Over the years I have experienced site safety inductions that have involved sitting in front of a television and video player in a shed and then telling the safety manager I watched the induction video and understood it.
I have sat in a site shed with a dozen others and endured an induction of scores of PowerPoint presentations and a questionnaire that was, almost, workshopped and did not represent any understanding of the work site’s OHS obligations.
There have been long inductions where there is a lot of information but no handbooks to take away or to refer to later.
There have been OHS inductions that have involved no more than “there are the toilets, the tea room is over there and there’s a fire extinguisher here somewhere”.
Bad induction is an unforgiveable flaw in a company’s safety management system and clearly indicates a careless attitude of companies towards their employees’ and contractors’ safety. The significance of induction should not be underestimated because it has two purposes – to establish a common state of knowledge of all workers on a site before one starts work and to have a reference point for investigations of any incidents.
A flawed induction provides a poor understanding of the OHS practices, procedures and policies on a site which will, in turn, lead to an increased risk of incidents occurring.
The investigation of an incident will look to the sign-offs of staff and contractors to the induction program and say that, regardless of the quality of the induction, the workers and contractors have signed and stated that they fully understand their OHS obligations. The incident will indicate not that the induction was inadequate but that the signatories signed a statement that has been proven to be untrue. The focus goes to the worker or the contractor rather than the provider of the bad induction – the employer or principal contractor. A legitimate question is “why did you sign a document that states you fully understood the induction when the reality is that you did not?”
A common situation is that people see any induction as an impediment to getting the job started. They want it to be brief as it is unproductive time. It is a necessary safety evil.
Inductions must regain their significance as the basis for a functional contractor management system. This will require induction training to be relevant, interesting, current, site-specific and, most importantly, verified and enforced.
Contractors, particularly, need to question the validity of the training they are being offered and to not sign if they do not understand all of the OHS issues and procedures they are being presented with. If they do sign-off without understanding their obligations for that site, it can almost be guaranteed that they will be a target in any incident investigation by the principal contractor.
Refusing to sign is not easy to do in a competitive environment where each contract could be the difference between a small business failing and succeeding. The risk of losing everything, including a worker’s life, is heightened if one signs a statement that is untrue or signs a statement unthinkingly for the sake of getting a job started. This is the small business operator’s risk dilemma – play the odds and maybe win or “do the right thing” and possibly lose a contract.
Are you willing to risk having the coroner find that you contributed to your best friend’s death because you skipped the induction or didn’t listen? Could you face your best friend’s partner and relatives at the Coroner’s Court? And where will the principal contractor be, standing next to you in solidarity or across the corridor with a phalanx of labour lawyers?
Bad quality safety information and inductions must not be tolerated. We must begin to not accept poor information from our clients or large companies because if we do, we are complicit in their careless attitude to workplace safety.