Construction Safety: Out With the Old…

“Out with the old and in with the new.” I am sure you have heard that statement before! But if you haven’t, think about it.

Out with the old – old clothes, old files, old habits, old ways – and in with the new – new equipment, new software, new diet and new employees.

Let’s talk about the latter – in with the new employees – as it specifically pertains to the construction industry. Through the natural evolution of the construction industry, including turnover, retirements or the increase in business, there will always be new employees entering our industry. Some have construction experience and some never have stepped foot on a construction site!

In a recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, which examines the job market from 2006-2016, the construction industry is expected to see a 7 percent to 13 percent growth in future jobs! Even with the recent downturn in the economy, we always will have new employees entering the construction industry. So how can we help these new employees not only be a valuable part of our company but to remain safe as well?
Injury statistics show that new employees (less than 6 months on the job) have a greater chance of being injured compared to experienced employees due to the following:

  • Lack of experience.
  • They do not understand what is expected of them.
  • Lack of communication.
  • Poor supervision.
  • They feel pressured to produce.
  • They just do not fit in with the crew!

Despite the obstacles and challenges faced by a new employee, there are activities/processes that have been successful in ensuring the success and safety of new employees.

Orientation

Numerous studies have concluded that new employees who receive a meaningful company orientation are more likely to be safe and productive employees. A meaningful orientation should include, but is not limited to, what the employer expectations are of the new employee, the safety rules and the overall company safety philosophy, what to do in case of an emergency or incident and what to do in case of an unsafe or hazardous situation.

This is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce your company safety culture and facilitate the new employee orientation before they start working in the field or on a project!

Ongoing Education and Training

“A better-educated workforce is a competitive advantage for my company.” I have heard this many times during my career, and I am certain that this statement is true. Just because we offer our new employees a meaningful orientation does not mean the education/training stops there.

Education and training is a never-ending process. The education/training sessions could be a quick but pertinent 5 minutes, or they could be as extensive as an OSHA 30-Hour course or hazard-specific education/training. One thing is certain: Education and training should be ongoing, whether in the form of an annual safety training session or a daily toolbox talk, and we never can communicate enough about our projects and the ever-changing hazards that are associated with it.

Mentoring

All of us can remember an individual that helped us out during the early part of our construction careers; someone who went out of his way to ensure that we understood what was expected of us on our job and what to do to ensure our safety. We should all be in the same position now – to be a mentor, to help guide a new employee with the right things to do and to be the person of whom he or she can ask questions or share concerns.

We must remember that most new employees are reluctant to ask questions or raise concerns. They want to fit in and don’t want to appear to be troublesome. New employees should be paired or located with supervisors who are good leaders and educators and who will take the necessary time to make a new employee feel like part of the team. Mentoring is an excellent opportunity to build a dedicated, loyal employee base.

Reviews

By now we have told the new employees what is expected of them during orientation. Hopefully, we have continued to reinforce these expectations through our ongoing education/training sessions, which are supported by our mentors and supervisors. But we’re not done in our process.

We need to sit down with the employees with regular frequency, based on each company’s standards. Some companies will meet with the new employee after the first week for a brief review, some do it after 2 weeks, some 60 days and some a mixture of all of these. This is a wonderful opportunity for two-way communication. Communicating your expectations more than once is a great way to prevent subpar performance and to build a better – and safer – employee.

Recognition

It is never too early to recognize quality performance! If you have a new employee and he or she is performing above and beyond expectations, why not offer thanks and recognition for his or her efforts? Sometimes a new employee that performs beyond expectation is ostracized by their co-workers and looked down upon as a “brownnoser,” “ do- gooder” or someone who “just doesn’t understand the way we work.”

Being part of the team is of the utmost importance in the construction industry. So keep in mind how to effectively recognize a new employee for doing their best and helping the company meet its goals and objectives.

Involvement

Consider getting a new employee involved in company activities to instill the sense of being part of the team, especially if your company is involved in any community activities or events, such as Habitat for Humanity, Rebuild America or even the company softball or bowling teams. Teamwork is essential in keeping workers safe.

“Out with the old and in with the new” certainly could be an appropriate sentiment for this time of year as we close out 2008 and start anew in 2009. Take the time to consider the new employees that will be working with you and think about how you can mentor them to become productive and safe members of your team. Your resources will be well spent if you take the take the time to orient, educate, communicate, recognize and involve your new employees.

I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday season. Thank you for protecting America’s workers!

Carl W. Heinlein, CSP, ARM, CRIS, is a safety consultant with American Contractors Insurance Group Inc. and serves as a director for the Council on Certification of Health, Environmental and Safety Technologists. He is a member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, American Industrial Hygiene Association and the National Society of Safety Management.

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