Safety First

Safety First: Customized Caution

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Safety education is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

During the past six months, I had the privilege of providing six separate safety education programs to solid waste employers and employees in Florida. These programs, attended by representatives of large and small companies and both private sector and public sector officials, were filled with enthusiastic attendees interested in reducing the frequency of accidents and injuries. I want to share some of the lessons I learned about how to communicate about safety, so Waste Age readers can better communicate the importance of safety to their workers.

The Florida safety programs included a half-day National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) safety seminar, a half-day program for municipal employees in the Tampa Bay area, a two-hour presentation to an insurance company and its clients, and three safety meetings with front-line workers at small companies. While the type of information varied, what is critically important is how it was presented. At the two half-day programs, we reviewed the most recent fatality, accident and injury data for the solid waste industry, the most common injuries and accidents and how to prevent them, and OSHA and DOT compliance and regulatory issues. Most of the attendees were managers and safety directors, and a lengthy Powerpoint that included data, photographs and videos was presented.

At the three meetings with front-line workers, safety information was conveyed much differently. At each meeting, I only had about 20 minutes, and dozens of drivers and helpers looked at me a bit skeptically when I started, perhaps wondering what I was doing at their facilities at 6:00 am (or earlier!). There was no Powerpoint at these meetings. Instead, I explained the reason I was there was because their employer cared about them and wanted to make sure that every worker gets home to his or her family safely each and every day. A few attendees nodded. When I mentioned that nearly every week, someone in the solid waste industry is killed and two drivers are involved in fatal accidents involving third parties, I got more attendees’ attention. When I added that more fatal accidents involving solid waste collection vehicles occur in Florida than any other state, most of the attendees were listening closely and leaning forward in their chairs.

At that point, I put up a large posterboard with pictures of accidents involving garbage trucks, and used it as a prop to make points about backing, intersections, rear-end collisions and other hazards. The pictures certainly got their attention, and confirmed something that all managers and supervisors should remember: front-line workers often are visual learners, more likely to internalize information and change their behavior when photographs and videos are used. They also are motivated by financial concerns, and being told the very substantial new fines assessed against drivers for texting or using a handheld cell phone while operating a truck probably made a bigger impact than simply saying “It’s the law. ” After the meetings were over, attendees came up to me to tell me about an accident or near miss they were involved in, and to thank me for getting up so early in the morning to speak with them.

NSWMA offers this type of safety training to members and others. Often, having someone different deliver the message will get employees to pay better attention and internalize the need to change their behavior. If you are interested in hosting this type of program for your employees, please contact us.

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What's Safety First?

Phil Hagan, director of safety for the National Waste & Recycling Associa, keeps an eye on safety issues affecting the waste and recycling industries.

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Phil Hagan

Phil Hagan is the Director of Safety for the National Waste & Recycling Association, a practicing attorney and teaches at Georgetown University.
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