my employee doesn’t think we’re doing enough about bears at work

A reader writes:

Okay, I’m going to sound like a strange Canadian lumberjack stereotype here, but I had a question come up in my workplace about bear safety and when it’s reasonable to refuse work in bear country for occupational health and safety reasons. The safety hazard is “potential bear encounters” but I feel like the logic of other workplace health and safety and team dynamics should also apply.

I work in a natural conservation area. My team of seasonal staff does some of their work outdoors in a campground, working with the public. All of the staff live on site in the park or nearby. Black bears are common in this area. My team gives bear safety talks to visitors as a part of their duties, so they are very aware of the kinds of things they should do to prevent bear encounters, and know the steps they should take if they actually do encounter a bear. Bear attacks are extremely rare – usually once the bear and human notice each other, one or the other retreats with no issues. Sometimes we have to posture a bit, or get into a building or a work vehicle. Bear encounters are a frequent part of life here during our operational season. I probably see them twice a week, but almost never in super close proximity or in a dangerous way. They frequently wander through residential areas, including near staff housing and visitor cabins. If you’re aware of them and know what to do, they aren’t considered any more of a danger than, say, being aware of vehicle traffic and making sure to stay safe around motor vehicles.

This past summer, as a part of general safety supplies, like our two-way radios and sunscreen, I purchased two canisters of bear spray for my team, and said that if members of my team wanted to carry it when out in the park on work business, they were available as an optional tool. Bear spray, for the uninitiated, is pepper spray for bears. If a bear is charging you or won’t give you space, you make sure the wind isn’t blowing into your face and then spray it at them. It’s a non-lethal deterrent and it’s only deployed as a last resort. I’ve only had to use bear spray once, while hiking on my time off, in nearly 10 years. Other teams at my site who work in different jobs in the backcountry carry it as a part of their kit because they’re more isolated, and I thought it would be a good optional thing for my staff to carry – also to set a good example for visitors setting out to go for hikes in the woods.

One staff member, when they heard that I had made bear spray available to our team, said that we needed “intensive” bear safety training and that what I had provided was not sufficient to keep them safe from bears while they were on duty. This person had apparently received a half-day workshop at a previous job with a different organization and another site and was expecting the same here. It apparently involved actually deploying some sort of deactivated spray. The thing is, the only other formal bear safety training my site offers for employees are for those who haze problem bears out of town and actively trap and relocate them. Getting that close and personal with the bears is far and above what’s required of my staff and that training is not something that the other team can take the time to lead for my team. Essentially, it’s not a requirement of their role. When I spoke with the visitor safety officer at my workplace, they said that reading the instructions on the canister and watching the instructional video on the manufacturer’s website should be sufficient for the kind of work my team does, especially as my staff are trained to deliver bear safety messaging to visitors. That’s what other teams who work in the backcountry who carry bear spray do. We do not have a specific documented work practice from the occupational health and safety committee for bear encounters, but we do have one for if staff are actively working with wildlife (again, like relocating bears) which is not what my staff do.

When I came back to my staff member with this information, they were still very dissatisfied, and announced in front of the whole team that none of them should enter the campground unless they had intensive safety training in bear spray. I did say that it was not a requirement to carry or use bear spray, so if they were not comfortable with it they didn’t have to carry it and can follow the other safety protocols as normal (be aware of your surroundings and escape routes, practice prevention, carry a radio for communication). They countered that carrying bear spray was necessary when working outside on site for “safety reasons.” It almost got to the point of a refusal to work – but in the end, I hadn’t even assigned this staff member the shifts that would take them into the campground so the complaint fizzled.

I was a bit baffled by what my staff member was asking me. If this person is saying that it’s actively unsafe for staff members to enter the campground without bear spray and “intensive” training … then following that logic, would it not be considered unsafe for any people, including janitorial staff and members of the public, to enter the campground there without the same tools and training? Should we evacuate the campground? Should I just … not provide bear spray as an option for my staff to carry? But nobody else on the team had any objections to carrying bear spray or working outdoors. Spending time outside on-site is a requirement of the job and that will always carry with it the potential for animal encounters (bear, deer, elk, wolves).

I know this is an extreme example, but I’m struggling with what to do should this person come back next season and have the same complaint. Bear encounters are a normal part of living and working in this region – and this person is a long-time resident and to my knowledge does not own bear spray or carry it in their off hours. Bears are just as likely to walk through their front yard as they are to be in our outdoor workplace. What happens when I as the employer provide safety tools and training that the occupational health and safety committee and our park’s visitor safety officer consider sufficient and my staff member still says it’s not enough?

I can’t speak to bear safety at all, but I can talk about how to approach this from a management perspective in general — with the caveat that there might be something specific to bears that I don’t know but you’d need to factor in.

From a strictly management standpoint, I’d argue that you need to do two things:

First, reality-check your approach with someone who is a bear expert. Do they agree with the training and support you’re providing to keep employees safe? If so, great. (That might be exactly what you did when you checked with your visitor safety officer, assuming that person does indeed have expertise in bear safety.) For the sake of answering the rest of your letter, I’m going to assume that you’ve done this step and gotten confirmation that you’re using the best practices to keep people safe.

