By Cheryl Higley
A lot of time and effort goes into making sure your snow and ice management team is trained and prepared for winter operations. This is especially important for those new to the company and seasonal workers, both of whom may be inexperienced in snow and ice and unfamiliar with management’s operational expectations.
Ruppert Landscape, based in Laytonsville, MD, helps even out that learning curve with the use of special-colored safety vests to identify new hires in the field. During the first 90 days of employment, new team members are outfitted with a safety vest that has an orange stripe.
“The first 90 days represent the greatest risk for accidents and injuries, so the vest provides greater visibility for those employees,” says Dave Sanders, Safety and Loss Prevention Manager for Ruppert Landscape. “This creates greater awareness of who is new to the team. It makes it easier for managers and coworkers to identify those folks and engage in conversations, make them feel welcome, set expectations and provide training.”
Sanders notes that the idea came from Eric Blevins, a branch manager in Raleigh, NC, who wanted to come up with a way that he could more easily identify a new employee when he visited a crew on a jobsite or saw someone in the production yard. Blevins piloted the initiative at his branch, and Ruppert has since adopted it company-wide.
The company positions the vest program as a learning opportunity and never as a penalty.
“Our hope is that new employees feel that the added attention they’re receiving is positive and the extra training positions them for long-term success within our organization. We hope that with special focus during the first three months, we’ve laid a strong foundation by establishing an ongoing dialogue about what it means to be safe on a jobsite, in the production yard and while operating vehicles, tools and equipment,” Sanders says.
The biggest responsibility for daily training, coaching and teaching lies with a new employee’s direct supervisor. But Ruppert’s philosophy is that safety is everyone’s responsibility, so several people - from branch manager and branch safety representative to field manager and crew member - may play a role in coaching and interacting with a new employee.
The initiative is just one way that Ruppert Landscape has established a culture of safety, wellness and team. All employees participate in a number of safety trainings and initiatives, including safety orientation, stretch & flex and morning huddle programs, tailgate talks and tool and equipment trainings.
Listening to ideas and feedback from the field can lead to great ideas that improve operational safety and training.
The company has a Safety Committee, and each branch has a dedicated safety representative (19 in total) who is responsible for emphasizing training and reporting on the branch’s annual safety efforts, administering and recording weekly tailgate topics, and attending quarterly meetings and bi-weekly safety calls. On the calls, the committee reviews incident stats, trends and year-over-year improvement, current driving behaviors on the dashboard cameras, any recent incidents and potential prevention methods, as well as seasonal hazards and relevant safety topics.
The vest program has been in place for less than a year, so while there is no concrete evidence or statistics yet to benchmark its success, Sanders says it is creating yet another safety touch point.
“Ultimately our goal is to enable greater communication with new employees about the importance of safety, and we certainly feel like this program is accomplishing that,” Sanders says. “We want to provide feedback, training and development to enable our people to gain the skills and knowledge they need to take on new challenges, grow in their position and pass on that knowledge and training to others.”
Cheryl Higley is editor in chief of Snow Business magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.