Changing up education practices

By |  January 6, 2015

Pete Lien & Sons removes its employees from the classroom and brings safety training directly to them.

Are eight hours of classroom safety training in one sitting truly effective?

That’s the question leaders at Pete Lien & Sons discussed the last couple of years as they evaluated their employees’ annual safety-training program.

“Eight hours of class time can be really difficult for a team that’s really active,” says Danielle Wiebers, manager of environmental and safety affairs at Pete Lien & Sons. “We’d see almost zero participation from the audience during the training. It’s hard to measure how effective that is.”

Plus, Pete Lien & Sons has a variety of operations, so the safety topics covered at the school providing the training weren’t always applicable to those getting the education.

“We were seeing a lot of things we could improve if we could spread out the training and better manage it,” Wiebers says.

In 2013, Pete Lien & Sons decided to develop its own customized, monthly safety-training program with its own personnel who meet Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) Parts 46 and 48 instructor training regulations. This year represented the first full year of the program.

According to Wiebers, every Pete Lien & Sons site gathers each month to discuss a different topic. Most of the topics are basic, ranging from miners’ rights to changes within the mine. But there are a number of topics that touch upon areas that affect employees in a more day-to-day sense, she says.

“We do blind spot training,” says Wiebers, who’s been with Pete Lien & Sons for about nine years. “That’s more interactive, getting the guys out in the field and showing them exactly what a loader operator can see. We have them climb in the loader, because they’re not typically the person in the loader. They get a feel for their field of vision.”

Wiebers says the training sessions were relatively quiet the first year Pete Lien & Sons hosted them. A number of employees opened up more in year two, though.

“The dialogue is much more open,” she says. “Some of the sites’ training sessions run over an hour because they get into conversations.”

Trainers have even used incidents that occurred within their sites as opportunities to have safety discussions.

“We have a lot of mobile equipment and trucks on the road,” Wiebers says. “Sometimes a fender bender of some sort can occur. We’ll typically ask the driver if they’re willing to get up and discuss what happened, how it happened, what may have influenced them to handle the situation differently. Those are some of the training sessions that run long because you’ll have some of the more experienced drivers talking. You’ll have less experienced drivers asking questions.”

Some safety trainers have different approaches. For example, Brian Tideman, a safety trainer who is the division manager at Pete Lien & Sons in Fort Collins, Colo., will pitch a safety-training topic a week in advance and ask his employees to attend the meeting with a related share.

“That gives his group some time to think about it to open up the conversation a little bit more,” Wiebers says.

Before the program was implemented, Pete Lien & Sons dedicated four days of the winter holiday break to safety training at the South Dakota School of Mines. One-quarter of the operation’s team would attend each day of that stretch. Pete Lien & Sons trained its employees that way for more than a decade, Wiebers says.

According to her, the South Dakota School of Mines served as a good model to customize its own program. Pete Lien & Sons, which has more than 50 properties – including at least 20 that are active at one time – still leans on the school for a number of its MSHA requirements. But bringing the training in house makes safety a more year-round conversation, Wiebers says.

“I think it’s an improvement,” she says. “It’s harder to manage from a time aspect when you’re trying to fit it in with operations, but it is more work to get it sorted out and manage shift work. We’ve had to do some scheduling around that.”

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or

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