Effective employee training is key to the success of every sports facility, with the safety of participants, attendees, media, vendors and staff the top priority. The importance of a well-trained staff is reflected in the efficiency of the field management program, no matter how large or small the facility. Still, the larger the facility, the broader the range of venues it encompasses, and the greater the number of events held increases the scope of training required and the complexity of coordinating it.

Pruning of shrubs, hedges and container plantings is handled by the turf and grounds department staff. Contractors usedfor specialized work, such as tree trimming, are trained, equipped and certified for those tasks.

I’m vice president of operations for The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., a 125-acre multifacility development. We serve professional, international, collegiate and youth athletes in a range of sports. We’ve also hosted numerous other events, including ESPN’s X Games and major concerts, and served as the shooting site for TV shows, commercials and movies.

At first, I viewed training as necessary, but time-consuming, with a lower priority than direct, field-related tasks. I soon realized the importance of training to teach and reinforce proper operating procedures. Little mistakes made by cutting corners to save minutes, such as not checking hydraulic hoses on equipment or failing to allow adequate set up time when gluing irrigation pipe, could turn into hours of labor for repairs and do-overs. Even a minor injury caused concern, reduced labor availability and required considerable paperwork. All that impacts the budget. My view of the importance of training quickly changed, and I saw it as essential to getting the job done, both safely and right, the first time. Shaun Ilten, turf and grounds manager, became my go-to guy, interacting effectively at all levels and leading by example.

The big picture

I oversee the in-house turf and grounds, housekeeping, engineering, security and operations departments. The engineering department includes those involved with all electrical, HVAC and general maintenances of our facilities. Their training is conducted through their union, with safety meetings held every week. Training for the other departments is provided in-house or through certified outside contractors.

My goal throughout our operations is to eliminate all excuses so that no incidents or accidents occur because individuals were not properly trained or equipped. That means giving all departments the support they need to do the job right without compromising safety.

Once each year I conduct a joint, general safety training session for all the departments I supervise. It covers the basics of safety all personnel must know from how to determine what items to lift individually and when to request assistance and how to lift correctly to how to go up and down a ladder.

Our training also covers basic, companywide policies all employees need to follow when working at a facility that is always in the public eye. I emphasize that everyone is part of the safety police. If there’s considerable trash or a hazardous situation, like water on concrete, they need to contact housekeeping. If they’re not radio equipped, they’re instructed to immediately connect with someone who is, report what the situation is and where it is located. My goal is for practices like these to become second nature.

For employees that will be working outdoors, we review procedures for working in less than ideal conditions. Generally, heat is the primary factor here, and we always have ample water and sport drinks available. We discuss what constitutes a reportable injury and the procedures to follow to report it. A bee sting or becoming light-headed when working in the heat requires a visit to the doctor or a health clinic. For all personnel, any work-related doctor or health clinic visit, any incident that draws blood, and any accident that causes injury or property damage must be documented and the report retained by human resources (HR).

More specialized training is targeted to individual personnel. All of our lighting work is done in-house. Anyone walking up on the catwalk must wear the harness and follow all rules and regulations. Anyone riding in baskets suspended above 8 feet must have the proper rigging. No one is allowed to go up in lifts or booms or on ladders if the wind speed is over 20 mph.

All employees that use forklifts must go through a training course and pass testing to become certified operators. Our equipment manager, Jesse Zavala, has become a certified, OSHA-approved training instructor for this through OSTS, Inc., and conducts the training on-site. If the employee fails, they must take the training again and retest. Once they pass, they are certified for two years through OSHA.

We’ve devised a similar training course and testing procedures for employees that drive utility vehicles. Part of that involves working around traffic, such as maneuvering through a crowded parking lot with game-time traffic and proper loading for transport. We emphasize and insist on passenger safety. Everyone from the top down knows that anything that compromises safety, even just once, won’t cut it here.

Proper handling of irrigation system components isimportant at a public facility, especially when recycledwater is used on the premises. The Home Depot Centerhas two turf and grounds staff members certified throughthe Irrigation Association.

