Mentorship is a valuable tool for the success of any business, and connecting experienced workers with newer or less experienced ones is an effective way to meet workplace safety outcomes.
According to the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP), the certification of safety professionals helps them identify and evaluate workplace hazards. But the CRSP recognizes that formal instruction alone is not the most efficient way to impart that knowledge, which is why they have established a mentorship program that pairs current credential holders with those seeking certification.
And the benefits are numerous. A recent article in the Huffington Post identified occupational mentorship as an initiative that “increases employee education and learning, saves company high turnover costs, develops leadership and management skills, and saves people time and money.”
The rewards for following the best practices of safety mentoring can be measured in terms of company profitability, but the greatest return comes from successful and safe completion of projects. Companies can also benefit from more intangible rewards like greater morale on the job, employee attraction and retention, and an attitude of teamwork throughout the organization.
Mentorship in the Construction Industry
The construction industry is in a great position to benefit from well-conducted mentorship programs.
Tammy Allen and Lillian Eby, authors of The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring, state that mentoring is an essential component of best safety practices “in a world where workers are insecure, contingent, and temporary.” As an industry that sees its fair share of transient and temporary workers, mentorship programs are a good way for construction companies to achieve their desired safety outcomes.
With shifting demographics, up to 250,000 workers (21% of the workforce) set to retire within a decade, the construction industry is seeing a large influx of new and often inexperienced workers, making mentorship programs crucial. With its focus on helping new employees, the rewards of an effective mentorship program can be expected to grow right along with the growth of employment.
Green Hand, Gold Hand
One innovative approach to mentoring that is quickly gaining in popularity is the Green Hand, Gold Hand program, first developed by the Canadian Petroleum Council.
The Green Hand in the name stands for the “green” employees, those who are new to the job site and haven’t yet learned the ropes. They are ready and willing to learn but they need the assistance of more seasoned employees to show them how things are done and share the insights they learned from years of experience on the job. That’s where the Gold Hand comes in. These represent the tried and true “gold” employees, the ones with the kind of wisdom and familiarity with the job that makes them ideal mentors to show newer employees how to perform their job safely. As the ones best able to share and reinforce important—and in many cases, life-saving—information about safety processes and safety culture, these experienced workers are worth their weight in gold.
The ways the program is conducted can vary from industry to industry, but it tends to focus on one simple but powerful method. New employees are given green stickers or badges and experienced employees are given gold ones. These are easily recognizable visual cues that helps everyone immediately pick out who might need assistance and who could be a great source of guidance.
Even in industries that haven’t yet adopted a formal Green Hand, Gold Hand program, safety leaders are using informal ways of establishing a culture of mentorship to increase and maintain site safety. This can be as simple as using the right kind of messaging when introducing new employees to more experienced workers. Think, for example, of the norms we are establishing when we tell the veterans of the job site that they will be taking new employees “under their wing.” This establishes their role as guides and protectors—as mentors—rather than someone whose responsibilities are only to evaluate and grade the new worker’s performance.
These kinds of messages not only convey to the importance of mentorship to the experienced employees, they also establish norms for the newer ones. They essentially tell employees who aren’t yet familiar with the workplace culture that it’s acceptable and expected of them to approach their colleagues when they need help or face uncertainties.
Identify Leader Mentors
Of course, one obvious limitation to this informal message approach is that it’s not always clear to the new employees exactly who is in a good position to help them and they don’t want to spend too much time asking around instead of just focusing on their work tasks. That’s why a visual cue like a badge system facilitates mentoring interactions.
Whatever system your company uses, make sure that the identification is clearly visible, worn daily and consistently, and easily recognized from a distance. Don’t expect new employees to go looking for some fine print on a colleague’s lanyard.
It’s also crucial to ensure that the identified mentors are in a good position to fulfill that role properly. That means ensuring that they have the right kind of training, have site safety experience, are familiar with the company’s safety program and policies, and have been briefed on what is expected from them as safety mentors. But it also means making sure that they are comfortable taking on that role. Not everyone is a natural teacher and appointing someone who doesn’t like to talk to their colleagues or has too little patience to explain basic safety procedures as a mentor might do more harm than good. So, it’s usually best to make the mentorship role a volunteer position. That way, only those who will truly reinforce the importance of on-the-job safety will take on the task.
Evaluating Program Effectiveness
After a new employee has been on the job for a reasonable amount of time (usually 60 to 90 days), both the new and seasoned employee participants in the mentorship program should complete an evaluation to measure their knowledge of the company’s health and safety policies. This evaluation is a critical step in improving safety performance.
Talent Management and Human Resources conferences (TMHR) recommends that companies begin by setting specific objectives for the safety mentoring and then look at how effectively those goals and objectives were met. TMHR suggests a program to measure the following:
Analytics: track the program and individual connection progress
Reports: view real-time performance and export details for further analysis
Surveys: acquire feedback from participants throughout all phases of program
The more awareness of and interactions about workplace health and safety within an organization, the greater the odds of avoiding accidents and injuries. Mentorship fosters communication, teamwork, and a culture of safety—all of which not only reduces accident rates but also increases employee engagement (learn about The Importance of Employee Engagement and Its Impact on Your Bottom Line). Senior executives, safety professionals, and other stakeholders within the company should give serious consideration to implementing a safety mentorship program, or if there is already one in place, finding ways to improve it.