The second step is a very up-front, transparent conversation with your concerned employee if they end up wanting to return next season. Before hiring them back, you should raise this! You can say, “I know you had concerns last year about bear spray training. I sought advice from (insert specifics here) and they’ve confirmed we’re using best practices for the type of work we do and the bear exposure we have in our work. They didn’t recommend bear spray training, and it’s not something we’re currently able to offer. Knowing that, will you be comfortable with the expectations of the job? If not, I certainly understand. I want to make sure we sort this out up-front so you’re not in a situation you’re not comfortable in.”

But also … are there any creative ways to offer this person the training they want? While the team doing that additional training doesn’t have the time to offer it to your team too, could this employee (or other interested team members) sit on in a training the other team is already doing for themselves? Or if there aren’t other local resources for training, are there online trainings you could make available if your team members want it? I get that you’re saying it’s unnecessary for their jobs, but if you can make people feel safer at work with just a bit more effort (or money), it’s worth doing.

On the other hand, it also sounds possible that this person was revealing a fundamental lack of alignment with the work you do. My lack of bear knowledge makes it hard for me to assess that with any confidence, but I do wonder if that was part of what happened last summer. Maybe it wasn’t! And certainly it’s reasonable for people to want to feel safe performing their jobs. And while I get your point that there are others at the campground without this training (janitors, members of the public) and that a bear is just as likely to walk through someone’s front yard as through your campground, I do think it’s different when you’re in a professional role where you are responsible for other people’s safety. So from that perspective, your team member might not have been entirely off-base.

Ultimately, though, all you can really do is to (a) confirm that your practices are safe and the ones recommended, (b) see if there are realistic ways to offer any extra training anyway, and then (c) be up-front with employees and potential employees about what you can and can’t offer, so they have a clear-eyed view of what they’d be signing on for and can decide if it works for them or not.

Read an update to this letter

{ 614 comments… read them below }

          1. SHEILA, the co-host*

            I have no bear knowledge either, but I can totally help you co-host that seminar. Totally.

          2. Pants*

            Oooh! Ooooh! I finally have knowledge!

            Bear Brown: Lay down.
            Bear Black: Fight back.
            Bear White: Say goodnight. (as in, death imminent)

              1. whingedrinking*

                Basically, although it mostly only applies when the bear isn’t already trying to kill you; it’s just that a grizzly is more likely to attack because she feels her cubs are threatened than because she wants to eat you, and playing dead shows you’re not dangerous. If a grizzly is actively stalking or, you know, mauling you, by all means yell and punch it in the nose.

                1. Green for Danger*

                  I worked with a guy whose previous job had been going into bear dens in a provincial park and counting the number of hibernating bears. They first carefully checked and darted the bears before entering the den. Last den of the day and he and his colleague used their last sedative in a den and then he crawled in to count. Then a darted bear turned over in its sleep and blocked the den’s entrance. His companion had to run the fifteen minutes back to their vehicle, get more sedative, run back and dart the bear, then my friend had to pull the unconscious bear while his colleague pushed until there was a space, my friend could wiggle out of. It took about 40 minutes and the whole time he was worried that that bear or one of the others would wake up and maul him. It was the most terrifying story that I had ever heard but my friend would tell it like it was no big deal.

              1. whingedrinking*

                Bear guy*: say hi.

                (For those who don’t get it: in the gay community, a “bear” is an older man who’s large and hairy.)

            1. Princess Sparklepony*

              Everyone always ignores the oh so dangerous Drop Bears!

              I love that someone has a problem with bear knowledge at work. This is kind of wonderful.

            2. fantomina*

              I think if a polar bear wanted to eat me, I would just let it.* I have seen too many specials about them starving to death because of climate change.

              *assuming humans are appropriately nutritional for polar bears and wouldn’t cause any problems.

            3. Lenora Rose*

              Weirdly, I read somewhere that according to northern dwelling inhabitants, the thing to do with Polar bears is dodge to YOUR right; that’s their left and most polar bears, like most humans, are right-side dominant so they’ll swipe that way first.

              Now, it’s true that MOSTLY means you live about a second

          1. Hazing Problem Bears (formerly Not teenage but still ninja turtle)*

            *absolute, sorry.

            I really that the other team’s bear hazing involves some sort of ursine fraternity.

      1. ferrina*

        I have a lack of bear knowledge…I bearly know how grizzly things are, or how polar-izing bears can be.

      2. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

        “My lack of bear knowledge makes it hard for me to assess that with any confidence” is, I believe, the best sentence Alison has ever written on this site!

    1. I am not a bear...*

      Also that she can cut though the situation specific setting and bring out principles that can be applied generally – while allowing us to read an entertaining scenario!
      Thanks, Alison!

      1. Public Safety Executive*

        Submitted before finished. Argh.

        Bear spray generally have a shelf life of five years. Standard practice for certain organizations that issue or make available this tool is to permit trainees to deploy the expired canisters in a controlled setting.

        There needs to be A LOT of space to ensure that when it is deployed that it does not end up tagging anyone in the vicinity, but it beats having someone utilizing the spray for the first time during an encounter.

        Having worked in a tangential space and from experience, introducing any tool (firearms, life safety AED, etc.), be prepared to answer very specific questions for situations where it is more likely to hit the lotto.

        People want answers and guides to almost everything and it is really difficult to train people to operate in a gray area. The culture of the organization tends to be a driver – if people are constantly told no and not empowered, they are scared to deviate.

        Good luck OP.

