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Make Safety a Training Priority.

Byline: Maggie Bayless

Every working environment has its own inherent risks when it comes to potential on-the-job accidents. For retailers, danger zones can be a wet floor or a sharp knife or that blind corner in the basement storage area where you can run head-on into someone coming from the other direction.

How do people learn about safety in your business? Do you have a class or formal on-shift training program that explains how best to avoid personal injury and what procedures to follow in case of emergencies, including injury of a customer or co-worker?

Safety is important to all of us, as business owners and managers, and we want our stores to be safe for both customers and employees. But in my experience, safety doesn't always get as much training focus as product knowledge and customer service. Unfortunately, the importance of safety training is sometimes acknowledged only after there has been an accident or injury. Here are some ideas for making safety an ongoing training priority.

Get Staff Involved

At Zingerman's, we live by our mission statement: "We are champions of safety for the ZCoB (Zingerman's Community of Businesses). We empower staff to work safely and create a culture where our workplace systems strongly promote safety, learning, prevention and well-being for all."

For more than 15 years, one of the most important work groups throughout Zingerman's has been our Safety Committee. Made up of representatives from each of Zingerman's businesses, the Safety Committee tracks injuries - looking for patterns and trends - and recommends programs and systems improvements to help make our buildings and businesses safer places to work.

Specific responsibilities of the Safety Committee reps include examining injury reports across the organization to identify trends, following up with staff who are injured, and conducting monthly safety inspections to make sure we're in compliance with safety standards and are maintaining a safe workplace. In addition, the safety reps are the go-to people for staff who have safety concerns or safety-related questions.

The Safety Committee maintains an internal website of safety-related information, including forms, safety tips, accident statistics, OSHA links and more. Staff are paid for their Safety Committee work and receive quarterly bonuses when the committee's goals have been met.

Track Injuries

While preventing injuries is always the goal, knowing when, where and why injuries are happening can provide the information needed to get the most bang from your training buck. So if - as was the case for us 18 years ago - you see an increase in the number of knife-related accidents, knife safety training might be the best place to start. Likewise, if slips and falls are a problem, the focus might be on the importance of identifying wet floors, wearing non-slip shoes and removing tripping hazards.

In addition to helping figure out where to start, tracking the number and severity of injuries raises the general level of awareness. Zingerman's Safety Committee reports regularly to our Partners Group on the number and type of injuries - and the actions being taken to keep that number as low as possible.

Identify Dangerous Equipment

When we think about safety training for our employees, we often think about making sure they know how to use specific pieces of equipment - the meat slicer, the deep fryer, the forklift in the warehouse. Rather than being classroom based, training on how to use equipment safely is often better accomplished on-shift, on an as-needed basis. However, the quality of on-shift training depends on both the effectiveness of the trainer and the quality of the training content.

If you haven't done so, now would be a great time to develop a clearly documented outline of what should be covered in the training for each piece of equipment - including how to give the trainee a safe opportunity to practice. If you haven't documented this information - and trained your trainers on how to effectively deliver it - there's a good chance that important pieces of information are being missed, which may result in unnecessary injuries.

Conduct Safety Tours

Most new-hire orientations include some sort of tour around the facilities, which is an excellent time to point out potential safety hazards as well as the location of these resources:

Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS)

Fire extinguishers

First aid stations

Chemical storage

Wet-floor signs and other safety signage

If you don't include a walk-around for new hires, or if you do but it doesn't include safety tips, this can be an easy and effective way to kick-start safety awareness.

Consider a Safety Class

If you are regularly bringing on new staff, whether as a result of growth, high turnover or seasonal business, creating and teaching a safety class might be a good bottom-line investment. There are many training resources available to help you with the content. A good place to start is the OSHA website (

For many years, we've been covering business-specific safety issues in each Zingerman's business's orientation training, but we've recently added a formal safety class, developed by our Safety Committee to cover the topics they felt needed additional reinforcement. These include:

The name of your business's safety rep and how can he/she can help you

An explanation of MSDS books and why they are important

What to do and where to seek treatment if you are injured on the job

What to do if a customer is injured

Where to purchase safety shoes and how to get your employee discount

Tips for safe lifting

How to avoid repetitive-motion injuries

The importance of frequent and thorough hand-washing

Proper use of knives, slicers and box cutters

Where to go for additional safety information

Although your specific safety issues may be entirely different than the examples I've mentioned here, I hope this gets you thinking about whether more formal safety training - either in a classroom setting or on-shift - makes sense for your business. If the training helps you avoid one or two significant injuries per year - or one or two minor ones per week - it can be an excellent bottom-line investment.

For more than a decade, Maggie Bayless has provided readers with staffing insights. From training programs to keeping employees motivated, Bayless uses her years at specialty independent Zingerman's and her ZingTrain skills to help retailers keep staff training issues at the cutting edge in their own stores.
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Author:Bayless, Maggie
Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2013
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