by | Safety, Small Business |

It is estimated that 70% of the American workforce is unsupervised for the vast majority of the work day.  When I first heard that I thought, “That can’t be right,” but the more I considered it and thought about truckers, sales reps, construction crews, service reps and many others, it made sense.

For those of us in the safety profession trying to help clients, unsupervised workers are outside of what we consider to be the normal paradigm for an ideal work model.  Most safety professionals’ college education focused on the manufacturing environment where the traditional supervisor will make routine walks through the area and is able to coach, motivate and enforce rules to help employees avoid accidental injury.  Unfortunately, most clients I have visited throughout the years have safety programs built to support the supervised model even though they do business in the unsupervised world.  This usually results in less than satisfactory injury results.

I turned to Google and typed in “safety programs for employees working unsupervised.”  Most of the results that came back focused on the premise that it is against the law!  I thought it was exciting information but not of much value to an employer attempting to reduce losses in an unsupervised workforce.

Let’s examine some ideas on steps to take to improve the loss results for employees in unsupervised jobs:

1.            Hire the right person.  To do this, you first must know what the job is going to entail and understand the exposures associated with it.  As an example, an oil company is looking for a service technician.  These techs are going to be the best sales retention agent you have.  When a family doesn’t have heat, what happens to them in the next 2-6 hours will determine who gets their business for the next 1-3 years!  Think, too, about other job-specific issues which may create exposures.  In this example of an oil company service technician, a driving exposure is obvious. What about sleep deprivation, working in new environments, problem solving, customer relations and physical elements (such as lifting, bending, squatting and so forth)?  Consider that an employee may easily become frustrated if he or she is required to get up in the middle of the night, and to go to the home of an angry customer, not knowing the layout of the house and finding a boiler for which no part is in the truck and he or she needs to go to the shop.

Once you have those items figured out, how do you find the right person and why does he or she agree to work for you?  You need to truthfully evaluate the labor pool available, determine whether your pay and benefits are competitive, provide proper tools and equipment to promote job satisfaction and constantly review the way management handles employees.  Once that is done, you can advertise in the top areas where these potential employees are.  Prepare a good job application and have it approved by your attorney; there are many great samples are available on the internet.

Here is an important item: take a class in behavior-based interviewing!  Most behaviors that cause accidents are predictable based on past behaviors.  Learning how to identify these behaviors and asking a candidate to explain how he or she has reacted in similar situations is truly telling in this process.

2.            Once you have selected the ideal person and he or she agrees to work at your company, you must provide tailored training and clear expectations as to how the employee needs to behave.  A few common errors made in training are that most tend to teach in the ideal and not in the “what if.”  Often, only verbal instructions are given and are not hands-on practical scenarios.  A pilot friend of mine once told me that pilots spend 90% of their training on things that probably will never happen.  Not long ago I met Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who safely landed his plane on the Hudson River during an emergency. Part of his story is certainly that his training kicked in when everything went wrong and there was no time to think, only to react.  He was very clear on emphasizing the thousands of hours he spent in the simulator; he never once practiced the exact scenario that occurred that morning, but it had prepared him to react appropriately to the situation.  Flight simulators are not lectures, they provide hands-on mistakes and retries with no disaster at risk.

The right tools and equipment must be available for the person working unsupervised, or improvisation will occur.  Improvising will often lead to injuries or other losses.  Going back to my service technician example, a hands-free, battery operated light would prove beneficial.  The light is not expensive, but can act as a true aid to someone who gets called out at night, goes to strange houses and works with his or her hands in tight areas.  The best way to figure out what is needed is to solicit those employees doing the work and keep the lines of communication open so that as new situations are encountered, ideas can be put forward.

3.            Another thing to consider is that first year employees tend to get injured seven times more frequently than others.  Knowledge is power!  Armed with this piece of information, you need to establish a plan to deal with inexperience.  First year employees are normally rushing a little more, and this is believed to be one of the causes for their higher accident rates.  Of course you need to balance both work expectations and this learning curve.  Providing a little additional time for new employees to complete tasks along with frequent, planned feedback sessions will go a long way to reduce this potential for injury.  New employees often represent less than 10%of the workforce.  What about the rest of your employees?  What do you do about them?  You really need to do many of the same things.  Frequent employee meetings, open communication about needs and changes, continued education and proper tools and equipment are the important things to remember.

Modern technologies are making it easier to monitor unsupervised employees and help them do their jobs more effectively.  Tablets and smart phones allow for instant communication and transmission of important data.  These devices can help you train from a distance, see what the employee is seeing, provide directions on how to get to the customer and know where the employee is at all times.

When I discuss the above loss-reducing tools with clients, they often shift into thinking about being “Big Brother” rather than thinking about providing productive and beneficial tools to assist workers.  I will close this blog with an example of what this scenario might look like if I were that fuel oil technician.  As that technician, I work for a company that cares about my safety, doing the job effectively and providing the highest level of customer service possible.  As such, they have provided me many tools including my smart phone.  The phone provides me safety training every Monday morning, work assignments (which include needed parts and equipment) and on-line instructions via short film clips for various tasks that involve installing different parts.

When I’m on call and an emergency call comes in, my employer notifies me via text message rather than a phone call.  Why is this better?  My partner doesn’t have to be woken up by a ringing phone or by me saying hello in my groggy voice.  Instead, my phone beeps until I hit Reply, lessening the risk of waking others.  When I look, I can see the problem and location in question and whether or not I have all likely needed tools, equipment and parts in my truck.  If not, the company has already informed the customer of the need for me to stop at the shop, thus eliminating the inefficiency of arriving at the house only to leave again and cutting time that should be spent solving the customer’s problem.  My skills and problem-solving techniques are improved because of the company’s many technical training films that help me while on-site and thanks to my monthly skills improvement training.

Once en-route to a service call, the company can inform the customer of my estimated arrival time.  The phone also provides me with turn-by-turn directions to the location.  When I arrive, the phone confirms that I am at the right location and provides the customer’s file (including internal and external pictures of the house).   I am aware of any difficulties that may lie ahead for access to the boiler, type of boiler and recent maintenance history.  I had all the parts available in the truck, installation is completed and the bill is automatically sent to the customer.  The customer’s electronic signature authorizes payment and I can leave.  My company’s payment is in the bank, the customer is happy and I’m heading back to bed.

The fuel oil company holds an employee meeting once every quarter to look at results and celebrate successes.  The meeting is only an hour long.  Results include sales, time it took to resolve problems and safety training.  Completion of on-line training, speeding, hard braking and other measures are reviewed for all of us.  If we met the goals, then $100 prize drawings are held and pizza is eaten.  What a great company!

Good luck in handling remote employees.  It has always been a challenge, but using some imagination in how to make it better might surprise you and produce higher profits too!  Is your company doing anything to monitor remote employees?


Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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