my worker does not suppose we’re doing sufficient about bears at work — Ask a Supervisor


A reader writes:

Okay, I’m going to sound like a wierd Canadian lumberjack stereotype right here, however I had a query come up in my office about bear security and when it’s affordable to refuse work in bear nation for occupational well being and security causes. The protection hazard is “potential bear encounters” however I really feel just like the logic of different office well being and security and group dynamics also needs to apply.

I work in a pure conservation space. My group of seasonal employees does a few of their work open air in a campground, working with the general public. All the employees dwell on web site within the park or close by. Black bears are frequent on this space. My group provides bear security talks to guests as part of their duties, so they’re very conscious of the sorts of issues they need to do to forestall bear encounters, and know the steps they need to take if they really do encounter a bear. Bear assaults are extraordinarily uncommon – often as soon as the bear and human discover one another, one or the opposite retreats with no points. Generally we’ve got to posture a bit, or get right into a constructing or a piece car. Bear encounters are a frequent a part of life right here throughout our operational season. I in all probability see them twice per week, however virtually by no means in tremendous shut proximity or in a harmful means. They steadily wander by residential areas, together with close to employees housing and customer cabins. For those who’re conscious of them and know what to do, they aren’t thought-about any extra of a hazard than, say, being conscious of car visitors and ensuring to remain protected round motor autos.

This previous summer season, as part of normal security provides, like our two-way radios and sunscreen, I bought two canisters of bear spray for my group, and stated that if members of my group wished to hold it when out within the park on work enterprise, they had been obtainable as an non-obligatory instrument. Bear spray, for the uninitiated, is pepper spray for bears. If a bear is charging you or received’t offer you area, you be sure that the wind isn’t blowing into your face after which spray it at them. It’s a non-lethal deterrent and it’s solely deployed as a final resort. I’ve solely had to make use of bear spray as soon as, whereas mountain climbing on my day without work, in almost 10 years. Different groups at my web site who work in several jobs within the backcountry carry it as part of their package as a result of they’re extra remoted, and I assumed it could be non-obligatory factor for my employees to hold – additionally to set instance for guests getting down to go for hikes within the woods.

One employees member, once they heard that I had made bear spray obtainable to our group, stated that we wanted “intensive” bear security coaching and that what I had supplied was not ample to maintain them protected from bears whereas they had been on responsibility. This individual had apparently acquired a half-day workshop at a earlier job with a distinct group and one other web site and was anticipating the identical right here. It apparently concerned truly deploying some form of deactivated spray. The factor is, the one different formal bear security coaching my web site provides for workers are for many who haze drawback bears out of city and actively entice and relocate them. Getting that shut and private with the bears is way and above what’s required of my employees and that coaching isn’t one thing that the opposite group can take the time to steer for my group. Basically, it’s not a requirement of their function. Once I spoke with the customer security officer at my office, they stated that studying the directions on the canister and watching the academic video on the producer’s web site needs to be ample for the form of work my group does, particularly as my employees are educated to ship bear security messaging to guests. That’s what different groups who work within the backcountry who carry bear spray do. We don’t have a particular documented work apply from the occupational well being and security committee for bear encounters, however we do have one for if employees are actively working with wildlife (once more, like relocating bears) which isn’t what my employees do.

Once I got here again to my employees member with this info, they had been nonetheless very dissatisfied, and introduced in entrance of the entire group that none of them ought to enter the campground until that they had intensive security coaching in bear spray. I did say that it was not a requirement to hold or use bear spray, so in the event that they weren’t snug with it they didn’t have to hold it and may observe the opposite security protocols as regular (concentrate on your environment and escape routes, apply prevention, carry a radio for communication). They countered that carrying bear spray was obligatory when working outdoors on web site for “security causes.” It virtually acquired to the purpose of a refusal to work – however ultimately, I hadn’t even assigned this employees member the shifts that might take them into the campground so the grievance fizzled.

