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No matter the task that front-line technicians perform, safety remains the top priority for maintenance and engineering managers. From electrical-system testing and chiller inspections to roof repairs and hazardous materials management, technicians perform a range of duties that present substantial safety risks.
Unfortunately, managers find it challenging to devote enough time and resources to developing a safety-training program. With operating budgets stretched to the limits and work days packed with meetings, crises and everything in between, managers’ time is at a premium.
The issue becomes more pressing each day as facility operations and technology become more complex and as the laws to protect workers become more far-reaching. The challenge for managers seeking to beef up safety training for their technicians is to identify department safety training needs, locate effective resources, and make sure training pays tangible dividends for both the department and the organization.
Cost or Investment?
Ignoring job site hazards and safe work practices can lead to workplace accidents and higher costs. Workplace injuries cost businesses nearly $46 billion in 2001. Effective employee training is a crucial part of an overall facility safety and health program that can reduce these accidents and injuries.
Effective use of training helps communicate safe work practices that employees will follow to avoid job site hazards. Safety training can cover many topics, including regulatory requirements, using personal protective equipment, proper equipment use, safe work practices, and emergency response procedures.
Effective safety training is not an expense to an organization but an investment with a proven return. In fact, managers can expect a return of about $3-6 for every $1 invested in a safety program, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). This payback results from lower insurance and workers compensation premiums, lower health care costs, and increased productivity.
Maintenance managers, front-line technicians and upper management also must understand that safety training is good business that benefits an organization’s bottom-line. Trying to save a few dollars by ignoring safety training will have a much larger overall cost to an organization in the long run.
Managers often have questions about identifying training required by regulations, as well as the format and frequency most appropriate to properly deliver effective training. In doing so, they not only must identify workers who need training. They also must identify the goals of the training.
Fortunately, they have an array of resources to guide them. OSHA regulations contain more than 100 standards that explicitly require an employer to train employees in job safety and health. Other OSHA standards make it an employer’s responsibility to limit certain job assignments to employees who are “certified,” “competent,” or “qualified,” meaning these employees have received special training.
Identifying required safety and health training can be quite a daunting task for managers, since maintenance and engineering technicians perform numerous activities where safety is an issue. The article on page 8 list examples of such activities.
Thousands of people are blinded each year from work-related eye injuries that could have been prevented with the proper selection and use of eye- and face-protection equipment. Eye injuries alone cost more than $300 million per year in lost production time, medical expenses and worker compensation.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) for eyes, hands and faces is designed to prevent or lessen the severity of these injuries. Before assigning PPE to workers, managers need to assess maintenance activities to determine if technicians perform duties that require eye and face protection. Typical eye and face hazards include:
- impacts from chipping, grinding, machining, masonry work, woodworking, sawing, drilling, chiseling, powered fastening, riveting, and sanding
- heat from operations emitting extremely high temperatures, including welding, boilers, and furnaces
- chemicals from handling solvents and potentially infectious agents
- dust from woodworking, buffing and generally dirty environments
- optical radiation from welding, torch cutting, brazing, soldering, lasers and outdoor work.
Training must include job-hazard identification, use of engineering controls and work practices, and proper selection and use of face shields and eye wear.
An array of gloves protect technicians from injury related to various hazards, but the range of potential occupational hand injuries makes it challenging to select the most appropriate pair of glove.
It is essential that employees use gloves specifically designed for the hazards and tasks found in their workplace because gloves designed for one function might not protect against a different function, even though they appear to be an appropriate substitute. Among the factors that can influence the selection of protective gloves for a workplace include:
- types of chemicals handled
- the nature of contact — total immersion, splash, etc.
- the duration of contact
- the area requiring protection — hand only, forearm or arm
- grip requirements — dry, wet or oily
- thermal protection
- size and comfort
- abrasion and resistance requirements.
