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Keeping virtual H&S training real for new hires

Keeping virtual H&S training real for new hires

Andrew Peller Limited, one of Canada's largest and most successful winemakers, was in the middle of a large iCloud technology investment to improve efficiency and support growth when COVID-19 hit.

"Migrating to a new system and preparing for harvest season is a huge task in itself," says Lynne Matsell, the company's EHS advisor. "We then had to pivot and make changes to keep our employees healthy and the business running at a time when the COVID situation was very fluid."

These changes included developing COVID-19 safety plans at multiple sites across Canada and making the company's onboarding program and ongoing health and safety training almost entirely virtual.

The winemaker operates eight estate properties (with restaurants, patios, tours, tastings and events), five production facilities, and 107 retail locations. It produces premium brands with familiar names like Peller Estates, Trius, Hillebrand, Gretzky, Sandhill and Red Rooster, among other products.

Teammates number between 1,200 and 1,400, depending on the season. "We get an uptick in the fall when we hire harvest workers to process the grapes and again in the spring as we prepare for seasonal visitors to our estate properties," says Lynne.

During the pandemic, employee numbers have remained constant. Some employees work remotely. Others who have shifted to jobs in the increasingly busy distribution centre or remained at their regular location follow stringent COVID-19 protocols. New employees continue to be hired in the busy times - alcoholic beverage manufacturing is considered an essential service during the pandemic. All new hires, re-hires and transferred employees must take health and safety training, even if they have taken it in the past.

Going virtual

So that Andrew Peller Ltd. could continue delivering health and safety training during the pandemic, the company shifted to virtual onboarding and training. For example, Danielle Ableman, the company's Talent Program Manager, now delivers a 90-minute interactive onboarding session via Zoom to give new employees an understanding of the company's rich history, diverse business activity, vision and strategic pillars, and health and safety philosophy.

"Health and safety is a critical part of the onboarding program," says Lynne. "It demonstrates to new employees how important their safety, and that of their co-workers, is to the overall business. Caring for each other is an important part of our culture."

Health and safety training comes right after the onboarding session. Before the pandemic, only 25% of this training was delivered online. Now, training for new hires working remotely is 100% virtual. Onsite workers receive training that's 50% virtual.

Both groups of workers take the same basic training, says Lynne, including mandatory health and safety awareness training, WHMIS, hazard identification and control, emergency procedures, COVID-19 safety protocols, etc. Supervisors deliver hazard-specific training to onsite employees in person, following COVID protocols.

Some of the hazards faced by employees who process grapes and juice include:

  • access to moving equipment such as forklifts
  • truck traffic
  • confined spaces
  • cold and wet conditions

To enable practical and safe on-site training, the company is piloting the use of radioed headsets. The headsets help overcome potential communication barriers created by wearing masks and maintaining a safe physical distance.

Danielle is a big fan of the company's virtual approach to onboarding and H&S training. "It's more efficient, leaner, and less time consuming."

Supporting virtual training with real-world connections

For your new hires, pair virtual health and safety training with real-world connections to people who can answer questions and provide support. Here are some best practices:

  • Ask a seasoned co-worker to be an online buddy to your new hire.
  • Connect new hires with joint health and safety committee members.
  • Offer regular personal development sessions, such as resiliency training.
  • Ensure team leaders or supervisors check in with their new hires regularly.
  • Hold virtual and interactive team meetings and safety talks regularly.
  • Advise new hires on how to reach your EAP provider for free, confidential support.

How WSPS can help