I used to be a bit baffled by what my employees member was asking me. If this individual is saying that it’s actively unsafe for workers members to enter the campground with out bear spray and “intensive” coaching … then following that logic, wouldn’t it not be thought-about unsafe for any folks, together with janitorial employees and members of the general public, to enter the campground there with out the identical instruments and coaching? Ought to we evacuate the campground? Ought to I simply … not present bear spray as an choice for my employees to hold? However no one else on the group had any objections to carrying bear spray or working open air. Spending time outdoors on-site is a requirement of the job and that can all the time carry with it the potential for animal encounters (bear, deer, elk, wolves).

I do know that is an excessive instance, however I’m scuffling with what to do ought to this individual come again subsequent season and have the identical grievance. Bear encounters are a traditional a part of residing and dealing on this area – and this individual is a long-time resident and to my information doesn’t personal bear spray or carry it of their off hours. Bears are simply as more likely to stroll by their entrance yard as they’re to be in our outside office. What occurs once I because the employer present security instruments and coaching that the occupational well being and security committee and our park’s customer security officer contemplate ample and my employees member nonetheless says it’s not sufficient?

I can’t communicate to bear security in any respect, however I can speak about the best way to method this from a administration perspective basically — with the caveat that there is perhaps one thing particular to bears that I don’t know however you’d must consider.

From a strictly administration standpoint, I’d argue that you’ll want to do two issues:

First, reality-check your method with somebody who is a bear skilled. Do they agree with the coaching and assist you’re offering to maintain workers protected? In that case, nice. (That is perhaps precisely what you probably did while you checked along with your customer security officer, assuming that individual does certainly have experience in bear security.) For the sake of answering the remainder of your letter, I’m going to imagine that you simply’ve carried out this step and gotten affirmation that you simply’re utilizing the most effective practices to maintain folks protected.

The second step is a really up-front, clear dialog along with your involved worker in the event that they find yourself eager to return subsequent season. Earlier than hiring them again, it’s best to increase this! You may say, “I do know you had considerations final 12 months about bear spray coaching. I sought recommendation from (insert specifics right here) they usually’ve confirmed we’re utilizing finest practices for the kind of work we do and the bear publicity we’ve got in our work. They didn’t advocate bear spray coaching, and it’s not one thing we’re at present in a position to supply. Figuring out that, will you be snug with the expectations of the job? If not, I actually perceive. I wish to be sure that we kind this out up-front so that you’re not in a state of affairs you’re not snug in.”

But additionally … are there any inventive methods to supply this individual the coaching they need? Whereas the group doing that extra coaching doesn’t have the time to supply it to your group too, might this worker (or different group members) sit on in a coaching the opposite group is already doing for themselves? Or if there aren’t different native assets for coaching, are there on-line trainings you would make obtainable in case your group members need it? I get that you simply’re saying it’s pointless for his or her jobs, but when you may make folks really feel safer at work with only a bit extra effort (or cash), it’s price doing.

However, it additionally sounds attainable that this individual was revealing a elementary lack of alignment with the work you do. My lack of bear information makes it exhausting for me to evaluate that with any confidence, however I do surprise if that was a part of what occurred final summer season. Possibly it wasn’t! And definitely it’s affordable for folks to wish to really feel protected performing their jobs. And whereas I get your level that there are others on the campground with out this coaching (janitors, members of the general public) and {that a} bear is simply as more likely to stroll by somebody’s entrance yard as by your campground, I do suppose it’s totally different while you’re in knowledgeable function the place you might be chargeable for different folks’s security. So from that perspective, your group member may not have been solely off-base.

Finally, although, all you’ll be able to actually do is to (a) affirm that your practices are protected and those really useful, (b) see if there are life like methods to supply any further coaching anyway, after which (c) be up-front with workers and potential workers about what you’ll be able to and may’t supply, so that they have a clear-eyed view of what they’d be signing on for and may determine if it really works for them or not.

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