Creating Safety Superheroes

Features - Workplace Safety

Mitigating the risk of an on-the-job injury or accident starts with your employees.

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November 6, 2020

When you think of superheroes you think of Captain America, Iron Man or the Hulk but when it comes to employee safety in your company the superheroes can be Joe, Cheryl or Hector.

Creating a proactive safety culture in your company requires buy-in from the top down and when it comes to identifying “superheroes” within your ranks.

Linda Midyett, area vice president and loss prevention manager for PestSure, says to look at employees who have demonstrated good safety practices and whose behavior you can model for other employees.

“Being an active listener and critical thinker is a must,” says Midyett, and technicians/managers who’ve been in the field learn to solicit information without a rush to judgment. “They know what employees are up against it since they have done the work.”

Emphasizing safety pays multiple dividends for companies that embrace the concept. Safety means everything from lower premiums to increased productivity to the simple (and most important) fact that your employees will return home to their families safe and sound at the end of the workday.

What stops companies from consistently and effectively creating and maintaining safety programs? “Most companies simply haven’t thought of it because they are running in so many directions at one time,” says Midyett. “There are missed opportunities to prevent losses in the course of daily operations, but many companies only react when it impacts the bottom line.”

MAKING A PLAN. Midyett says the model for developing a safety program is likely already in place in most companies.

“Companies already have proven systems in place for sales and production, product inventory, fleet management and technician training,” says Midyett. “Safety training can be accomplished in a similar fashion.”

When it comes to safety, employees will follow the lead of their peers and tapping into employees with a demonstrated record of promoting and practicing safety are your best safety “superheroes.” Here are some ways to improve your practices.

The Tools to Succeed. Make sure employees have the proper tools and equipment, including personal protective equipment (PPE), to work safely and prevent accidents. It also means conducting job safety analyses (JSAs) to identify hazards, coaching employees to help them learn to perform their jobs more safely, and being available to answer questions, offer feedback, and discuss safety problems and concerns that employees may have.

Employees must feel free to come to their supervisor any time they have a problem or question concerning safety or to report incidents and hazards without fear of blame or retaliation.

Enforce Safety Policies and Rules. This begins with supervisors informing employees about safety policies and rules. It means providing constructive feedback when supervisors see employees taking shortcuts or not following safety requirements. It also may involve administering consequences for breaking rules and violating policies.

Provide Regular Safety Training. Training must create awareness of safe behavior, teach required skills for working safely, increase knowledge by providing accurate, up-to-date information about workplace hazards and safe practices and procedures, and shape employee attitudes toward workplace safety. And it must be done consistently.

Midyett knows time is the most precious commodity companies and technicians have and pulling someone off his or her route is a challenge. She says safety training doesn’t always have to be a formalized process and offers the following suggestions to help better communicate your safety message:

  • The Safety Huddle. Can take place at the start or end of a shift with planned, relevant content. Build it in — don’t tack it on — to the schedule. Be brief, be specific and be straight to the point. Safety huddle ideas can include:
    • How to identify dangerous intersections
    • Working at heights
    • Safe backup and parking practices
    • New product discussions
  • The Safety Clinic. Tackles more specific (i.e., ladder safety) topics with more in-depth, hands on training. (See “Incentives” at right for more ideas.)
  • The Safety Activity. Plan your safety training calendar for the year — tap into employees for ideas on activities including working through job hazard assessments, reviewing incidents, mapping out unsafe intersections in community, etc.
  • The Safety Brainstorm. Set time aside to review an incident after it takes place and look at how to correct the error so it doesn’t happen again. This is a good method for obtaining information from the field without being there. Be prepared to act upon suggestions.

The most important element in any safety training program is consistency. It is a daily process and safety leaders must find ways to incorporate short, frequent safety communication into the workday.

SETTING INCENTIVES. Incentives are a standard part of sales and production programs so why not apply it to safety training? With data playing a bigger role in all aspects of pest management, managers can use data to measure and incentivize safety training.

Midyett recommends any safety incentive program follow the SMART rule:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Actionable
  • Realistic and achievable
  • Timed

Consider the following safety training incentive ideas:

Ride Alongs. Set a specific number (weekly, monthly, etc.) of ride alongs that are safety based. Supervisors should be observing things such as PPE use, safe navigation on the jobsite, proper inspection and use of equipment, safe work methods (mixing, ladder use, dog protocols, etc.), safe driving, “eyes on path” and safe application methods. Use an audit form signed by the shadowed employee to verify the ride along and observations made.

Training Talks. Schedule safety training talks to be given each month — the content can be pre-determined and the method for delivery (huddle, clinic, demonstrations) outlined. Document that action items have been completed.

Conduct a tailgate safety talk each week on a topic outlined on your annual training calendar (i.e., September — ladders; February — safe navigation and situational awareness; March — respirator inspections; April — avoiding dog bites, etc.) or do a huddle on walking a new account to spot hazards to highlight situational awareness.

Safety Clinics. Holding a specific number of “hands-on” monthly or quarterly clinic demonstrations. The clinics could cover topics more thoroughly than in the classroom or safety huddle. Topics may include:

  • Ladder loading and unloading
  • Safe attic access
  • Maintaining your ___ (sprayer, etc.)
  • Safe ladder set up and use of ladder add-ons
  • Auger demonstrations
  • PPE kit inspections

These clinics should be conducted by supervisors or safety “superheroes,” but the supervisor is responsible to be certain they are held and that employees are participating.

The goal of investing time and resources into building a strong safety culture is simple — to prevent an incident from happening in the first place.

“An accident avoided is a victory for the company and the employee,” says Midyett. “There is always room to add safety to the conversation and use your safety ‘superheroes.’”

Jeff Fenner is a frequent contributor to PCT.