Keeping Watch

WHEN IT COMES TO SAFETY, no waste company would operate without a plan. Businesses take special care in crafting policies and procedures that are specific to their operations. However, many waste companies are falling short in a very important area of safety — employee supervision.

Employee supervision in the waste industry can present challenges, especially for companies involved in collection operations. For example, a supervisor at a materials recovery facility (MRF) or a landfill only has to take a few steps out of the office to observe employees' work habits. On the other hand, a waste collection company can train and educate their workers about safety, but once the trucks leave the yard, how can practices be monitored?

Regardless of whether a company has on-site operations — such as a recycling center, MRF or landfill — or off-site operations such as waste collection, a routine employee safety observation program needs to be in place. Supervisors should establish a checklist for each position — such as driver, helper, mechanic or loader operator — that lists the major job functions and safety rules. During an employee observation, the checklist will help the supervisor determine whether the employee is performing all of the major job functions safely.

For companies with on-site operations, employee observations can take place during a simple walk around the facility. Companies with collection operations will have to establish a program of ride-alongs with drivers, or set aside time to go out on the road to do driver and helper observations. Clandestine observations are preferred, as employees tend to behave optimally when they know someone is watching them.

Each worker should receive several safety observations throughout the year. The completed checklist form should be reviewed with and signed by the employee after completion. Observation forms should also become part of a worker's personnel file. The review process is one of the most important parts of a supervision program.

The results may indicate areas where additional training and education are needed. The review process also allows supervisors to stress the positive working habits that were observed. A safe worker likes to be recognized and appreciated for his or her performance, so observation results should be part of an employee's annual review process and should be incorporated into a company's safety incentive program.

The main purpose of an observation program is to strengthen the safety behavior of individual employees. However, companies should look for trends among their entire workforce. For instance, the observations may show that several employees are violating the same rules or are performing their jobs in the same unsafe manner.

Analyzing overall trends can pinpoint areas where additional company-wide safety training and education are necessary. By addressing individual workers' risky behaviors, waste firms can reduce risk and create a safer work environment for all employees.

Bruce Hooker
R.F. Mattei & Associates of CA
Insurance Service
Sacramento, Calif.