        1. Sloanicota*

          This was an interesting question. I camp in bear country regularly and I wouldn’t really feel comfortable carrying bear spray for the same reasons I don’t carry a weapon in my daily life even though I’m arguably at risk in the city – if I’m unfamiliar with the deployment of the spray, I will probably screw up a critical situation when I should have been 100% focused on getting out of the encounter, not “standing my ground.”

        2. Jenthar*

          Bear safety, personally and professionally is a topic near and dear to my heart. I personally know 2 people who have been attacked by bears. One was nearly fatal.

          I work in environment/biology in remote areas with bears (black and grizzly). The standard that I’ve seen for safety for these scopes (including “den sweeps”, where a biologist is literally walking around in the woods looking for bear dens) is that they have a check in system in place (very robust, think they have to check in every hour if working alone or in pairs, they are in places with ZERO cell coverage; check-ins are via satellite messengers). There is always an online bear safety training to be completed. Each team member always has bear spray.

          I have personally attended a full-day bear safety training that included mock bear encounter scenarios where each participant had a can of “dummy” (inert) practice bear spray. It was very interesting and enlightening. I have not seen this done professionally for the scopes I’ve managed. I’m pretty sure the inert canisters can be ordered online. You can (and I have) practice also with expired canisters. It’s important to do that someplace where it’s not dangerous to attract bears to, as it becomes an attractant after sprayed. Also, even when it’s expired, it’s potent – it’s the seals and propellent that expires, not the capsicum (what makes it so spicy). So, don’t get it on your hands and use safety glasses.

          I don’t think additional training is required for the job being described. I think Alison is right in suggesting you speak with your potential employee and tell them this is what’s expected, etc.

          1. Bibliothecarial*

            One of my favorite trainings at my old job was when they put us upon the parking lot with fire extinguishers and let us practice. Spraying them was a lot different than I had expected!

            1. Grandma*

              I did one of those extinguisher trainings at a school where I was a teacher. Some fire extinguishers have the nozzle attached to the canister (aim and pull the trigger), while others have the nozzle at the end of a hose that is attached to the canister by a clip (detach hose from clip, aim and pull the trigger). It was amazing to see people extinguish their shoes (forget they needed to unclip the hose to access the nozzle so it could be aimed) even after watching their co-worker do the same thing not long before their turn. If I were to need bear spray, I think I’d like to try it out first vs mistakenly spraying myself in my moment of need. I mean, have you ever fiddled with the nozzle on the can of whipped cream or the mousse can and not got it right on the first attempt?

              1. Splendid Colors*

                Yes, when I was a chemistry TA they let us put out a fire with the “expired” fire extinguishers that were going back to the company for refill. We put out some burning lighter fluid floating in a metal wash tub of water.

          2. Ursine LeGuin*

            I think it is legitimate for OP’s employee to ask for specific training on how to handle bears.

            OP argues that in-class training is unnecessary because he has only had to use bear spray once in ten years.

            But most airline cabin crew go longer than that — an entire career — without encountering a life-threatening emergency, such as deployment of oxygen masks. And yet they receive in-person training many such scenarios. We are safer and thus better off because they do.

            No one would argue that “go watch the manufacturer’s video” would be adequate training in the aviation or maritime context.

          3. Electric sheep*

            “ It’s important to do that someplace where it’s not dangerous to attract bears to, as it becomes an attractant after sprayed.”
            Oh jeez, that sounds like something people could find out the hard way

        3. Lea*

          I think wanting to at least use the bear spray once in training before potentially using it on a bear during a scary situation. Is totally reasonable?

          I got a chance to use a fire extinguisher once during training and it was helpful, seems the same thing. It’s essentially weapons training.

          It’s really weird the letter writer won’t just teach this employee how to use it.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I could imagine it being a liability issue to provide the spray or providing training on its use, TBH. In this situation it sounds like OP wants to emphasize avoiding the bears and any close encounters, not escalating them.

            1. Pennyworth*

              I’ve done EPI pen training – they have fake EPI pens. Surely there could be fake bear sprays to train with. Hands on training is much more effective that just doing what it says on the can, especially if there is a risk of spraying yourself and falling down with a face full of spray right beside a bear.

              1. whingedrinking*

                It’s not so much about the logistics of the training. It’s more that you have to consider whether you’re going to normalize what should be a rare emergency. There is some evidence to show that over-training can cause people to do dangerous stuff because they figure if things go south, they can always do emergency procedure X, or it won’t be so bad because of safeguard Y. So if bear encounters that really call for bear spray are extremely rare, but employees who carry it are less likely to take precautions to avoid those encounters, then the training could paradoxically make everyone less safe.

          2. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

            They have “taught them how to use it.” They’re not withholding any information about how to use it. It’s just spray. You read the instructions on the can (preferably before you’re faced with a bear). Practicing with an inert can would be nice, sure, but it’s not like the LW is refusing to teach anything.

              1. Pibble*

                That is the level of training that bear spray manufacturers expect you to have to use their product correctly.

        4. Distracted Librarian*

          “People want answers and guides to almost everything” – I’ve encountered this phenomenon every time I’ve been part of any kind of emergency or disaster response training. We can provide general guidance and resources, but each incident is unique, so staff will have to respond in the moment in some cases. (Recent example: an evacuation in which our usual gathering spot was part of the evacuation zone. People followed directions from emergency personnel re: where to assemble instead, but there was some consternation afterward because we didn’t assemble where we’re “supposed to.”)

