Choose new-hire mentors based on safety, not seniority

Date Posted: 10/04/2021

New-Hire Safety MentorNewly hired workers tend to have high injury rates, particularly during their first few weeks on the job. New workers don’t yet have the knowledge or experience to recognize hazards. To help a new hire, employers commonly assign an experienced coworker as a mentor. Choose a mentor carefully, however, and consider more than just experience.

Oddly enough, injury rates often tend to be high among the most experienced employees, such as those with 20 or more years on the job. These workers have extensive job knowledge and experience, but their poor safety records may result from a number of factors, including:

  • Confidence based on experience that creates a lax attitude toward safety.
  • Developing “shortcuts” to increase productivity at the expense of safety.
  • Ignoring supervisors or safety managers who “don’t know how things work.”
  • Resistance to changing work habits since “nothing bad ever happened.”

You want new hires to learn the “right way” to do the job, not the “fastest way” that uses shortcuts. You also want new employees to understand the reason for safety procedures and the importance of following them. That requires assigning a mentor who won’t encourage them to skip any safety procedures.

Generational decline

Many safety managers have seen a workplace where safety declined with each new generation of workers. At first, everyone was taught the proper procedures, given training, and set loose to perform the job. Over time, those workers began skipping steps and incorporating shortcuts. When new hires came on board, the experienced workers told them to forget their training and showed them the “real way” to get the job done. Each new generation of workers would be mentored in the “real” work until safety procedures weren’t followed at all.

To help avoid this fate, select mentors for new hires carefully, and remember that experience does not necessarily make a good mentor. In fact, some of your most experienced workers might be the worst mentors if their high levels of productivity result from taking safety shortcuts.

Once you’ve posted a job opening, start thinking about who would be the best person to serve as a mentor. Consider factors such as patience, participation in safety meetings or committees, and whether the person has reported or corrected hazardous working conditions. Even if those individuals are not the most experienced, they could make excellent mentors for new hires.

 

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