There are many ways to welcome new employees into a culture of safety. For some industries finding the best way to train, educate and keep new employees safe on the job is the hardest part. Builder’s Bloc Contracting Services in St. Louis, MO has tackled new hire safety training with a comprehensive program. This Missouri Employers Mutual policyholder’s commitment to workplace safety offers some valuable advice to businesses looking to build a new hire safety program.
Builder’s Bloc Contracting services focuses primarily on residential construction. To help mitigate risk for injury, President and CEO Kevin Deptula and his team of experienced carpenters and engineers have created an onboarding training program to drive down injuries and increase loyalty with new employees.
The competition to hire experienced workers is high in the residential construction segment. Builder’s Bloc hired more than 650 workers in 2017, and about 90 percent of them had no prior construction experience.
There are three basic qualities Kevin and his team look for when hiring someone with no construction experience, and the rest they address through training and mentorship. New hires must:
- Have a positive attitude.
- Be willing to learn.
- Be willing to show up.
Onboarding Process Milestones
First Seven Days
New employees must complete and pass a drug screening before beginning work. Day one is spent in classroom-type training to review safety policies and procedures, OSHA guidelines, Safety Data Sheet (SDS) and other housekeeping rules with their manager.
When it comes time for the new employee to visit a job site, the Foreman will call them the night beforehand with instructions. Often the Foreman will even greet the new employee at the entrance of the job site to make introductions and safely lead them around.
“We modeled our onboarding process a little bit like the restaurant industry,” says Kevin. “New waiters usually follow around a more experienced waiter so they can learn how things are done. We don’t expect our new hires to put on a carpenter’s belt or carry tools their first week, but we ask them to shadow more experienced workers and help keep the site clean.”
A new employee – often referred to as an apprentice – gets to wear a yellow hard hat on their job site, while a more experienced Journeyman (usually more than three years of experience) wears a white hard hat. The Foreman leading the crew on a job site wears a red hard hat so it’s visually clear who is responsible and who may need additional assistance in different areas.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” says Sheila Schmidt, MEM Safety & Risk Services Supervisor. “Supervisors on a job site may say, ‘Let me know if you need anything,’ but it’s important to remember that a new employee may not know what to ask for.”
First 30 Days
After a month, an apprentice’s manager will check in to see what they have learned. For Builder’s Bloc, this means the apprentice may earn an incentive bonus if they can properly identify the difference between different types of lumber, know how to build a wall, or demonstrate other basic tasks relative to the job.
“Being in residential construction, we’ve found ways to close the gap in pay differential,” says Kevin. “Our mentor program and safety incentives set us apart; for example, if you don’t get hurt for 30 days you get an extra $50 in your paycheck.”
First 60 Days
Attendance is always an issue, so Builder’s Bloc rewards their new apprentices for perfect attendance after 60 days. Additionally, those who can demonstrate more advanced skill levels may also receive a pay increase above and beyond what the Union scale requires as an added incentive.
“We encourage job-specific training with a follow up at 60 and 90-days so a supervisor can see the employee perform the job,” Sheila says.
First 90 Days
Turnover rate with new employees is a constant battle in the construction industry, which is why Kevin instilled a significant incentive program for employee recruitment. There are different monetary rewards if a referred employee stays 30 or 90 days or even a full year – the employee who made the referral could earn up to $1,500.
“If an employee will stay with us for 30 days, we’re doing well,” says Kevin. “The next big hurdle is 90 days, and if we keep them that long it’s more likely that new hire will become a long-time employee.”
For Builder’s Bloc, the turnover rate for construction workers who were referred by an existing employee is 50 percent, while the turnover rate for non-referral employees was about 75 percent in 2017.
First Six Months
One tool to help new apprentices remember what they’ve learned is a simple journal. Every new apprentice at Builder’s Bloc is encouraged to write down what they learn each day, and this journal is reviewed once a week with the Foreman.
“With many of our new employees we’re starting from scratch, folks with no knowledge of construction,” says Kevin. “These journals are a written memory retention tool, and our managers reinforce it verbally to make each step of the training process go a little bit smoother.”
After working to implement and perfect this onboarding procedure for two years, Builder’s Bloc has successfully managed to reduce both the number and severity of claims by an employee after six months of their hire date.
A mentor can help define the skills an apprentice should be acquiring throughout their onboarding process and hold them accountable for learning how to do them safely. For certain industries, however, finding experienced employees can be difficult. Builder’s Bloc views their experienced Journeyman or Senior Journeyman as mentors. The four objectives of the program are simple:
- Increase retention
- Create accountability
- Create a system of pay for performance
- Build rapport, build loyalty
Ongoing Safety Training
The goal of safety training is to help everyone better identify and avoid safety hazards before an injury occurs. That’s why a typical day for Kevin and his entire crew begins with stretching, conducting a safety analysis, and on a quarterly basis, it begins with Toolbox Talks.
“We do a lot of different things to make sure everyone understands their number one priority when coming into work is to go home every evening. Nothing is more important than that.” says Kevin. “That’s why our motto is ‘do it the safe way; do it the right way; do it every day.”
The Missouri Department of Labor (DOL) offers additional free resources to businesses including free inspections by request. Peer groups and industry associations also provide injury prevention resources because, as Kevin says, “there is no patent to good ideas on safety.”
You can also download our free New Hire Safety Toolkit.