          1. Public Safety Executive*

            I’ve worked in a large number of industries (libraries included – 5 Star Urban LIJ public) and literally have heard the same thing after a fire drill.

            When I was working in academia, a lot of the questions were always so literal. It makes me want to start a side business helping people understand that they don’t need permission to save their own lives.

          2. Lydia*

            This is the reason I feel compelled to read the safety card and watch the safety presentation whenever I fly. I’ve seen that presentation well over 100 times, but for whatever reason my brain tells me that I might forget something so I should watch it just in case.

            1. Another Jen*

              I actually take that moment to check two things: 1. Is this the kind of plane where the rear exits are explicitly not used in case of a water landing? and 2. How many rows are between me and the nearest exit — and the second-nearest.

              I also check for the life jacket under my seat to make sure it’s actually grab-able.

      2. Again, why is it asking again?*

        My parents (not from bear country) visited Yellowstone, bought bear spray, didn’t use it, returned it for the next tourist to use*. If random tourist can buy a bear spray and carry it around for use, it seems like some who lives and works in bear country doesn’t need a half day training to know how to use it. But I’ve never even seen bear spray so IDK.

        * I don’t know the exact details, but basically tourist if they don’t use the canister are not stuck with one when they leave the area (get on a plane home).

        1. Be Gneiss*

          I mean, you can buy a gun or a chainsaw with no training and those are much more dangerous than bear spray.

          1. Lea*

            That’s not a great thing but also if you had to use either of those for work you are going to have training on them unless your workplace is terrible

        2. Lea*

          I’m pretty sure you can’t carry bear spray on a plane and that’s also part of why people want to leave it behind

          1. Kit*

            Having witnessed the results of an aerosol can being shipped via air transport, absolutely nobody wants bear spray going on a plane!

            A customer shipped a return back to us – via air, no idea why, since we didn’t cover the expedited costs – and their shop had put a can of black spray paint inside (we knew it wasn’t ours because we never used black; our company’s signature color was safety orange!). Our shipping manager cracked the crate open and a cloud of black wafted up. Unsurprisingly, the customer was then also peeved that we could not offer credit on this return…

        3. Kali*

          When I went to Yellowstone, I “rented” a can of bear spray, because it was highly, highly encouraged to do so by the rangers, especially on certain trails. I say “rented” because I actually paid the full amount for it, but when we were done at the park, I returned it – unused – and got most of my purchase amount back, minus a fee for the rental. Clever way of doing it and to make sure people aren’t twits about spraying it.

          I will note that the rangers renting us the spray made us watch a short little video about how to use it. It stuck in my brain for the week we were there, so it was really plenty. Those things are pretty foolproof.

          I’ve been pepper sprayed, and it *sucks*. Bear spray is pepper spray on steroids, so I can only imagine how painful it is.

          I will say that I grew up in an area rife with black bear and never carried bear spray. Those bears – unless they have cubs – just run away. While I usually sympathize with people who want the utmost safety on their job site, this person may just not be cut out to be in a bear area if they’re that freaked out by the idea of encountering a bear and… what? not being sure how to use the excessively easy to use spray? that they didn’t even have before?

          1. Ursine LeGuin*

            OP’s employee is not a once-in-a-decade tourist visiting Yellowstone. He has a job that involves going out into the wilderness, so his chances of encountering a bear are higher than yours were as a tourist. He is reasonable for wanting hands-on training, as opposed to a video.

            1. Kali*

              I was largely responding to the upthread comment about someone else’s parents visiting Yellowstone, and I did live in bear country for many, many years, but okay.

              A one-time training is not going to give you muscle memory any more or less than a video. That’s why the spray is easy to use – so even someone freaking out in the face of a charging bear can manage to use it. Should they make sure people know how to use it? Yes. Does spraying a can of bear spray require “intensive training” as this employee is insisting upon? No.

    2. Myrin*

      I thought (hoped?) OP was going to be IDK an accountant from Tunisia or something who one day had an employee randomly decide that “You know what we’re not doing enough about? Bear safety!”.

      1. NotBatman*

        That would’ve been amazing. We’ve all had that one coworker who is disproportionately concerned with some extremely small detail of the job. As a definite Not A Bear Expert, I have no idea if OP is dealing with one of those or not

        1. Momma Bear*

          I read it thinking that this felt more like “this is how I did it before so this is how it should always be.” People bring ideas and baggage from their old jobs, for good or bad. If this employee is that adamant about it, they can research the cost of providing the training they had prior and it can be brought up to the decision makers or they can take it on their own. Otherwise I think it’s reasonable to either not re-hire them for the next season or hire them only in non-bear areas. It also sounded like a specific to them concern, as there are a lot of other people in the campground who don’t share the same level of concern. Also, I wonder what else that employee fixates on – any other safety issues that they seem more worried about than average?

          It’s not necessarily wrong that they were concerned and said so, but once given the scope of the training available, they had the option to keep working there or not. Sometimes we have to make decisions for ourselves.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            Yeah, maybe that employee needs to work at a National (or State) Park that doesn’t have bears. Maritime Museum or the Presidio in San Francisco, Old Town San Diego, etc. (Although both probably have coyotes and they’d freak out about those too.)

