If you look closely at your accident statistics, you know that out of all your employees, the most likely to get injured are "new employees." Now these "new employees" include more than the newly hired. Temporary employees, an employee transferred into a new work area, contract employees, a recently promoted employee, even a member of management training for a potential strike, are all really new to their jobs.

Why do we need to watch new employees closely?

  • New hires are often younger and less experienced than more seasoned workers.
  • New employees often lack the training necessary to perform all job functions safely and efficiently in new work areas.
  • The company's safety culture is rarely fully understood by new employees.
  • Sometimes employees who are not seasoned are responsible for training new employees. This is the "blind leading the blind" scenario.
  • New employees trying to prove themselves will take unnecessary risks.

The following suggestions help you make sure that new employees don't end up on your OSHA 200 right out of the starting gates:

1 Set specific safety goals and responsibilities

Before a new employee begins work, there should be predetermined objectives agreed upon by management and the new employee. Without specific objectives, a new employee can easily overlook safety performance and miss the direction and focus of the safety culture of the company.

2 Use a "seasoned hand"

Provide a mentor for the new employee, someone who can provide one-on-one training to ensure that standard practices and procedures, the acceptable methods of operation, and the overall safety culture are conveyed in a positive and correct manner.

One-on-one training is the best way to convey important safety information, and it offers the best potential for maximum retention. Mentoring makes it easy for new employees to ask questions and raise concerns. More importantly, it personally demonstrates the safety culture of the company.

A seasoned hand can also observe the new employee and prevent bad habits from developing. Once a bad habit develops, it's difficult to correct. Anything we can do to help develop good habits is to the advantage of the company and the employee. Habits learned correctly are much easier to sustain.

3 Review training and performance

Send someone other than the mentor to make sure that the new employee's training is complete, and that the training is understood and being applied. Applying good safety performance is a key to forming good habits and building the confidence of the new employee.

Reviews also provide a checks-and-balance system for confirming that the correct training took place, and that the training is actually being put into practice. Getting a new employee to follow through on training is more difficult than we think. Be sure that the person checking on the new employee maintains the same standard as the original mentor and the safety culture of the company.

4 Assign a "safety buddy"

Even if the safety buddy doesn't work all the time with the new employee, arrange for the buddy to check on the new employee's safety performance several times a day. This reminds both new and old employees that safety is ongoing. The buddy system takes safety from theory and makes it a highly visible and active reality.

5 Be sure to follow up

Make sure the safety manager, the supervisor, even the plant manager "stop by" as often as possible. The worst thing we can do is turn new employees loose and only give them limited amounts of "check-up time." Any one of these people stopping in to make sure the employee is working safe will make an impression. Let the new employee know safety performance counts, and that the company really cares about safety.

6 Encourage participation

New employees shouldn't just be on the receiving end of training and verification efforts. Get them involved in whatever safety activities are going - confined space entry permitting, equipment inspections, audits, accident investigations, even safety training. Allow a new employee an opportunity to see that "safety in action" is important to all employees, including management. Also, knowing that there are checks and balances in safety will reinforce good safety practices. Setting the "safety cultural boundaries" is critical for the new employee.

7 Don't assume anything

Repeatedly, this is the cause of accidents. Allow time for new employees to demonstrate the skills that have been trained. Don't expect one-time training and demonstration to be good enough.

8 Set expectations

Expect a new employee to develop safe behaviors, demonstrate safe performance, and constantly confirm the safety culture desired. Double check, have someone else monitor, check again, check in a couple of weeks. Don't let the new employee think anything except that their safety performance is critical. And remember: What you do in your everyday work routine may be the best training picture the new employee sees.

Daniel Patrick O'Brien, MS, CSP, is safety manager for Engineered Carbons, Inc., Borger, Texas. A member and past president of ASSE's Panhandle Chapter, Dan currently serves as secretary for the North American Product Safety & Regulatory Committee for the International Carbon Black Association.