Keeping New Employees Safe

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction industry added 30,000 jobs in December 2012. While unemployment remains stubbornly high for this sector, this represents the largest monthly increase in two years.

As the construction industry slowly begins to recover, it is a good time to think about putting a plan in place to address the safety of new and less experienced workers.  Employees are most vulnerable to injuries when they are new to the job because of their inexperience or lack of familiarity with the new company.

Travelers Construction's claim statistics indicate that for certain types of trades, nearly 50 percent of injuries occur to workers in their first year of employment. When an employee is seriously injured, there are many indirect costs such as productivity loss, replacement costs, administrative burdens and perhaps adverse publicity.

With that in mind, here are four strategies any construction firm can implement to help reduce the chances of on-the-job injuries for new workers.

Commit to a Safety Culture

A well-recognized element of any effective safety program is the extent of senior management’s commitment to safety.  Not only should senior management be involved in the development, communication and enforcement of its safety program, all levels of management should be visibly demonstrating their commitment to safety. This means all site foremen and project superintendents should not only model safe behavior, but they should also be held accountable for safe practices and empowered to enforce them.

To help sustain a safety focused atmosphere, employees who have direct responsibility for new hires must understand safety measures and the importance of fully training the new worker. Consider language and cultural differences as you on-board new employees and ask your insurance provider or agent for access to bilingual training material.

Fostering a safety culture that encourages open communication about project safety and health issues where hazards are identified and corrected within all levels of your organization can reduce employee exposure to unsafe conditions, thus avoiding accidents and injury.

Hire the Right Workers

Finding workers with the right skill sets can be challenging, and evaluating how they will contribute to your safety culture can be just as difficult. Whether you call the union hall, place newspaper ads or hire by word of mouth, there are several issues to keep in mind. Clearly outlining the job responsibilities will help to get the right candidates in the door. Including physical labor demands is suggested to ensure candidates understand the full requirements of the position. There are a number of construction industry groups that can provide guidance on writing effective job descriptions. Next, it is essential to interview the candidate to spend time reviewing the candidate’s work history, obtaining references and determining their potential fit in your organization.

Some contractors also utilize background checks, post offer physical exams, pre-employment drug and alcohol screening, equipment or industry certifications and a motor vehicle record review if the employee will be driving. While the laws vary by state, these are tools that can provide valuable information to consider as you proactively identify, select and hire workers that contribute not only to your work needs, but also add to your safety culture. Given the aforementioned hiring nuances, there are industry groups and consultants that can assist employers with the hiring process.

Start From Day One

Before putting a new employee to work, it is critical to conduct a thorough orientation process. The orientation should include a careful review of common hazards, a highlight of key points in the safety manual and a careful discussion of accountability policies. Your review of project specific safety rules should include a tour of the job site led by your project superintendent to point out areas where safety may be a concern. If relevant, bilingual instruction should be provided. Many contractors even assign a worker a different color hard hat so project personnel recognize new employees.

Contractors who have expanded traditional weekly tool box talks to a daily pre-work meeting or a “huddle” help reinforce safety, especially with new workers. Daily “huddles” are intended as an opportunity to review the day’s tasks in order to anticipate unsafe conditions and respond accordingly.

Another good industry practice involves assigning a mentor to a new employee to communicate a company’s safety culture. A mentor should be a seasoned employee with effective leadership and communication skills with the responsibility of assimilating the new employee. Mentors can help the new hires become part of the crew and let them know what’s expected each day. By having a mentor, new hires may also feel more comfortable asking questions about the company and other issues.

Follow Up

Establishing a probation period helps give the foreman and mentor a solid understanding of the new employee, his or her work style and commitment to safety. Some contractors establish ongoing feedback at 30-day intervals spanning months, and oftentimes more than one year. Evaluating the employee throughout the probationary period and beyond, gives management the ability to observe how well new hires are following policies and can help identify opportunities for additional training.

Resources for Success

Proactively reviewing hiring practices and how workers assimilate into projects is critical. However, that alone is not enough; adopt industry best practices to help lower the number of new workers sustaining injuries. There are a number of resources who can provide information in this area, including insurance carriers and trade associations.

Reinforcing safety can keep employees safe at a time when they are most susceptible to injury – their first year of employment.

Bob Kreuzer is second vice president of risk control for Travelers Insurance. For more information, visit www.travelers.com.

Current Issue

Check out our latest Edition!

 

alan blog ct

Contact Us

Construction Today Magazine
150 N. Michigan Ave., Suite 900
Chicago, IL 60601

  312.676.1100
  312.676.1101

Click here for a full list of contacts.

Latest Edition

Spread The Love

Back To Top