            1. Marley's Ghost*

              I dunno, the OP appears to be Canadian. Are there any parks in Canada that don’t carry significant bear risk?

              (Note: this is a joke.)

          2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

            What cracks me up is that they already had training at a previous job, making them uniquely qualified to pass on anything useful they learned during that training course to their colleagues.
            I was thinking they liked the idea of having an easy afternoon following a training course they didn’t need… but they put so much energy into their protest, I doubt it was laziness after all.

            1. MyStars*

              Some people get really wound up about “my team needs to be prepared as well as I was” and start catastrophizing about what might happen *to others*. It’s an attempt at establishing perfect safety and certainty in an environment that will never have either.

      2. DataSci*

        I thought it was going to be about a random office in, say, Montana where a new employee from out of the area demanded training about bear safety inside the building!

        1. Lurker Cat*

          As an office worker in bear country (not Montana) our bear safety training consists of “If there is a bear in the parking lot call animal control and stay inside until the bear has left the area.” Which was not as exciting as I expected bear training to be.

          1. Lydia*

            I worked for a company that was headquartered in Alaska and that was their training for moose in front of building, which was not uncommon.

            1. GammaGirl1908*

              A friend of mine lives in Alaska and occasionally gets moose in her yard, looking in her kitchen windows, etc. Any time she posts a funny moose photo on social media, we all feel compelled to ask whether she offered him a muffin.

              1. goddessoftransitory*

                Man, DO NOT MESS WITH MOOSE. Even when they don’t mean to be, they can destroy you through their sheer bulk! They are HUGE.

                And even more than other wildlife, never never feed moose–they will associate humans with food to the point that if they approach a person and that person is not bearing muffins or similar snacks, they may attack them.

                (Not that you and your friend don’t know this, of course, but do not offer a moose a muffin unless you are signing up to become their personal baker.)

                1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                  In case you (or future readers) don’t know, that’s a children’s book reference. .

                  If You Give a Moose a Muffin
                  Book by Laura Numeroff

                2. Lenora Rose*

                  Someone once created a chart which was an animal’s size relative to how big people imagine them to be. So all the entries are stuff like, “Fox: Smaller than you think, but not by much. Black Bear: Smaller than you think but still big enough to **** you up.” The entry for moose was something like “Bigger than you think. No, bigger than that. NO, BIGGER THAN THAT.”

      3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Me too. I started reading thinking they were going to be a IDK convenience store clerk in a town 20 miles from the park and were somehow overly concerned a bear might make their way in. I think the LW is doing a great job! When I was a wilderness camp counselor back in my teen years, they just told us to “walk in groups at night and make a lot of noise” and that was it for our Bear Protocol despite having a bear sighted in camp coming out of a cabin.

      4. HoundMom*

        I had a client in a populated area of New Jersey that had bear issues in the small woods behind them. They gave out instructions such as, if you expect to be here at dusk or after dark, park in the more traveled front lot, do not leave/bring food in your car, how to scare away a bear. I found it helpful but I have lived in a city much of my life. So, I fully expected the writer to be from the suburbs where bears are moving into, not a true wildlife area!

      5. Allonge*

        My first thought was: how safe do the bears need to be at this place, and how do you train them to be safer?

        1. Festively Dressed Earl*

          Are we talking about before or after the bears are exposed to agro humans with INTENSIVE. BEAR. SPRAY. TRAIIINNNNIIINNGGGGG?

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        I was really hoping for a Simpsons scenario that ended with a Bear Patrol draining the town budget.

    3. Le Sigh*

      For reasons beyond me, I read this whole letter to myself saying, “da Bears” as though I were Chris Farley.

  1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Anyone this preoccupied with bear safety should probably not work in a setting frequented by bears. Seems rather obvious.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Counterpoint: we all have to learn sometime, and it usually happens *after* coming to bear country.

      1. Nesprin*

        Agreed- I consider this a “my employees experience risky thing X, and I need to judge whether their fears of thing X and requests for protections against X are reasonable”

        I work with a number of things that are objectively scary (in a lab environment… no bears). I’d argue that managing risk and ensuring that your workers are safe requires a few key things:

        – Your employees who work most closely with X have the right to raise concerns and should be encouraged to do so: i.e. make it easy for them, make sure that raising concerns doesn’t risk retaliation, and if necessary give them the right to stop work until safe concerns are returned.
        – An objective process to assess whether more protection for thing X is feasible/needed etc. I think that any time you’re saying no to more protections you should think long and hard about why you’re saying no.
        – A process to communicate what equipment is required/recommended/provided etc + training sufficient that your workers can use that equipment.

        1. Splendid Colors*

          There were a few chemicals I would have noped out of using had I stayed in Chemistry instead of switching to Biology (and then laser cutting/graphic design). There’s a few things that will kill you through your gloves (hydrogen fluoride, methylmercury, etc.) and just nope nope nope. I know I don’t have flawless technique so yeah, let’s just work with stuff that won’t kill me if I mess up.

