous
companies upgrade machinery or processes to hone
their competitive edge—or just survive. These are
ideal times to formulate, then build those worker actions
you want practiced day to day for a strong
If your company is not currently expanding,
think of applying the following principles to
achieve next-level Safety with new projects, equipment
changeover, or in new-hire orientations. All
are windows of opportunity when workers are most
receptive and motivated to learn ways to be effective
employees. And they’ll have fewer negative work
habits to undo.
It’s not enough to assume a fresh workforce, even
if eager, will magically divine the safest ways to do
new jobs. The right pre-training cultivates both expectations
and behavior. And though new employees
haven’t fallen into negative habits for future
work, they may still carry over ineffective behaviors
from their past lives.
Bell Helicopter Textron reaped significant results
by starting new workers off right. In planning to
open a plant in Amarillo, Texas, Don Legg, director
of Environmental and Industrial Safety, reports their
vice president of Manufacturing mandated the same
safety training system that showed strong returns in
their existing Fort Worth plant be given to all just-hired
workers at their new site. This plant went
more than a year without a lost-time injury while simultaneously
making a cultural statement about Bell’s Safety focus.
Similarly, when planning to open new Distribution Centers,
Avon’s Kenyon Brenish arranged for innovative training systems
for building safe behaviors to be given to all new workers.
Seven Ways to Launch Safest Operations
Start-ups are exciting—and stressful—times. Here are seven ways
to smoothly get operations launched with safest actions.
Get “baby and bath water” input from existing sites, focusing
on what you might include and what to avoid. Ask yourself, “How
is the start-up similar to existing operations, tasks, and employee
base?”, “How will it differ?”, “What risks and exposures can we expect
if all doesn’t go perfectly?” Emphasize both principles of how
to approach work safely, as well as applications to specific tools
Get leadership buy-in early from managers and supervisors.
Bargaining unit leadership, too, if this applies. Make it easy for
them to send and reinforce the Safety message from the get-go (in
advertising for new positions and during interviews, orientation,
first work days, etc.).
Convey expectations that Safety is the purview of each worker.
Yes, the company has planned to make the new work site as safe as
possible. Equally, Safety is personal, each person taking care of
him/her self. Anchor this message by showing new hires how to
quickly and easily monitor force building up in their
bodies, decisions, positions, good tool use—so they
can make needed small adjustments before they become
worn down or injured.
Emphasize off-work safety to reduce cumulative
trauma from home activities and build an effective
autopilot. This can reduce cumulative trauma from
off-work. For example, because it’s unlikely workers
will lift one way at home and another at work; help
them learn how to move objects with minimal stress
on their bodies, everywhere.
Adjust planning by checking in early. Will
Rogers said, “Planning gets you into things; hard
work gets you out of them.” Do workers encounter
unforeseen exposures? Are they using desired actions,
PPE, tools? What further support do they
need? Early check allows recalibrating to head off
potential problems. And this broadcasts high-level
Reinforce new actions many ways. Go beyond external
auditing; turn each individual into his or her
own strong Safety leader. Consider training a cadre
of new workers as agents of positive peer reinforcement.
Use appropriate reminders within the site, on
intranet, in newsletters, labeled on PPE, and more.
Carefully watch messages transmitted during
start-up’s first six months. People take direction
from actions, inactions, and interactions. Not only
what you do, but what you ignore—and the interplay
between these; unearth mixed messages before they become
Seize the Opportunity that Knocks Only Once
When beginning a new site, machine, or process, seize the opportunity
that knocks only once. Envision desired behaviors, set consistent
expectations, and reinforce continuously. While it’s definitely
possible to turn around seemingly calcified low performance,
start-ups are an ideal time to have first steps firmly move in the
This article originally appeared in the July 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.