Cut down the risk of injury for your new employees

Hiring new employees always comes with certain risks.

Maybe they won’t fit in. Or they’ll decide they didn’t want the job after all.

But have you thought about the risks to them — to their safety?

According to SFM claims data, more than half of workplace injuries involve employees who are in their first five years of employment at their workplace.

Why do new employees get injured?

Recent data shows that as the unemployment rate drops, the number of new workers increases, along with the percentage of claims with less than a year of employee tenure. When unemployment is low, there is a smaller pool of job candidates to choose from, and your new hires might not stick around as long.

New workers can be more susceptible to injury because they often haven't developed the necessary skills to safely do their work. For those who work in manual labor jobs, they may not have built up the muscle strength, flexibility and endurance needed to complete the jobs.

Additionally, open jobs tend to be the heavier, riskier ones, and so inexperienced workers get their start doing the most challenging work. This can result in fast turnover and injuries. It happens across many different job fields, including manual labor and education.

Rather than having new employees fill the open, difficult jobs, it's best to start them off slowly. Bring them in to the easiest jobs and then move them to harder jobs once they've had time to adapt. Your workers with the most experience have been trained and conditioned to do the more challenging jobs, and so they are less likely to be injured.

Focus on good hiring practices

When you have an open position that you've been struggling to fill, it can be tempting to relax some of your hiring practices in order to find someone to fill the job.

But lowering your standards could result in hiring someone who isn't suited to the job, which increases the likelihood of injuries and employee turnover.

"In my experience, it's better to endure times when you have positions sitting open and get creative about how you get jobs done, rather than picking someone you know isn't right," said SFM Loss Prevention Technical Leader Lee Wendel. "Otherwise, you end up adding people on your staff that you know don't meet the same standards as the rest of your employees."

If your experienced employees think you aren't holding new employees to the same standard, it can affect morale and bring negativity into the workplace, Wendel said. It's better to have a robust hiring process and stick to it.

When you're hiring, keep these best practices in mind*:

  • Have a formal application and a current job description that includes the physical requirements of the job.
  • Have multiple people interview the candidate and conduct multiple interviews, including questions about safety.
  • Be thorough when conducting background checks.** Include checking references, verification of education credentials and legal status, pre-employment physicals and drug testing.
  • Keep all documentation following the hire, including application forms, job descriptions and payroll and attendance records.

Once your new hire has been at the job for a few weeks, evaluate the situation and ask yourself if you would hire them again. If not, work backward through your hiring process to see what you can change to avoid the problem in the future.

Make sure prospective hires understand the job

The interview process is often focused around getting to know the job candidate. But once you think you’ve found the right person, it’s important to make sure that individual gets to know all the job duties before accepting the position. The alternative is hiring new employees who aren’t prepared to do the work required because they didn’t know what to expect.

It’s important that employers give prospective employees a realistic view of what the job is.

In some cases, new employees may stop showing up to work after finding they have to perform certain tasks they weren’t expecting and don’t want to do. Or employees who do keep showing up might be more likely to be injured, because they weren’t prepared or were less dedicated to learning the proper procedures than someone who knew what to expect.

“It’s important that employers give prospective employees a realistic view of what the job is,” Wendel said. “Show them someone doing the job while it’s happening, if possible.”

Create an in-depth safety training program

The best way to make sure your new workers avoid injury is to give them proper training.

If you've been understaffed, or still are, it can be easy to cut corners on safety training, but it's important to start safety training on day one so that your new hires know what to expect going forward.

“Think about preparing your employees to work safely in broad terms,” Wendel said. “It’s being familiar with the hazards, it’s being trained for the hazards and it’s knowing how to avoid situations that result in injury.”

Your training program should include the following:

  • Get them familiar with the dangers of the equipment they’re using and the processes they’re performing.
  • Let them know not to expect to perform at the same level as more experienced workers until they’ve accumulated more skill, experience and knowledge.
  • Teach them the best practices right away that they would otherwise learn from experience.
  • Make sure they understand the hazards present in the workplace, including ones that may not be obvious, such as paint vapors, flammable vapors or carbon monoxide.
  • Enforce the use of personal protective equipment and make sure they know how to match the correct equipment with the job they’re performing.
  • Teach them about how their jobs might intersect with others they share space with.

Remember that training isn't going to all sink in on the first day. You need to periodically revisit safety with your employees to make sure the important pieces stay fresh in their minds.

Pay attention to what causes injuries

Your injury trends might reveal a weak spot in your current safety training. If you notice that a certain type of injury is repeatedly occurring, or if employees with a certain job tend to be injured more often, this could be a clue that something isn't being covered in training.

SFM claims data shows that workers with less than a year of experience are most likely to receive sprains and strains. This could be a signal that they aren't getting enough training on safe lifting techniques. Implement weight limits for manual lifting and remind your employees to lift from a position of power: keep the head up, bend at the knees, keep the load close and remember "nose follows toes" to keep from twisting.

Or maybe you need to reevaluate how heavy objects are stored. Keeping them between knee and shoulder height can reduce the risk of back injuries from lifting. There is also equipment that can assist with lifting heavier objects.

Take the time to perform a workplace analysis. When reviewing your previous injury records, use a checklist to make sure you aren't overlooking any hazards. You can create your own checklist based on what you observe at your workplace, or download SFM's Workplace analysis supervisor checklist from our resource catalog.

Once you've identified problem areas, you can implement changes to your safety training program to correct oversights. Seek advice from your contacts at SFM or search the resource catalog.

Comprehensive hiring practices and safety training are more important than ever. Finding and training new hires can be a challenge, but it's one that pays off.

*This is not intended to serve as legal advice for individual fact-specific legal cases or as a legal basis for your employment practices.

**Some of these items may not be permissible until a conditional offer of employment has been made. Be sure to consult your employment law attorney.

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