Training for a Safety Culture
There has been a lengthy debate between the public and private sectors within the solid
waste industry of who is having more accidents. Well, we all are.
By Tony Miano
The solid waste profession has consistently been an occupation listed in the top 10 when it comes to on-the-job accident rates and fatalities. Looking at accident numbers for the city of Phoenix, AZ, in 2000, I could not believe what was transpiring. The trend line, for vehicular accidents, was consistently heading north, and we decided to stop talking about safety and instead make it our top priority. It can be done, but the mindset needs to change from the top down.
Safety programs come and go, but when you are diligent and draw the line in the sand, it becomes part of your organization’s culture. Doing so has allowed Phoenix the ability to manage by real, accurate measurable data and the ability to hold staff accountable for chargeable, preventable accidents. Do we still have our share of accidents? Yes, but we thoroughly review every accident as it happens and examine how we could have prevented it from occurring. Every member of the organization is trained on how rushing, fatigue, and complacency are the most common denominators in the cause of accidents. In addition, at the commencement of each year, the administration reviews the comprehensive training program to identify trends and what to prioritize for the coming year.
In 2001, the City of Phoenix Public Works Department, Solid Waste Field Services Division, started a comprehensive hiring and training process to ensure that all solid waste equipment operators (SWEO) follow the established guidelines for driving and collection of refuse/recycling in Phoenix. Management used routing techniques and standards that are in the best interest for the safety of the operator and customer.
This safety-training program gives each SWEO the knowledge to safely drive and operate solid waste equipment. This proven safety-training program has decreased accidents from 8.1 accidents per 100,000 miles driven in 2001 to .01 accidents per 100,000 miles driven in 2012. Concurrently, annual miles driven, customer base, and employees increased by 50% over this time.
As part of the Public Works Department’s safety-training program, the Solid Waste Division prides itself in obtaining high customer satisfaction ratings while driving and operating in a safe manner on city streets. This safety-training program consists of the following six elements.
The hiring process—This is a four-step process in itself. It starts with the review of applications by a human resources analyst who reviews all applications for minimum qualifying application standards set by the Public Works Department. An important requirement is for the applicants to have an adequate amount of heavy-equipment driving experience.
If an applicant is qualified at the application stage then they will be invited to participate in a driving skills assessment test, which requires them to safely and effectively maneuver through the SWANA Road-E-O obstacle course in a garbage truck while being timed.
If the applicant successful maneuvers through the course and stays within the allowable point system, they may be invited to participate in the interview process where they will be interviewed by a panel of four supervisory staff from within and outside the solid waste field. We are looking for attributes that fit our culture. Moreover, do they have the skills needed to drive and operate a refuse truck? One needs skills to drive down the highway, but driving a refuse truck in alleys and streets is like a maze and obstacle course where you are timed, and you cannot hit anything. To me, that is skill.
The final criteria before being selected to become a SWEO for the city of Phoenix is for the applicant to pass a personnel selection inventory (PSI) assessment, a drug/alcohol test, and background checks. The PSI is helpful in identifying customer-service, direction-oriented, and safety-oriented employees.
Basic training camp—After successfully going through the hiring process, the newly hired SWEO will report to the City of Phoenix Employee Driver Training Academy (EDTA) for three weeks of classroom and course training. The SWEO will be trained on the State of Arizona CDL requirements; City of Phoenix policies and procedures; and basic operations of all solid waste equipment on the training course. During the three-week training period, SWEOs will be evaluated on their driving skills by their training supervisor. Based on their evaluation the supervisor will decide if a new SWEO needs further course training beyond the three weeks before sending them to the field office for route training. Driving a right-hand-side truck does challenge some people. Once they graduate from basic training camp, the SWEO moves to field training.
Field training—The first step in the field training is to assign the new SWEO to an authorized training SWEO. The authorized SWEO is one who has been authorized to train after undergoing “train the trainer” training on how to properly train. A new SWEO will generally train with his peer (training SWEO) for two to three weeks on the operation of equipment and route collection. The trainer and trainee will sign off on a training log, which tracks the new SWEO’s progress. After new SWEOs reach the point where they have progressed to completing 80% of the route, their supervisor and superintendent will sign off for any SWEO that is ready to go out solo on a route.
The SWEO is on probation for the first year and is evaluated on his or her performance at the three- and six-month periods. It is during this evaluation period that it is most crucial to properly evaluate the new SWEO’s progress and assist them to improve. The management team reviews the new SWEO’s evaluation closely before signing off on the one-year probationary evaluation. The SWEO is incorporated into the work force and can bid on jobs by seniority.
Refresher training (tailgate meetings)—Training for all SWEOs is an ongoing process in which they get weekly “tailgate meeting” training on the division’s safety program. The Public Works Department also has a Safety Section with a dedicated Safety Analysts who provides training for the mandatory approved training courses. In addition, the division has a SWEO safety committee, which meets quarterly to discuss employee safety concerns. This committee establishes and implements programs, policies, and procedures.
Post-accident training and accident-reduction training (ART)—Since we still have our share of accidents, the ART program was developed in 2002. When a SWEO is involved in an accident, their supervisor investigates it thoroughly and an accident report is generated for signature to the SWEO. After the SWEO has signed the accident report and/or responded in writing their side of the incident, management staff will be rule the accident chargeable or non-chargeable. In the case of a chargeable vehicular accident, the SWEO is sent to Accident Reduction Training to be evaluated and re-trained on accident prevention.
Performance standards and accountability—City of Phoenix SWEOs are held to strict performance and safety standards. SWEOs are rated on their performance yearly as part of their annual performance evaluation. SWEOs are held accountable for any garbage misses on their routes, garbage spills, staff complaints, and fluid spills.
SWEOs are held accountable for any chargeable/preventable accidents. A strong safety program is key to our department’s success in preventing accidents and keeping employees at work. We have made training a priority in preventing accidents and promoting safety awareness during the day-to-day operation of equipment.
Industrial accidents have also been of concern, and by providing personal protection equipment to staff, injury accidents have also decreased. In 2007, for example, we implemented the use of hardhats whenever an employee is outside of the vehicle. In those five years, we have no recordable accidents dealing with a head injury. With constant review of accidents, management develops an annual plan, implements a policy, and trains employees to reduce those accidents.
No safety program would be successful if not for the dedication of the managers, safety officers, and frontline supervisors. Constant follow-up and reminders encourage employees to start their day off right by conducting a proper pre-trip and end the day with a post-trip inspection, thinking safety at all times. With safety consciousness in place, the bottom line is bound to improve.
Author's Bio: Tony Miano is the Deputy Public Works Director for the City of Phoenix Solid Waste Field Services Division.