Safety Training Testing And Record Keeping All Online

June 5, 2002
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GRAND HAVEN — Asked what the biggest item in most manufacturing plant safety offices might be, most of us probably would bet that it is the gurney — or perhaps the nest of oxygen tanks.

We'd lose.

Chuck Skalsky and Rob Torrey, the owners of Safety Matters, say the biggest thing in nearly any industrial safety office is the steadily growing cluster of file cabinets.

And while their firm can't eliminate the cabinets that already exist, Skalsky and Torrey say their firm probably can save any company, large or small, from the necessity of hauling in any more filing space.

Beyond that, the two men — who boast a combined 35 years in safety and health management — assert they can save industrial firms of all sizes a great deal of money by preventing injuries while doing the requisite training and administration far more cheaply than currently is the case.

The pair, who came out of the pulp paper industry, established Safety Matters five years ago as a consulting firm to help manufacturers comply with federal and Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration (MIOSHA) requirements.

And just after the first of the year, they launched a subscription-based Internet site on which the bulk of workers not only can train and be tested, but which also records and maintains the workers' training and compliance data.

The two men told the Business Journal they spent a year adapting their 13-part curriculum to the Net. The courses cover standard industrial hazard prevention subjects from hazard communication and personal protective equipment to fall prevention and lockout, tag-out control of hazardous energy sources.

The firm also is experienced in custom designing training for plant-specific hazards. "And we do it for no extra cost," Torrey said.

"Now, there are some other online training programs," Skalsky said, "but this one is unique right now. It's designed for workers who probably don't have a computer at home and who aren't familiar with computers. As far as I'm aware, it's the only program of its sort around right now."

He and Torrey grin when remembering the challenges of getting software engineers to simplify the programming of esafetyonline.com to that extent.

"But we stuck to it," Torrey said, "because we wanted something that wouldn't take any training at all for a guy off the plant floor to operate."

Skalsky said Safety Matters is aware of a similar program covering much the same material. "And it's a good program, good training. But it takes a full-time person almost three months to train everybody to use it."

Currently, the cost of a subscription is $32 per year, per employee.

"This is a very reasonable price," Skalsky said, "especially when you consider the administrative end of it. Our server stores the training record of every worker, the scores on every one of his tests, and it's all instantly available online for the MIOSHA inspectors or if you need it for litigation or workers' comp hearings or any other legal matter."

Both men said that one of the biggest savings in online training is that it can occur during production downtime on any shift.

"I don't care what kind of operation it is," Skalsky, "there's always a time when you're cleaning machinery or doing maintenance or upgrades that an operator has nothing to do.

"Well, instead of him just standing there, you just tell him, 'OK, why don't you get on the computer and do your next month of training?' That way you don't have to call him in when he's off work and train him at time-and-a-half."

Because of this kind of flexibility, he said, online training also normally obviates the scheduling complications of getting workers together into a training room. It also means the safety department doesn't have staffs who are zombie-eyed because they had to run training from midnight to 2 a.m.

"There still are times and some subjects," Skalsky said, "when you need a lecturer and a classroom. But for most of this material, it can be done by the employees on the Net."

The firm has three subscribers at this point but declined to identify them beyond saying that one is a very large employer and the other two are of modest size. Torrey and Skalsky say they have six other current prospects, two of whom they describe as very large employers.

The only important sales objection Safety Matters has encountered so far, Skalsky said, is the fear that some workers will use the training as a way to do some Web surfing at company expense.

"We've been able to show them that some very inexpensive software can lock out certain subjects, or indeed everything but the training."

Both men stress that they're eager to get large subscribers, but they also believe smaller companies probably need the service more.

"The problem for so many small firms," Skalsky said, "is that they just don't have the time or resources to keep up with the changes in regulations. Some of them don't even do the training. We are a true solution for them.

"Because if they're not doing training or keeping their records up and an accident happens, they are so vulnerable from so many angles."

Torrey said, "It's sort of that deal that you can pay us now or pay somebody else a lot more later in fines and damages."

Whether the subscriber is large or small, the two men advise that esafetyonline's training material is perishable and the process of keeping it up to date is constant.

"And it's included in the subscription price," Skalsky said.

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