Sitka’s New Mentorship Program Reinforces Culture of Safety


Maintenance personnel routinely rely on an array of personal protective equipment to keep them safe – from hard hats to harnesses.

Katy Kildee, SCA media intern

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News Release Date: July 1, 2014

By Michael Hess, Park Ranger, Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical Park, AK -- Luke Skywalker had Obi-Wan Kenobi as a mentor. Henry David Thoreau had Ralph Waldo Emerson. Since May, new park employees at Sitka National Historical Park have their own mentors as part of the "Safety Buddies" program.

The Safety Buddies Program paired fifteen new and returning park employees and volunteers with experienced staff who serve as their safety mentors. As soon as new employees arrive their supervisors assign them a mentor. Mentors meet with their mentees in the workplace to identify potential hazards and discuss best practices for safe operations. Devised by Sitka NHP Superintendent Mary A. Miller last month, the program reinforces the culture of safety to employees new to the park – and educates employees new to the workforce.

Our first-time Sitka employees, especially those new to the workforce, may never have been exposed to a safety culture," said Superintendent Miller. "We want those Safety Buddy discussions to happen before a new employee makes a poor safety decision."

"There's no job that's so important that we can't do it safely," Trainor said, reciting an old safety motto. Pairing mentors with mentees from other departments, the Safety Buddies not only opens new channels of communication between new and permanent staff, but also across departments.

"It's been nice having Mike as my mentor. It seems like interpretive staff can learn a few things from the maintenance community," Neighbors said, conceding that she felt as though interpretive and administrative staff often encounter less-apparent workplace hazards than maintenance staff.

For administrative and interpretive personnel there exist no fewer workplace hazards than maintenance, just different ones. On the park's trails, uneven ground presents a tripping hazard, and Alaska's wildlife is also cause for caution. In the office environment, rangers and volunteers often use step ladders, laminators, and blades. Though these hazards might seem minor, Superintendent Miller emphasizes that no hazard is too small to correct, point out to a supervisor, or mention in the newly instated Safety Intervention Log.

Mentees who uncover safety concerns can tell mentors in their weekly meetings – and also collaboratively with the entire park staff in the new "Safety Intervention Log." The Safety Intervention log is a challenge by Superintendent Miller to staff to be proactive in actually taking action to make a the workplace safer."My challenge to staff is to not just talk about safety, but also transform their training into action," said Superintendent Miller. Since its inception a month ago, park staff documented 21 safety interventions and suggestions – many of which were recorded by interpretive staff.

In one instance, a ranger suggested wearing gloves while counting the money from the park's self-pay boxes following documented cases of the highly contagious foodborne Norovirus on a cruise ship visiting Sitka.

Though fully implemented before Director Jarvis' June safety memo, the Safety Buddies program echoes its key points. By June, Superintendent Miller had already asked her staff to review all park operations– both the dynamic and the mundane – for safety. "When the Sitka management team reviewed the memo, the staff's conclusion was that the park had already undertaken most of the safety recommendations contained in the memo, and much more," said Superintendent Miller.

Safety Buddies is just the newest program in Sitka NHP's staff education and training program. All staff participate in annual safety training relevant to their career field. Weekly squad and section meetings lead with a "Safety Minute." Each of these programs reinforce the park's culture of safety, empower and expect staff members to stop their work if safety is in question, and create an open forum to discuss safety concerns."Our definition of success starts with keeping safe," said Superintendent Miller.

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