Training must include types of hazard protection needed, selection of appropriate glove material, and proper use and limitations of gloves, as well as glove inspection, care, cleaning and disposal.
The resources available to invest in safety training are limited, so managers must get the most out of training opportunities. Not all job site hazards are effectively reduced through training. In fact, sufficient action to address a hazard might require measures such as abatement — isolation or substitution — engineering controls — guarding or ventilation — or administrative controls — signs and labels.
Problems that managers can address effectively through training include those that arise from lack of knowledge of a work process, unfamiliarity with equipment, or incorrect execution of a task. Training often is less effective in addressing an employee’s lack of motivation or lack of attention.
Safety training is most effective, however, when it is designed to achieve the goals of an overall facility safety and health program. OSHA has developed voluntary training guidelines (pdf) to help employers provide safety and health information. These guidelines also give technicians instruction needed to work at minimal risk to themselves, fellow employees and the public.
The training guidelines list areas that are designed to help managers:
- determine whether training can solve a work site problem
- determine the training, if any, that is needed
- identify training goals and objectives
- design learning activities
- conduct training
- determine training effectiveness
- revise training based on feedback from employees, supervisors and other interested parties.
Getting Attention, Selling Benefits
How do maintenance technicians react when they hear that annual safety training is approaching? Do they look forward to watching endless videos on generic safety issues? How many times have they watched the same video? Is this method really the best way to provide job-specific training to maintenance staff?
In many cases, maintenance and engineering managers need to motivate employees to pay attention and learn the material. Managers also will need to emphasize the material’s importance and relevance to employees.
Suggestions from OSHA for increasing employee motivation during training include explaining the goals and objectives of instruction, relating training to workers’ interests, skills, and experiences, outlining key points presented during the session, and stressing benefits of training to the employee.
For training to succeed, managers need to convey to employees how they benefit by participating in safety training. The quickest way to do so is to get their attention, gain their interest and stress the benefits before the training begins.
Resources and Options
Managers can select from a range options for providing training. They can facilitate group training sessions that use outside training providers, video tapes, DVDs, PowerPoint presentations, and interactive computer-based training modules.
Interactive DVDs have replaced traditional use of videotapes and allow employees to not only watch video presentations but also interact with the presentation. If employees do not answer questions correctly, information is repeated.
Interactive computer-based training (ICBT) also uses this method of training, which the employee can self-administer. ICBT offers new ways to convey safety-training lessons by incorporating a variety of media to enhance the learning experience.
ICBT provides a multi-sensory environment for the user, including reading, hearing, watching demonstrations and physical interaction. ICBT is available through web-based training or through CDs. ICBT requires very little computer literacy from employees.
Many managers use a combination of methods to cover all of the required employee training objectives. The key throughout the process is to make sure the training method effectively meets the goals of the organization and the department.
Measuring the effectiveness of safety training is a critical component of a successful safety program. Formal training evaluation helps managers determine the amount of learning technicians achieved and whether on-the-job performance has improved. Among the more common methods for evaluating safety training are these:
- Employee feedback. Questionnaires or informal discussions with technicians can help managers determine the relevance and appropriateness of a training event.
- Managers’ observations. Managers are in a good position to observe employee performance before and after training to note improvements or changes.
- Measured improvements. The ultimate success of safety training is measurable changes in fewer injuries or lower accident rates. Fewer accidents and injuries mean lower workers compensation cost, lower insurance premiums, less lost job time, and improved morale and productivity among workers.
In other words, the benefits of effective safety training translate to costs savings, which helps managers deliver a true return on investment to the organization and to the department.
Safety Hot Buttons
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has identified common training requirements mandated for maintenance and engineering staff:
— Jeffery C. Camplin
Jeffery C. Camplin, CSP, is president of Camplin Environmental Services Inc. in Rosemont, Ill., and provides safety and environmental consulting and training services. He is a certified OSHA outreach instructor and an accredited lead-paint and asbestos instructor for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.