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Spring training for tent crews

Features, Management | April 1, 2011 | By:

Ensure that every member of your team is ready for the high season.

Most tent renters rely on a core team of experienced installers who work year-round, or at least come back year after year, depending on the seasonality of a particular location. But when March or April rolls around, there are likely to be some new recruits among a crew, with even more (or replacement) crew members added at various times throughout the summer. All these people need to be trained.

Training is more challenging than it used to be too. Tents are becoming larger and more complex, requiring specialized knowledge to erect and more awareness among crew members of site safety practices.

OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] would put many of today’s tent installations in the same category as they would a construction site,” says Mike Tharpe, sales and marketing director for TopTec Event Tents, Moore, S.C.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) required for construction sites is one of the main training challenges crew foremen face. Many tent renters report that no matter how often crew members are reminded to wear work boots and hard hats, they seem to backslide. Here are some actions that tent rental companies take to ensure that installers are up to speed on site safety requirements—and that the information sinks in.

From Day 1

Safety training is critical, from both employee wellness and employer liability standpoints. That’s why most companies include the training in their new employee orientation, says Ken Keberle, director of quality, safety and compliance at Karl’s Event Rental, Oak Creek, Wis.

“Everybody you bring on gets the same level of basic knowledge right away: this is how to behave on the jobsite, this is what our company policies are,” he says.

Training should be repeated throughout the season, lest employees become careless, says Brian Richardson, president of L&A Tent Rentals Inc. and Princeton Sailcloth Tents, Hamilton, N.J.

“The other day we were taking down a structure in our parking lot, and two guys didn’t have hard hats,” he says. “They’ve been with me a long time, and they know better, but they said, ‘Oh, we were only going to be five minutes.’ It’s the same thing with ear protection. We’ll be driving stakes using pneumatic hammers, and guys will say, ‘I left them in the truck. I was only going to put 10 stakes in.’”

These are examples of why all safety procedures should be based on written policies, Richardson says. If employees flout the rules, they can be reminded that they signed a document saying they understood the policy.

For training beyond in-house staff, companies can turn to manufacturers that offer training sessions for customers. The main focus of TopTec’s training program is PPE—hard hats, safety shoes and eye and hearing protection.

“The other thing we really focus on is awareness of what’s above you, below you and around you,” he says. “I have yet to find somebody who’s able to judge the height of a power line.”

One of the benefits of training is that it gives crew members the confidence to be assertive with clients. For example, if a customer ask them to stake a structure in an area where underground power lines haven’t been marked, they can explain why they can’t do that.

On the job

Some aspects of installation can be taught in a classroom. But for the most part, crew members learn by doing.

“There’s nothing in a classroom that shows people how to swing a sledgehammer or run a Skil® saw,” Keberle points out. “There’s a right way and a wrong way to do all these things—how to stand so you’re not going to nail the guy behind you, how to lift, how to use a ladder, how to lay out and assemble a tent.”

At Stamford Tent & Event Services, Stamford, Conn., new hires are given a few days of training before going out in the field if they are hired early enough in the season, says vice president and co-owner Tim Frost.

“Otherwise, they’re buddied up to senior people who will then help train them to get them oriented during their first week or two,” he says.

Sales staff, too, can benefit from spending time in safety seminars and on jobsites.

“If salespeople have been trained in installation, they will notice if there are any overhead obstructions, ground-level obstructions or difficulties getting into the jobsite,” Tharpe explains. “If [installers] are going to have to carry everything 300 feet down a hill, it adds to the cost of the job. If the installers won’t be able to anchor and will have to use weights, it adds to the cost of the job.”

Back to school

Every quarter or so, Frost gives his employees an educational boost.

“We focus a lot on teamwork, because in the world of tents, you’re doing a lot of long-item lifting—poles, rolls of carpet, planks, boards,” he says. “It takes some practice and skill to be able to pull that off safely. So we practice ‘1, 2, 3, lift.’”

Frost also relies on outside resources. Stamford owns a number of forklifts and a piece of high-reach machinery, so for some quarterly training meetings, the company brings in trainers from the equipment manufacturers to certify the employees.

Organizations such as Tent Rental Division of IFAI offer safety, forklift, tent installation and other classes at regional and national meetings, bringing together installers with different experiences and skill levels. Tharpe says he has found that installers learn best when they are able to network with colleagues from different companies.

“You should hear some of the questions they ask,” he says. “Sometimes they learn just as much after a class as they do during a class. Our goal is always to get people to talk among themselves.”

Based in Georgia, Jamie Swedberg is a freelance writer specializing in the specialty fabrics industry since 1997.

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