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Supervisor? Me?


I sat by and watched an accident being created and I was powerless to help. An uncomfortable place for any safety person. Let me explain. I was sitting in a public place and watched a contractor arrive to complete the fitting of some plastic waste bin covers. He had a young fellow helping him on what was probably his first “real” job.

They pulled up across the parking area and carried over a small generator and a router to the first waste bin. I watched the “experienced hand” get his helper to hold the lid balanced on the edge of the waste bin while he used the router to trim the edge. No clamps, elbows to move the mounting chain out of the way, no hearing protection and no eye protection. A potential disaster on so many levels but the real disaster was the look of admiration on the young helper’s face. He saw an experienced person roll the dice and get lucky but that example will guide him until his luck runs out.

I would bet that if I talked to our contractor he would never consider himself a “supervisor”. He’s just “showing the kid the job”. Looking at the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation we find that a supervisor is someone who “instructs, directs and controls workers in the performance of their duties”. This means that our contractor is also a supervisor in relation to his assistant.

All too often supervisory tasks are imposed on employees without considering the nature of those new responsibilities. This results in giving a new job to someone who does not have the skills or knowledge to do it. Normally, we would automatically train someone new in how to handle equipment or machinery safely and effectively but we fail to give the same thought to a new supervisor and how they handle their crew.

This is truly unfortunate because the supervisor is the most directly involved with those on the front line and usually has the greatest influence on employee motivation and engagement. Studies show that an engaged workforce is significantly more productive, up to 52% more, according to the McKinsey Group. This is possible because engaged employees put more discretionary effort into their jobs.

So, if we were to think about it, what training would we need to provide to a new supervisor? From a due diligence perspective the Workers Compensation Act requires supervisors to be knowledgeable of the Act and Regulations, and be able to ensure the health and safety of anyone under their direct supervision. This includes being knowledgeable of the work and its hazards so those being supervised can be instructed and informed before they start work.

This raises another flag. Has your new supervisor ever instructed anyone? Do they know how to evaluate competence and set standards that promote the company safety policy? When there is instructing to be done, has anyone taken the time to show the new supervisor how to record who was trained, and in what? Don’t forget to explain why all this documentation is important and what purpose it serves in establishing your due diligence.

So let’s see. So far we need to understand regulations, responsibilities, be able to teach, and keep records. That’s not so bad. How about the differences in supervising new or inexperienced workers as opposed to old hands and maybe some training on hazard and risk assessment? I know it seems obvious but we are asking someone to use their experience and knowledge to keep others out of trouble. That’s not the same a staying out of trouble yourself. This list is getting longer!

All these questions show us that our supervisor from the beginning is really a guy who knows his job but has been given a task (instructing others) without possessing all the necessary tools to complete the task. The unfortunate result is an increased potential for an accident with all the costs, financial and personal, that come with it. By making sure our supervisors are trained for the job we expect of them, we are not only doing our due diligence, but we are enhancing our company’s ability to excel.


Earl Galavan

Earl Galavan

Earl has more than 20 years of road experience. He started with long haul and later swapped the transportation of packages for people. Working as a professional bus driver driving intercity and charter buses, his favourite destination was Reno, NV. Moving into the position of driver instructor was a natural progression that he enjoyed for the challenges it provided. Earl has a Diploma of Technology in Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) from the BC Institute of Technology and is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP). He is responsible for providing OHS advisory services to companies, developing the SafetyDriven OHS programs and curriculum, as well as research regarding health and safety in the trucking industry.
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