What,” you ask, “is customer safety training?” Good question, but before giving the answer, let’s cover some basic background information.
What’s the Problem?
In 2017, there were 132 recorded fatalities in the waste industry, 94 of which were members of the public. That’s right, 71% of fatalities in this industry involved folks other than industry employees!
Now think about this: Most waste facility employees receive regular safety training. But most customers do not. And yet, customers are the least experienced and knowledgeable about heavy equipment and trucks—and the risks present at a waste facility. Doesn’t really make sense, does it?
Here’s the tricky thing: Waste facility customers can include a wide range of people. They can include Dad making a trip to the transfer station on a Saturday morning or a building contractor coming to the landfill after a hard day roofing someone’s house. Customers might include a young child curious about the side loader picking up yard waste in front of their house or Mom dropping off a load of cans and bottles at the recycling facility.
They are contractors, landscapers, and self-haul residents. While the demographics can differ, one similarity does not: Most customers don’t know a darn thing about your waste facility.
These are just a sample of some recent (very real) news headlines:
- Man killed in accident at landfill. Truck driver failed to properly park his truck and it rolled forward, pinning another man between two trucks. The pinned man died.
- Customer died after accident at recycling plant.
- 66-year-old man killed in dump truck rollover accident at landfill.
- Man died after being hit by car at transfer station.
And these are just the fatalities! They don’t include non-fatal injuries, property damage, traffic incidents, and customer vehicle damage.
It’s obvious that we are dealing with human lives and families, and we have a moral responsibility to make sure that everyone who visits our facility goes home safely.
Accidents and fatalities cause more than emotional distress…they also cost money. It’s not uncommon for waste facilities to expend millions of dollars in legal fees, fines, and court awards. On top of the emotional cost, a fatal accident could financially break your waste facility…or your career.
But what you might not realize is that most accidents are caused by human error—where someone did something they shouldn’t have done…or didn’t do something they should have.
In our experience working at hundreds of waste facilities throughout North America and abroad, we have found that the number one factor when it comes to improving safety is having a comprehensive, actionable plan. It’s similar to the safety plan you have for your employees, with the main difference being that your customers have no baseline knowledge of your operation.
What do you want your customers to know…and how are you going to tell them?
Customer safety must be a part of your overall safety culture and all employees need to recognize that they are responsible for helping to educate customers about safety.
Just like an employee safety program, you must establish procedures and policies…and then enforce them!
- If you require safety vests, make sure all your customers wear one—no exceptions!
- If you have speed limits at your facility, have consequences in place for those who don’t adhere to them.
- Make sure your employees know the rules, and then make sure they know how to communicate them to your customers.
What Do Your Customers Need to Know?
Safety education is an ongoing, ever-evolving practice, and there are some basics that every customer should know. These basics include traffic flow—including when, where, and how to dump their load; PPE; cell phone usage; pets stay in the car; etc. Make sure you communicate those rules clearly to every single customer.
For customers who might interact with your collections drivers, focus on issues like distracted driving, slow down to get around, and general waste collection safety.
Reaching Your Customers
Before you implement a safety education program for your customers, conduct some basic research.
Who are your customers and how can you reach them?
You have lots of options, but the key is to get the information to your customers.
Do your customers prefer a printed brochure? Do they want a video? Are they active on social media and want to get information from your Facebook page? Video is a very effective tool to communicate with your customers. A customized video can essentially “walk” your customers through your site before they even arrive at the front gate.
Here are some other ideas on how to reach your customers:
- Face-to-face (i.e., at the scale-house or from another employee)
- Online options:
- Onsite signage
- Advertising in local newspapers
- Grade school demonstrations and events
- Public events and exhibitions
You have options, but before you launch a safety program, set some reasonable and specific goals. How many people do you expect to reach? What is your message? What response do you want? How will you know?
Then, test your safety program, get feedback from your customers, and make changes.
Improving our industry’s safety ranking is not optional—and you have a responsibility to help make it happen.