From warehouses to homes: How Best Buy Canada keeps employees safe

Why safety leader thinks 'stickiness' in training is key in high turnover workforce

From warehouses to homes: How Best Buy Canada keeps employees safe

Canada’s largest consumer electronics retailer employs more than 12,000 workers across the country, and as Best Buy Canada’s senior manager for occupational health and safety, it’s Nikhil Rattan’s job to keep them safe. His biggest challenge is training, in every facet of the company’s operations.

“We have a very young workforce. Most of our workforce is under the age of 40. We also have a lot of seasonal workers. So, managing the risks, when it comes to this kind of a group that is serving the public, that is really where most of our challenges lie,” says Rattan, who faces those hurdles in the warehouse and in the field.

Inside the warehouse

Working in a warehouse poses many hazards, and the products at Best Buy can be big, like 85-inch televisions, which seem to get larger every year. Rattan says they’re always looking for ways to do the job safer.

“One is improving the mechanization of how we handle these televisions,” says Rattan.

Forklifts, which require rigorous training and certifications, are used regularly along with standard lift trucks. Rattan says the company is exploring new alternatives to automate the moving and lifting of products and reduce the instances of manual handling. “When we talk about manual handling, it becomes really precarious work,” says Rattan.

But sometimes human strength is the only way to move that massive rectangular box. That’s why Rattan says they teach their employees how to use their muscles, “really working on going back to good ergonomic lifting practices and stretching exercises.”

Workers learn to operate machinery and utilize their bodies to move heavy items around a warehouse, but then they move on to other jobs and careers. High turnover requires ongoing training initiatives.

Rattan says the company recently moved to an in-house training model, with internal trainers who can create new operators.

He calls the shift a big victory, “because when you have internal people training your newcomers and your existing operators when they're getting recertified, there is a lot more buy-in. There is a lot more connection and stickiness in their learning.”

Geek Squad

A newer aspect of the company’s business that is expanding is the field operations, which is commonly referred to as the Geek Squad. These are the workers who will come to your home, hook up all your electronic devices, and teach you how to properly use them.

Many Best Buy customers love the service, and while Rattan is excited to see it grow, it also comes with a unique set of safety concerns. They’re driving, working inside homes, and lifting and mounting heavy products.

“This presents a very unique challenge in terms of how do you prepare and create plans and procedures that provide a baseline in terms of safety?”

Rattan says one technology the company has integrated is telematics. “That's really helped us elevate our driving…and make sure that our people are driving safely and are operating within the rules of the road.”

Rattan has also hit the road himself, to see exactly what kind of safety hazards Geek Squad members are encountering while mounting that 85-inch flat screen above the fireplace. He’s taken notes and created a training document, but because the workforce is so vast and spread out, he must create a way to communicate the best practices to those field workers.

“Because we don't have the resources to go train people individually, how do we make it into engaging training to be able to train these field teams across the country?” An effort still in progress.

Creating a safety-first culture

Whether inside a warehouse, on the showroom floor, or out in the field, Rattan wants the Best Buy Canada workforce to feel empowered to speak up when they see something potentially dangerous.

He recognizes creating a culture of safety is common in occupational health and safety theory but putting it into practice is easier said than done. “There are a lot of targets to hit in terms of the operation. It's important to engage with those folks to really drive that mindset.”

Sometimes it’s the people doing the work who are best suited to find the hazards, and Rattan wants to hear from them, “voice that opinion to their leader, and if need be, to the safety team.”

He hopes feeling heard, respected, and safe, will help retain that younger work force a little longer.