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          Yeah.. I’m not sure that you need to take steps, as Alison suggested, to make sure your employee *feels* safe. You need to make sure they *are* safe, which seems to be have been pretty thoroughly addressed.
          Before the bear spray was introduced, they obviously weren’t all that scared. They didn’t ask OP to get the spray. I get the impression that the mere introduction of bear spray made them *feel* *less* safe. The kicker being that they had already had bear spray training in a previous position!
          I would simply devise a “training course” where I read out the instructions and get the workers to role-play a bear and a ranger and then say “any other questions” at the end.
          If that’s not sufficient, I’d tell the employee that they need to learn not to project their fear of bears when explaining the bear safety procedures to visitors, on pain of not being hired back next season.
          Someone who’s that scared of bears should not be working with bears.
          (Although I’m still wondering whether they’re not just being bolshie about this for some reason that has nothing to do with OP, like their son was mauled by a bear)

      2. BubbleTea*

        I’m pretty confident in saying that I don’t need to learn bear safety, but then I don’t work outdoors in rural Canada.

        1. Lydia*

          I did learn bear safety when I was a child and lived in the Sierra Nevada mountains. I do not think I need a refresher living in a city.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Literary bears don’t react to pepper spray. If you need to scare them off, try throwing a split infinitive at them.

          1. SarahKay*

            I’m with Lirael in that. One of the things I like about living in the UK is that our largest native carnivore is the badger.
            (Granted, if you’re one of the six hundred or so earthworms that a badger eats each night, they’re probably pretty scary, but for us humans – not so much.)

            1. Bagpuss*

              Although they are surprisingly squeaky.

              I was once terrified by a badger but it was (a) drunk and (b) making noises that made me think someone was trying to break into thehouse when I was home by myself

              (It had overturned a large ceramic planter, on flagstones, presumably initially to get at the slugs/snails hiding underneath it, and so there was a lot of crashing and banging . After the noises didn’t stop when I turned on evey light in the house I decided it was either the worlds least competent burglar, or something else, and investigated and found the badger, but it was scary for a while!)

            2. Zoe Karvounopsina*

              I am reminded of the discussion of rewilding the Crown Estates which featured an MP asking what would happen if the Queen encountered a wolf or a lynx while out walking the corgis.

              (No one was suggesting that they introduce them there, though I maintain that would have been the best possible royal death. As I recall, the largest predator anyone is seriously discussing introducing atm is the wildcat.)

        2. goddessoftransitory*

          As a Seattlite I was more confident saying that a few years ago–but thanks to fires and human encroachment bears and other wildlife are becoming a lot more common on the east side (not here on Capitol Hill yet, though!)

      3. Yorick*

        But the employee is concerned because she has had a more intensive bear safety training before! So I don’t get what the issue is.

        1. Laureena*

          Possibly that the employee doesn’t feel like OP’s company is taking it seriously enough? If the employee’s last employer provided training, they likely felt safe. Now OP’s company is introducing bear spray – which kind of signals there’s enough of a bear risk that they need to have bear spray – with no training. That can feel scary!

          I work in an industrial plant that could kill me in a number of ways every single shift, and there are many times when I see contracted employees having higher or different safety standards that surpass our company. That doesn’t necessarily mean my company isn’t meeting the safety requirements, but when you find out the contractor next to you is being held to a higher standard it does make you worry that your company and training isn’t sufficient. I suspect that’s what’s happening here: a new safety tool is introduced, and the employee now has an anxiety that there’s a risk they don’t feel equipped for, and fear that it isn’t being handled appropriately.

          1. Mego*

            I totally agree.

            And although bear spray is supposed to be pretty idiot-proof, I might agree with the employee here. I’ve never had to use bear spray or a fire extinguisher, but I’m not at all confident I wouldn’t screw it up, idiot that I am, and I’ll bet a couple hours of training would help a lot. They say that people are better in emergencies when they’ve imagined through the scenario, and hands-on training does that.

    2. TomatoSoup*

      Yeah. It is perfectly reasonable to worry about bear safety, but it is also an indication that this is not the right role for someone.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        Honestly I’d rather work to engender confidence in ten slightly timid employees than m try to convince one cocky little twerp to actually read nevermind follow the safety regs.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, I once went on a hiking trip in Grizzly country, and the previous trip one of the guys decided to use the bear spray just to see what happened.

          What happened was an elderly man downwind collapsed and thought he was having a heart attack because he couldn’t breathe.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            Ha, can confirm. I had a little pepper spray canister on my keychain in college. A friend of mine could not help herself and tested it with just a tiny squirt in our dorm hallway. Cut to, like, six of us gasping and coughing with watering eyes, yelling and flinging open the windows.

    3. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      That’s a facts and circumstances kind of question, because in some instances (probably not this one), you wouldn’t want to say “Anyone this concerned with fire safety shouldn’t work at the Triangle Shirt Factory.”

      1. NotBatman*

        Yeah, I think that gets to Alison’s point about making sure to consult an actual bear safety expert before being 100% certain this employee is overreacting. Like, if this is an area with a lot of humanized bears or if any part of the job involves risk of attracting bears (e.g. cooking outdoors) then that might be a situation where the doors really are locked and the air really is full of flammable cotton fibers.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        The slight difference being that the Triangle bosses actively made it harder for employees to leave the building, which the LW is not doing.

    4. K*

      Yeah. I work in an industry with a lot of occupational hazards and have an advanced degree in the relevant field. At least two of my university classmates dropped out and went to pursue a degree in another field because they realized that they are not comfortable with these occupational hazards. So I would expect that the employee would assess the risk and decide if they are comfortable enough with it before taking the job, not after taking the job. So the second part of Alison’s advice is spot on.

