Business inflection points are key events offering significant opportunities for change. Our actions at those times determine whether the opportunity is squandered or capitalized. The onboarding process for new plant workers is one moment that determines how a business is perceived and the safety culture imbuing an organization.
The onboarding process for new workers is seldom well-managed, seen by some as a disruption to daily operations and an impost on time. Often rushed, the bewildered new worker is overwhelmed with a flood of information, insincere presentations from junior functionaries, and an absence of meaningful dialogue. Yet, managed professionally, the onboarding process offers an impactful opportunity to baseline safety expectations and behaviors, underscoring the plant's safety culture.
The importance of safety onboarding
The onboarding process for new hires offers the following opportunities beyond meeting regulatory mandates.
Studies from construction industry insurers show that new-hire workers experience work-related injuries more frequently than other employees. In one example, more than 50% of workplace injuries occurred to workers employed less than 12 months. In 2015, claims filed for injuries to new employees in Colorado cost businesses over $41 million. Safety onboarding can mitigate this harm.
Onboarding is a time to explain the safety expectations of all employees, forming a contractual relationship. When employees sign off on the safety onboarding, they implicitly state their understanding, agreement, and intended compliance with safety expectations, reporting, and site rules.
Employee onboarding must include engagement with senior management. It allows the CEO or their senior delegate to engage with new employees to explain the business, its culture, and its position regarding safety. The weight and gravitas from such engagement carry a greater impact than delegation of the role to a middle management functionary. It sends a strong message that both the employee and safety matter.
Whether or not the new plant worker has industry experience, they will not have insight into the company. There will be critical information specific to the business; rationales for the way things are done, stories of past safety issues, and introduction to safety processes and procedures. This information is crucial for safely integrating the new worker into the safety culture and history of the organization.
Business owners have a legal duty of care; yet, the moral duty of care is arguably more important. New employees need to know that their new company is not stepping through a process to be legally compliant. Rather, owners and managers are genuinely interested in ensuring that each employee returns safely to their home and family after work. The onboarding process is the time to display and convey that message.
Five steps to incorporate safety training
These five steps address strategic, tactical, and operational safety issues, offering a solid start to a whole-of-employment safety focus.
1. Senior representation
Devolving safety onboarding to safety practitioners is missing an important opportunity. The onboarding process should be formal, planned, and opened by a senior manager, preferably the CEO or Managing Director. Launching the onboarding gives the manager a feel of the personnel joining the company while imparting important safety expectations. It also creates a useful familiarity when the manager is touring the plant, encouraging dialogue on important issues.
2. Assign a mentor
Assigning a mentor for new starters is important, and selecting the correct person is critical in establishing the desired safety behaviors and cultural norms. The person should be a mature individual aligned to and reliably modeling the safety behaviors you wish newcomers to emulate. This assignment is not just for the first day. It's a role that should persist for as long as the newcomer needs it.
3. Outline of the safety strategy
Having a new hire sit for three days reading company safety policies misses an opportunity to outline the overarching and interrelated safety strategies, the thinking behind them, and the tactics supporting them. This dialogue helps the new plant workers find their place and familiarize themselves with their new tribe. Explain the safety prevention programs and touch on the safety policy's high points. Tell some good and bad stories to illustrate the challenges and successes the company regularly experiences.
4. Introduction to company-specific critical risks and mitigations
A generic safety onboarding serves no one. New plant workers need to know the critical risks that their new place of employment throws at them. What aspects of this business's operation, location, product, facility, or equipment might kill or harm. With the risks identified, what is in place to militate against, or mitigate, the potential for harm? Are there any life-saving or golden rules in place? If the new hire is a maintenance technician, is there an effective maintenance training program in place?
New hires must receive a personalized safety onboarding plan. The plan should span the first month as a minimum, preferably three. Introducing the specifics needed to keep the individual safe while new to their job will gradually deepen to a more comprehensive and sophisticated safety understanding, expanding from listening and learning to active engagement and training of others.
An onboarding process is not simply regulatory compliance and pointing out the fire exits. It's a golden opportunity to engage with the hearts and minds open to new ways of working. Diligently performed and driven by the right values, it offers an opportunity to build an engaged and safe workforce, creating a workplace safety culture to make your business an employer of choice.