Commitment to workplace safety begins on day one

The way employers enable learning and information-sharing plays an influential role in whether new employees will become safety leaders or safety liabilities.

It’s not easy being a rookie. Anyone who has started a new job remembers how challenging it can be to adjust to a different environment, new jargon and unfamiliar work processes.

Employers have an obligation to facilitate each employee’s journey on the road from novice to expert, starting with orientation. The importance of a solid on-boarding process cannot be overstated:

  • Error and incident rates are highest when task familiarity is low
  • In the absence of information, new employees tend to develop their own potentially unsafe and inconsistent methods
  • New employees may push limits when they are trying to “fit in” and make good first impressions.
  • Lacking experience, new employees may unwittingly accept unreasonable risk
  • To avoid appearing weak or incapable, new employees may not ask for help, attempt to perform tasks they don’t fully understand or fail to express worries about their fledgling capabilities

New employees start off largely unaware of policies, work procedures, hazards and precautions. They lack a frame of reference that makes it possible to fully appreciate the importance of training. That’s why training typically starts with a 30,000-foot overview. The delivery of procedural details follows in on-the-job training.

Understanding that new employees may not even “know what they don’t know” during initial training, it is essential to encourage them to ask questions during and after training sessions. Later, as they begin performing hands-on work, it becomes important to make self-service informational resources readily available to them.

Remember, new employees have some strong upsides. They typically have a healthy respect for hazards they are seeing for the first time and to which other employees may have become desensitized. Additionally, they are not as cynical or set in their ways as more experienced workers sometimes tend to be. And they are more inclined to be open-minded and receptive to new approaches – even non-preferred methods.

It is crucially important to reach these promising safety leaders early with formally defined and consistent training materials that ensure correct (safe) methods will be learned. Training plans based on a needs analysis should guide this process and ensure that all necessary content is covered in a timely fashion.

Jonathan Jacobi and I describe the entire learning lifecycle, from novice to experienced, in an article published in the June edition (page 55) of EHS Today.

UL, a pioneer and ongoing leader in online training, gives safety professionals the tools they need to satisfy compliance requirements, change behaviors and prevent injuries.


About Karen O'Hara

Karen O’Hara is Director of Marketing and Communications for WorkCare, a national, physician-owned company specializing in medical surveillance, work injury care management and onsite clinics. Her former positions include Managing Editor at UL, where she served as a writer/editor, subject matter expect and curriculum planner for workplace health and safety initiatives. She also served as Senior Vice President and Editor-in-Chief with RYAN Associates and the National Association of Occupational Health Professionals and reporter at a daily newspaper specializing in healthcare, education and local government coverage. She has 23 years of experience in occupational health and safety.