Keeping Your New Employees Safe
Now that we seem to be getting on top of Covid 19, or learning how to live with it, industries are starting to open up again to satisfy some pent-up demand. That is great for the workforce and our economy, but many industries are finding that their old employees have gone onto other things, moved, or retired.
These industries are faced with employing new people. In many cases training them or at least inducting them into their particular circumstances or equipment which may be different from what they are used to. Injury statistics show us that new employees are more likely to sustain injuries. A recent review by Dr Karen Klockner of the Central Queensland University indicated that approximately 30% to 40% of new employees sustain an injury within the first year of employment. And it is not just young people who are vulnerable, people experienced in the workforce but moving into a new industry are also at risk.
What do we do about it? Of course, our existing induction and training programs are important and should be continued but may need to be reviewed because circumstances have changed. For example, perhaps in the past we have been able to employee people who are already experienced in our industry, but we find that they are not available, so we are employing people new to our industry or even new to the workforce. Their training will need to be more detailed and intensive and we may need to adopt a mentoring or ‘buddy’ system to help them integrate safely into their new environment. Risk Assessing the workplace and the tasks people are performing with help from both new and experienced employees will help identify the areas we need to focus on, but we will never get it completely right and things will inevitably go wrong.
These ‘things that go wrong’ are called incidents and they need to be investigated and understood. Once understood, we can do something about reducing the chance of them occurring again.
A simple example. A small gate in the loading dock has an awkward latch with a pinch point that can catch your finger if you are not aware and cause a minor abrasion and maybe some course words. This problem, once identified, is easily solved with a short instruction on the use of the gate, to be included in the loading dock induction so that it is not forgotten.
Now you may be thinking ‘but this injury is trivial – I have much more serious issues in my workplace’. And I would agree, not because the injury itself is trivial, but because the potential for anything more serious to occur is extremely low.
Another example. A new employee in a loading dock area trips on a concrete plinth supporting the handrail and falls against some pallets, resulting in a minor abrasion that requires some first aid.
This incident could also be considered as insignificant as the gate latch incident and easily dismissed with a ‘be more careful’ or ‘yeah we all get caught with that one’. But there is one particularly important difference to the gate incident. The potential for more serious injury is much greater because the new employee could easily have fallen over a meter from the loading dock to the road below.
Why has this incident not occurred before? Why did it involve the new employee? Well, it probably has occurred before, and many employees have probably interacted with this plinth when they first started working in the loading dock, but they have been 'lucky’ and learned quickly. Some new employees have even been warned about it by experienced employees, but it is not documented in the induction for this area so the warning is not reliably transferred to all new employees. Because all the previous incidents have been near misses or have only resulted in minor injuries nobody has considered the hazard to be of any real concern, because nobody has considered the potential to trip and fall to the road below.
There is a very real possibility that there has not even been a near miss for years because the workforce has been very stable up until the temporary closure in April 2020.
It may seem a strange thing to say but new employees provide us with an ‘opportunity’ to understand the hazards of our workplace better because they are more likely to be caught out than our experienced workforce.
This opportunity can only be realized if we investigate all incidents, no matter how trivial the actual outcome, where we identify that there is a realistic potential of serious injury or death occurring if the circumstances had been slightly different, or if ‘luck’ had not intervened.
Every incident that occurs in our workplace is a failure of us to either identify a hazard or to adequately manage or control that hazard. Remembering that managing a hazard involves not only having a control in place but ensuring that the control is used or where the control is a procedure, that it is followed.
New employees often tease out the flaws or glitches in our systems because they don’t know what is not in the training, or what is not explained adequately in the procedure, or they don’t know the limitations of the machine. Our job as supervisors and managers is to be close at hand with our new employees, encouraging them to ask questions and to speak up when they are unsure about something. Hopefully, we can investigate all incidents that could result in any injury, but we may not always have the resources to achieve that.
No matter what the limitation, it is the responsibility of Management is to ensure that properly trained personnel are always available to investigate every incident and near-miss where there is a realistic potential for serious injury or death to occur.
Interested in Knowing More?
Further information on Safety Wise’s Incident Cause Analysis (ICAM) Training is available from our website: http://www.safetywise.com/
Additional ICAM Related Services
Safety Wise also offers the following additional services for sites that adopt the ICAM investigation analysis method:
Quality review of incident investigations using ICAM
Trend analysis of organisational factors contributing to serious incidents
Participation in investigations as an external / independent party
ABOUT THE AUTHOR- Ken Horspool (Investigator/Trainer)
As one of the first consultants with Safety Wise, Ken’s experience has been very broad. He has conducted investigations into many serious incidents in mining, manufacturing and construction industries and trained supervisors and managers in the ICAM process.
Ken has extensive experience in South Africa and South East Asia including auditing investigation quality and Safety Management System performance in challenging cultural environments.
Ken’s career started with BHP Steel in Port Kembla (now Bluescope) as a metallurgist operating and managing Blast Furnaces for 25 years before an MBA focused on organisation development led him into Safety Management.
Incident Investigation fits neatly with Ken's passion for continuous improvement in both process and culture leading to safe, environmentally friendly and profitable businesses