Turf and grounds

Like me, Shaun is a big proponent of learning by doing for on-field maintenance procedures, primarily starting new employees with one-on-one demonstrations, and then teaming them with an experienced staff member to put what they’ve learned into practice.

Having previously been in Shaun’s position is a benefit because I know the challenges the turf and grounds department faces and what he’ll need to meet them. Shaun says, “That includes the flexibility to fine-tune our equipment training programs to the machines we use. When our department has a new employee, Jesse and I go over every single piece of equipment with them, from string trimmers to mowers and chain saws, instructing them on how to use it and clean it properly. We’ll show them, and then watch them in operation. Depending on their skill level and how comfortable they feel with a machine, we’ll take one of three steps. We may schedule them for further training on that unit; or allow them to operate it only with our direct supervision until they are ready to prove competency; or, put them through testing to demonstrate their competency. Once they are trained and have proved competency, we have them sign off on that machine, and Jesse and I also both sign off verifying that. That documentation goes into their file with HR.”

Other guidelines on safety beyond basic equipment operation are included in the training and strictly enforced. Shaun says, “Whenever a piece of equipment will be connected to a tractor or other operating unit, two people must be there. We don’t want someone alone on a field, trapped between two pieces of equipment. We have a steep berm at the main stadium that we only allow to be mowed with two employees on hand and a forklift anchoring the 52-inch mower.”

Precautions are also in place to prevent operation of problem equipment. Shaun says, “When Jesse or the manager of our engineering department are alerted to an equipment problem or identify it themselves, they’ll tag out that piece of equipment as inoperable or unsafe, securing it with a cable and lock that only the two of them can unlock. That prevents further equipment damage or potential injury to an operator unaware of a hidden problem.”

All of the turf and grounds staff are trained on pesticide use in February of each year, whether they will be applying them or not, and even if they have taken the training before. Shaun says, “We want everyone to be aware of the potential danger involved and work safely.” He brings in an outside contractor, Kelly Parkins, Parkins & Associates, to conduct the sessions. Parkins is an instructor at Cal Poly Pomona, a licensed pest control advisor and a state-certified trainer for the safe handling of pesticides. Shaun says, “The training covers everything from the proper attire to what each product does, how to use it, how to store it and how to discard the containers.”

The Home Depot Center has several employees from diverse backgrounds, and in some cases, English is not a first language. Therefore, all training sessions are offered in both English and Spanish.

Training for on-field maintenance procedures starts with one-on-one demonstrations, then teaming with an experiencedstaff member to put what’s been learned to practice with supervision prior to individual assignments.

Shaun conducts safety training sessions for all staff every four to six weeks. The topics vary, but all serve as continuing reminders to keep safety first. He says, “All attendees are required to sign off that they’ve received this training, too, so they know how important it is that they understand everything that’s covered and make sure they’re following safe procedures.”

Beyond the staff

I also oversee our concessionaires. Their operations could create hazardous situations in numerous areas, such as leaks in beverage lines or ice chests, excess heat or fires and the inevitable spills. We’ve really stressed proper operations and safety and monitor their performance.

I interact with our teams and other facility users, including those doing filming, as they plan activities here, which sometimes requires changes in planning because of potential safety concerns. Some of our biggest challenges are with outside vendors that provide supplies or setup or takedown services for these and other events. Many would prefer to do things the fastest way rather than the safest way, so we need to enforce the rules.

Every employee is trained on proper operation of equipment and must demonstrate proficiency with it prior to on-field use.

We use outside contractors for much of the specialized work in areas, such as structural building detailing, fire safety reviews, rodent control and tree trimming. We consider using professionals that are trained, equipped and certified for these tasks as one more step in our commitment to safety.

In all these situations, part of every contract includes a section requiring that safe operating procedures be used. They do sign off on that, and we retain that paper trail. Still, everyone that steps on the property is ultimately our concern. I encourage Shaun and all of our managers to adopt a procedure I use myself – the quick, unexpected pop-in at any time, including after hours and on weekends – to make sure the rules are being followed and no corners are cut. As publicly used facilities, if a situation would occur, whether we’re at fault or not, many times the perception would be that we were at fault and, in the world of public relations, perception is everything.

Kyle Waters is vice president of operations for the multisport Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.