Companies today are increasingly transparent (on their web sites, intranets, social media, etc.) in detailing the safety and health rights and responsibilities of their employees, their safety and health and environmental commitments and core values, and their “culture” when it comes to safety and health attitudes, behaviors and beliefs. They need to inform their workforce, certainly, but they also want “the whole world” so to speak to know that the company is a socially responsible, employee-friendly, caring brand.

New employee training orientation is prime time to make this information available. Too often, though, safety and health orientations are rushed, too generic and/or vague, and conducted as though on autopilot. What a missed opportunity. Orientations are your first chance to engage your employees; the first link, if you will, in a long chain of activities that foster engagement. Fresh, “off the dock” employees, presumably with no biases or pre-conceived notions about their new employer, are a blank slate on which you inscribe your company’s commitment to workplace safety and health, its philosophy and core values, its expectations of employees, and their rights and responsibilities.

Hello there

Orientation sessions can be the moment when your employees are first introduced to your culture of safety and its foundational values. Bechtel Corporation, for example, informs employees of these requirements, all listed on its website:

  • “All employees working on site will attend the ES&H new-hire orientation and daily pre-task meetings;
  • “All employees should demonstrate a commitment to Bechtel’s “Zero Incidents” philosophy;
  • “Managers and supervisors will participate in ES&H self-assessments, audits, and incident investigations; additionally, supervisors are responsible for conducting weekly “tool box” meetings to emphasize important ES&H issues associated with their work activities, including any deficiencies and corrective actions;
  • “Pre-job planning, injury/illness cases, and hours worked will be documented;
  • “All employees are expected to participate in a Behavior-Based Safety program, Zero Incidents team, and ES&H assessments. (Editor’s Note: Bechtel lists many more safety and health responsibilities.)

You get one chance

If safety and health orientation sessions are but words and highfalutin boilerplate that employees soon discover are not backed up in practice, you’re on the road to employee disengagement. And unfortunately, disengaged employees in the U.S. is something of the new norm. A widely reported Gallup Poll in 2011 found only 30 percent of U.S. employed full or part-time to be engaged in their work. About half of U.S. workers were not engaged, and nearly one in five were actively disengaged.

One wonders what type of new employee orientation these apathetic or actively resistant employees were given. If an employer fails to follow through on commitments, values and rights and responsibilities originally unveiled during orientation – if there is a failure to follow up on employee safety suggestions, safety complaints, safety audit findings – the company is probably better off skipping orientations altogether. A hollow, superficial orientation is chock-full of negative ramifications that will drag down your employees’ safe behaviors, attitudes and overall performance.