A Risky Talent Shortage

A Risky Talent Shortage

How a nationwide shortage of skilled drivers could impact safety at your company.

As with any business, waste services firms face the constant challenge of delivering strong economic performance while providing good service to their customers. But this industry faces unique challenges, including performing under changing environmental and solid waste regulations in an industry known for being inherently risky. Despite all the best business strategies and state-of-the-art equipment, a waste company’s success rests firmly on the shoulders of its employees – its human capital.

Therefore, hiring and retaining the right people and providing appropriate training continues to be a top risk management priority for the waste industry. It’s something insurers are very mindful of as well. After all, employees fuel a business’ performance; strong talent will yield strong, and even more importantly, safe performance.

Despite record unemployment levels, however, business leaders across industries are confronting a shortage of skilled workers. It seems surreal that in a recovering economy, business leaders would be worried about talent shortages. High levels of unemployment have boosted the quantity of candidates, but employers are still wrestling with the quality.

The Milwaukee-based research firm Manpower Group released the results of its sixth-annual Talent Shortage Survey in May 2011, revealing that 52 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling mission-critical positions within their organizations, up from 14 percent in 2010. Manpower’s survey also highlights the most common reasons employers say they are having trouble filling jobs, including candidates looking for more pay than is offered, lack of technical skills and lack of experience.

According to the more than 1,300 U.S. employers surveyed, the jobs that are most difficult to fill include skilled trades, sales representatives and engineers. What is the fourth most difficult position to fill? Drivers. For the waste industry, that’s an unnerving finding. Skilled and experienced drivers are essential to the successful and safe operation of today’s state-of-the-art trucks, which must operate on roadways that seem to grow more congested each year. Given the difficulty in finding skilled and experienced drivers, the insurance industry is looking more closely at their customers’ attention to training and other safety measures that can help prevent human error.

After all, many garbage truck accidents are the result of human error, or failure to anticipate risky behavior on the part of pedestrians or other drivers. Road conditions (and a driver’s failure to take them into account) also play a role. Therefore, proper training of drivers includes not only honing their driving skills but giving them the proper skill set to appropriately address the risks around them on the road. Giving employees other available tools to help them do their jobs is also a good investment. For instance, installation of safety features such as rear warning sensors or cameras can reduce the risk of garbage truck crashes and accident casualties.

Every human error that was made was determined to be a necessary condition for the accident. That means that if just one of those human errors had not occurred, the chain of events would have been broken, and the accident would not have happened. Therefore, if we can find ways to prevent some of these human errors, or at least increase the probability that such errors will be noticed and corrected, the industry can achieve greater safety and fewer casualties.

Likewise, employees need to know the importance of the role they play in ensuring a safe workplace by demonstrating the right attitude toward safety and consistently following safety rules and procedures. Insurance carriers look closely at safety records. A waste firm that shows complacency, especially when incidents clearly indicate that corrective actions need to be taken, can be deemed a less-than-desirable risk. And, in the battle against talent shortages, an employee’s safety experience contributes to their employment qualifications too.

While accidents are opportunities to learn and take corrective actions, the goal in safety is to learn without having to experience the repercussions of a mishap. Safety is best implemented when top management believes in a safety philosophy, and a written safety policy is created based on the company’s philosophy. In light of some of the industry challenges, insurers are more than willing to work closely with their waste firm clients to suggest prequalified safety consultants, to review safety manuals, to assist in setting up employee training or to perform safety audits, among other services offered.

To minimize human error and maximize human performance, safety needs be more than a pile of procedures and checklists. Safety is said to be learning without experience. As more waste companies provide the right learning opportunities, they help improve their employees’ qualifications and in turn, boost their own company performance along the way.


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