I’ve tried several delivery methods for safety orientation throughout my career. In my opinion, the best orientations engage people. How do you do that? You can accomplish this by requiring someone to present the information interactively. Avoid the temptation to pop in a video and require participants to complete a quiz.
Safety orientation is essential for several reasons. Informing people of the hazards they will be exposed to is required by OSHA regulation, 1926.21 Safety training, and education (1926.21 – Safety Training and Education. | Occupational Safety and Health Administration, n.d.). Safety orientation communicates organizational safety climate and culture, expected behavior attitude and norms towards safety, and the work methods developed to control exposures.
Let’s dive deeper into safety orientation and discuss what we should include in orientation and some delivery methods.
What to include and how to deliver Safety Orientation
Safety orientation can be broken down into four categories Employee, Supervisor, Subcontractor, and Visitor Safety Orientation. While it is possible to use one orientation for everyone entering the work site, each group needs different information levels. For instance, a visitor may not need to know your work-at-height procedure because you do not allow unauthorized persons in areas with at-height work risks. Supervisors need to understand the team’s expectations, but they also need to know how to integrate safety into managing activities. Look at some boilerplate content that should be reviewed during a safety orientation.
All orientations should include the following:
Emergency Action Plan – what to do if something unexpected happens.
Hazardous Communication – are there any hazardous materials in the vicinity, and where are the SDSs located if something happens?
Authorization – who is authorized to be where, and what are they allowed to do?
After Emergency Action Plan, Hazardous Communication, and Authorization have been addressed, and each orientation category should cover more in-depth information based on the anticipated exposures.
Employee Safety Orientation
Employees are the people that are at the highest risk of an event occurring. These are the people who are doing the work. There are a couple of approaches to orientation for employees. Many organizations have developed work rule orientation checklists. The project supervisor or their representative reviews the checklist, the employee signs that they understand the rules, and they go to work. Some organizations have gotten a little more sophisticated and moved to video orientation with a quiz after. Most progressive organizations use a mentoring system with on-the-job training and interactive material that provides multiple learning channels for employees to absorb the expectations.
Employee orientation should start by meeting the team and team leader (supervisor). The team should each play a part in orientation. For example, one person could walk the emergency evacuation route and show the learner where the meeting point or the tornado shelter is located. Another team member could show the learner where hazardous materials are stored and how to find and read a related SDS. Another team member could review the work process and the safeguards, including what PPE is needed and why. Requiring the learner to record the information provides multiple learning channels. The supervisor’s role becomes one of verifying learning by reviewing the content with the new employee at the end of each day.
Supervisors Safety Orientation
Supervisors should be required to attend the same orientation as employees but should include teach-back and feedback opportunities. Supervisors’ orientation includes the technical aspects of managing exposures to risk, e.g., guardrail height requirements, when to use a personal air monitoring device, or what triggers a required confined space, but also requires a range of soft skills to engage their team. According to the National Safety Council Supervisors’ Safety Manual (2009), supervisors should have a basic understanding of safety management principles. Supervisors need to have communication skills, understand how to get employee involvement, have the skills needed to inspect work areas for potential and actual hazards, and participate in, if not lead, incident investigations. Supervisor orientation should include how to lead safely.
Subcontractor Safety Orientation
Subcontractor orientation can be tricky if you work with a risk-averse organization. Many companies and contractors require some form of prequalification that includes a review of safety metrics and maybe a review of safety policies and procedures. Subcontractor orientation does not necessarily need to be as in-depth as employee orientation. Still, it should communicate any life-saving rules, known hazards, the available items above, and specific hazards on the job site. Be careful not to set up an orientation that could be interpreted as directing work. For instance, stating that the project requires fall protection at four feet or above is not the same as saying that to access heights, you must complete an at heights work survey approved by the hosting or sponsoring employers’ supervisor as an approver of work method. I recommend that legal counsel review any orientation given to non-employees. That said, the best-in-class organizations provide orientation and training for subcontractors and vendor supervisors.
Visitor Safety Orientation
While most visitors may be on location for an hour or less, they still have the potential to be exposed to hazards. At a minimum, visitors should be aware of where they are authorized and, by the same token, not authorized to be at your location. It is also important that visitors understand what to do if an emergency were to occur. Many organizations develop pamphlets or videos for visitor orientation. This method is better than doing nothing, but who reads pamphlets and pays attention to videos? Visitor orientation is a perfect opportunity to introduce your culture of safety. Every visitor should be assigned a sponsor. The sponsor should walk the visitor through the safety requirements for a visit. For instance, if you need to walk the job site or plant, a specific path of travel must be followed, specific PPE may be required, and there may be hazardous chemicals that visitors need to recognize.
How long should orientation be?
That depends on the audience. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) workers’ orientation is designed to be 8-hours of initial training (CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training, 2019). If you google that question, most responses say thirty minutes to an hour. Safety training is an ongoing process, and I view orientation as the start of that training. Your orientation should be long enough to communicate expectations and hazards associated with the work. Orientation may be fifteen minutes or forty hours, like new miner safety orientation or hazardous waste remediation workers. It all depends on the hazards present in the workplace.
Safety orientation isn’t a five-minute meeting before someone starts on a worksite. Safety orientation takes time and is an ongoing process. It’s more than communicating a list of do’s and don’ts. Safety orientation is about establishing the worksite climate by engaging people and setting an example by modeling desired behaviors and actions.
1926.21—Safety training and education. | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2022, from https://www.osha.gov/laws-regs/regulations/standardnumber/1926/1926.21
CPWR – The Center for Construction Research and Training (2019). Safety Orientation for DOE Construction Workers. https://www.cpwr.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/Safety-Orientation-Student-Manual-02_04_19.pdf
National Safety Council. (2009). Supervisors’ safety manual. National Safety Council