    5. Maglev No Longer to Crazytown*

      I can see their argument… It isn’t about the bear safety per se, but the provisioning of bear spray creates an expectation it will/should be used, and thus the person should be trained in it’s specific use.

      Here is an actual regulatory example. I worked in a workplace that required employees to carry fire extinguishers in their vehicles in case of a fire in the field. The employer requirement conferred the requirement as well for them to train me in it’s use. They discontinued our annual required training on use at one point (with the dummy water fire extinguisher bottles), because they wanted to save money. I was waiting for the day that if a fire started near me, I would just sit and watch the field burn down…. because legally, I was not allowed to use my fire extinguisher without training from my employer. And if my employer had tried to reprimand me for not using it, I would have a field day legally (it was a very toxic hostile work environment, so that would have been mildly satisfying).

      Bear spray could fall into a grey area, since the employer is providing it even optionally. As an employer the safest best would be to slap together some basic work instructions, check the box, and call it a day. The work instructions could even mention to refer to specific directions available on the commerically-available product for its proper use.

      1. EPLawyer*

        At the very least, training that bear spray does NOT work like mosquito spray.

        Yes the Oklahoma Dept of Wildlife has to put out this announcement every year.

        1. Cynthia Virtue*

          “A spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation told Newsweek: “The tweet is part of our ongoing ‘bear aware’ messaging and not related to a specific incident. The tweet was meant to use humor as a way to remind people there are bears in Oklahoma. Many people are not aware encountering a bear in Oklahoma’s eastern half of the state is a real possibility.

          “As far as we know, in Oklahoma, there have not been any occurrences of people using bear spray incorrectly.””

          1. Carlie*

            I just discovered the Oklahoma Department of Conservation’s twitter account last week, and it is a treasure.

            1. Texan In Exile*

              This gem is what did it for me:

              “Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation

              Whoever filled out a cougar sighting report and wrote “your mother” under the description drop your @ we just want to talk”

            2. MNdragonlady*

              Oh. my. goodness.

              Just found two about their “handy-dandy Mountain Lion Sighting Report Form”, which is followed by a warning to not abuse it. I must not follow this account.

            3. Distracted Librarian*

              One of my favorite Twitter accounts! Their tweets (and the replies) are pure gold. The “you’re cold, they have fur” thread about mountain lions was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read.

            4. COHikerGirl*

              Washington also has a great one! Portland’s Corps of Engineers is also wonderful. I actually follow more out-of-state departments than I do for my own state. They’re both funny and educational.

              One tip for bears: bear bells don’t actually work! (The Ologies podcast did a two-part bear episode and it has fabulous bear info!) It gets interpreted by their brains more as “bird” than “human”. Startling a bear is a big trigger (protecting cubs is another), so human voices are the best deterrent to getting attacked. Talking, singing, etc.

              My personal beware-of-wild-animals rankings are:
              Mountain Lion
              Elk (during rutting)
              Black bear
              Coyotes (when with dogs)

              1. Formerly Ella Vader*

                I attended an event at a conference centre in the mountains. The orientation the first morning included “this is elk rutting season. Stay far away from the ones that are hanging around between here and the cafeteria” and “Alcohol hits harder at high altitudes. So if you think you’re more hungover than you should be after the welcoming reception last night, that’s why”.

              2. Divergent*

                I listen to the Ologies podcast on a little speaker when I’m in the field sometimes and don’t feel like singing/talking to myself to alert bears, I should dig up the bear one!

      2. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I wondered if the training the employee was asking for was more about “what to do once someone deploys the bear spray” – like if someone DOESN’T check to see which way the wind is blowing, or encounters a hiker who accidentally set off their bear spray on another human – what are the safety protocols that should take place then? Or if someone uses the bear spray, who do they inform so another canister can be purchased? Etc

      3. Emi (not a bear expert)*

        Yeah, it seems kind of odd to me for an employer to be like “here is a weapon, we bought it with company money, read the instructions if you want.” People can do whatever they want at home, obviously, but at work I would expect some kind of training/qualification process before accepting a work-issued item like this.

        1. Allonge*

          Fair enough – the bear spray is an optional thing where OP works, so it’s ok to refuse to carry it. If there are both instructions and a video on how to use it, that should be enough for a lot of people though.

          But OP’s report wants a whole entire level of bear safety training from what they get now. That’s a different thing.

        2. Idk much about history (or bears)*

          I ink you’ve hit the nail on the head there. The bears aren’t the problem, it is the bear spray that is the problem. What if one of the employees uses the company-provided bear spray incorrectly and a person becomes injured as a result?

          To me, it seems that the company should either provide bear spray and training or no spray at all (assuming the LW has the correct risk assessment that the bears usually are not very dangerous and you can use behavioural deterrents to close bear encounters).

          1. Pennyworth*

            As someone with zero experience of bears, I’d want some training on what to do with my bear spray if the bear and the wind are both coming at me from the same direction.

            1. anna*

              Then you don’t use the spray and you follow the basic bear training that you’d be using otherwise. It’s just an extra tool for it you’re in a situation where you could use it.

        3. Tiger Snake*

          Yes, and with that logic it makes sense that “if you aren’t comfortable don’t carry it” isn’t seem as a sufficent response. Even if I’m not carrying it, my coworkers might be.

