The first 90 days on a new job are when workers are most likely to be injured. What steps should be taken to reduce the risk of incidents during this potentially dangerous period?
Responding is Larry Pearlman, senior safety consultant, SafeStart, Belleville, Ontario.
A new employee’s first year on the job can be a surprisingly dangerous period. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost a third of nonfatal injuries in the workplace involve employees who have been on the job for less than a year. These injuries are frequently serious, with nearly a quarter of them resulting in more than a month of lost time. The first 90 days are especially dangerous because new hires come with huge knowledge gaps that dramatically heighten their chances of getting hurt on the job.
When a new employee shows up for their first day, they may think they can spot the hazards in the workplace. Anyone can look at a big piece of equipment and understand that it’s probably dangerous, but they likely have no idea about less obvious hazards. If they recognize that a situation might involve an elevated risk of injury, they’re less likely to be confident enough to exercise stop-work authority.
To top it all off, new hires tend to be unfamiliar with risk assessments, less comfortable using personal protective equipment and other safety equipment, and unsure of who to ask if they have questions about safety issues. While human factors such as fatigue make big headlines, other human factors such as uncertainty and ambiguity can be problematic for employees who are new to the workplace and unfamiliar with how things work.
These risks should diminish as new hires gain valuable on-the-job experience and attend training sessions. However, experience and training both take time. To make new hires safer, organizations should expedite knowledge transfer with a special focus on lifesaving rules, stop-work authority, and caring conversations by co-workers and leaders. One effective tactic is to give a green hat/vest to visually identify new hires. This invites co-workers to coach, mentor and intervene, and it can be a particularly effective way to accelerate learning while keeping new employees safe.
New hires must receive a safety orientation on the first day. This can be a challenge in some workplaces because of production demands and instructor availability. It is, however, a challenge that must be tackled. Safety professionals and frontline leaders should take time outside the classroom to discuss the practical realities of the jobsite with new workers.
More experienced employees should be asked to share their own insights. Local leadership should be visible and felt, and should meet with new hires to set expectations, share personal stories and emphasize the need to build a strong safety culture.
It should also be made clear to new workers how stop-work authority can be exercised, including who they should talk to and how they can raise safety concerns. Be sure to emphasize the ability to stop work without fear of reprisal. Better yet, share stories of how people have called a safety timeout and been celebrated for doing so. The goal here is to reduce ambiguity and social friction that could impede a worker’s perceived ability to halt unsafe practices.
Team leaders must find ways to connect with new hires. I know of too many instances when new hires didn’t know the name of their leader or how to reach them in an emergency! A leader’s role is to engage workers and let them know that they’re cared for and their well-being is valued. Because ample research has shown that happy, engaged and supported workers are much safer.
Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be considered a National Safety Council endorsement.