New employees do not want to get hurt, and they have questions about their job. The goal of an employee new hire mentoring program is to teach new workers to do their jobs safely. You can’t learn how to do all parts of your job in the classroom. You accumulate useful knowledge listening to an instructor, but you learn the practical hands-on functions of your job from those you work with every day.
On-the-job training is a natural part of everyone’s learning process. An employee peer-to-peer mentoring process utilizes trusted employees to develop positive safety attitudes and disseminate critical information to new workers. This is similar to a safety champion program but the difference is the mentor’s focus. The mentor focuses on training new employees in their first 30 days, while the safety champion program focuses on monitoring behaviors and conditions throughout the life of the job.
I understand the power of hands-on training. When I started work as a compliance officer at OSHA in 1992, I spent the majority of my first four months in a room the size of two cubicles with four other people. The objective was to study OSHA standards. We did this every day for four months. Can you imagine spending eight hours a day, five days a week trapped in a small room staring at the Code of Federal Regulations? How exciting is that? Better yet, how effective is that?
The training was not an orientation but rather an initiation. I don’t know how much I learned the first four months in my OSHA role, but I—along with my coworkers—survived the imprisonment. The next stage of the program was MUCH more useful. We shadowed experienced compliance officers on their inspections, and I began to see how people did the job I would learn to do.
The experienced compliance officers were my mentors and they taught me the hands-on details of the job. That is where I really learned the most. Over the next nine months, I learned every facet of the inspection and report-writing process with a mentor. As I progressed, the compliance officers would let me do more of the job. It was an incremental process that taught me the details. After a year, I passed a final evaluation and began performing inspections solo.
The lesson I learned in my OSHA experience is that book learning is important, but it is not where you learn how to do your job. You learn your job from people. Companies with a history of exceptional safety performance have systems that take advantage of the power of peer-to-peer learning. Give safety-minded workers an opportunity to instill their safety values into new employees via mentoring. This helps perpetuate a culture that embraces safety.
An effective mentoring program should accomplish specific goals:
Step One: Identify safety-conscious leaders in your workforce. Every company has natural leaders in their work environment. They may not have a leadership title but you know that people go to them with questions. Employees trust them. Utilize this natural social norm to develop your mentoring program.
Step Two: Train the mentors. Empower your mentors to utilize their influence for the safety good. Explain how the process works and let your participants know how important their role is. Explain your expectations for how they will evaluate and coach employees. They have an opportunity to influence the next generation of workers in their company. The training should give the mentors a sense of pride in their contribution.
Step Three: Identify the new employees and let them know who their mentor is. Companies do this in multiple ways. You can provide new-employee stickers for hardhats. You can have new employees wear a new-employee vest. You can do whatever fits the culture of your company. The benefit is that mentors know who they need to help.
Step Four: Establish a way to evaluate and coach new workers. The purpose of this step is to confirm that new employees know and understand critical safety information. The evaluation is a coaching tool and not a performance measurement tool.
The goal for the mentoring program is to add structure to the way employees learn to do their jobs and the process empowers natural leaders to train new people. The classroom environment is an introduction to safety. The reality is that our co-workers teach us how to do our jobs safe. If you can harness this social dynamic in a positive way, you will have a powerful safety impact on the next generation of workers. EHS
David Lynn is president of Peak Safety Performance (www.peaksafetyperformance.com), a safety consulting firm.