          If handguns are allowed but I don’t carry, I should still be trained on what to do if one goes off accidentially. Even if its my coworker’s gun, I’d still need to help, so I need to know what to do and who to call. And oh boy do I want to be really confident that they know how to use their gun and how to keep the safety on.

          1. Worldwalker*

            Does that training need to be in-person, though, or would written instructions and a video, like with the bear spray, be sufficient?

            1. Tiger Snake*

              Well, that’s really goes back to what Alison said doesn’t it? What does the H&R specialist say, what does Workplace health and safety law say in the cause of dangerous chemical handling, and what does the bear specialist say?

          2. Splendid Colors*

            Yeah, I don’t want a partner who handles guns like Officer Minogue handles a Taser on Wellington Paranormal.

        4. lilyp*

          That seems like the most reasonable explanation to me too — it’s not “I’m worried that *I* don’t know how to use bear spray properly” but rather “I’m worried about working around *other people* who are carrying bear spray but don’t know how to use it properly”. Or maybe this person feels like they’re standing up for their coworkers who secretly also feel unsafe but aren’t comfortable speaking up. I wonder if just making it a part of orientation to watch the online training video as a group would be enough training to alleviate their concern?

        5. Hazel*

          Yes, in Ontario the Workplace Health and Safety Act requires employers to provide Material Safety Data Sheets for chemicals including things like copier toner. It requires supervisors to be ‘competent’ ie health and safety trained (including both bear hazards and spray hazards). It requires staff to be trained on safe work and material handling. To;dr: OP is in Canada so advice given here may not be complete in the context of Canadian health and safety regulations and they are right to consult H&S / HR about bears and spray / work refusal. An employee is entitled to refuse unsafe work and may not be penalized for it. They must be reasonable, there is a process uphold or dismiss a work refusal and for the ministry of labour to investigate unsafe work.

          In this case it does sound like someone a bit hyperfocused, but you can’t dismiss them out of hand, you have to really think and address the real issue. I wonder if noisemakers might be safer than spray but I am no expert.

          I camp in Ontario parks with bears too, and lived to tell!

    6. Allornone*

      Yep. My organization serves at-risk youth. We had an employee who refused certain site visits because they were “bad parts of town” (you know, where many of the youth actually LIVE), and was genuinely surprised when the CEO said it was a condition of their employment. We help at-risk youth; to do that, sometimes we must go to where those youth actually are. Don’t like that? Take a different job. Similarly, afraid of bears? Don’t work where the bears are.

      1. Nesprin*

        I disagree. If you’re terrified of snakes, working in a reptile house could be very scary for you, but isn’t an objective hazard.

        Bears are an honest to god objective hazard (unlike going to the wrong side of the tracks), but a manageable hazard with the right training and equipment. And asking for the tools and training to manage that hazard should be a thing that’s encouraged or at minimum treated seriously.

        1. Worldwalker*

          A lot more people are killed by other humans on “the wrong side of the tracks” than are killed by bears. For that matter, more people are killed by slipping in their bathtubs. This is because very, very few people are injured or killed by bears.

      2. sundae funday*

        I do hope it was clear that travel to unsafe parts of town is mandatory when your coworker took the job?

        I have a newfound appreciation for people who are nervous to go into “the bad parts of town.” I live in a notoriously unsafe city, anyway, but lately, there have been absolutely awful violent crimes against women. I never used to be afraid but I’m definitely a lot more cautious now, even in the “good” parts of town.

    7. doreen*

      I sort of wonder whether it wasn’t about the bear spray or even bears at all. When I was working, there were people who had problems with any sort of training – it wasn’t long enough, it wasn’t detailed enough and so on. A half day of training on AEDs that talk you through using them wasn’t enough, two hours on nasal spray Narcan wasn’t enough. I’m not sure what that was about ( especially since many of them said that they wouldn’t use the AED/Narcan anyway as they aren’t medical staff ) but what it definitely wasn’t about was a lack of training.

      1. Smithy*

        I think this is a good point. I’m in the humanitarian field, but in an “HQ” job where visits to higher risk offices are rare.

        Therefore most of my safety training is done through taped webinars, and 100% not the same as people with jobs that would be classified as being at higher risk. It’s not that I never visit those offices, but it’s under different conditions, with different expectations and with different responsibilities. However, I am also receiving a training and if my position is that my training is not enough to ever visit those places….it is likely more a me problem than a training problem.

      2. Julia*

        I’ve had coworkers who request training for anything beyond what they do day to day or beyond their strict job description. It’s sometimes training for things that seem pretty easy to figure out or resolve. I think it’s related to anxiety, “getting in trouble” if they do it wrong and perfectionism.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        I wonder if this person is so baseline anxious about the idea of a bear encounter that further training won’t actually reassure them.

        1. Smithy*

          Some of these issues can truly just be so situational, that more training 100% won’t help.

          The high risk situations in my current job don’t make me anxious – but when I was CPR trained and was then in a situation and someone needed CPR, I completely froze. Someone else was immediately available who could do it, but it was a real moment of that not being my “thrive” space.

        2. Festively Dressed Earl*

          I wonder if more training would actually make them overconfident and likely to use the spray as a first resort. OP is talking about a conservation area; what would the effect be on the bears if the humans become more aggressive?

    8. Maybe abandoning office work*

      As someone seriously considering changing my career to horse work… Yes.

      Horses are inherently dangerous. If you’re uncomfortable with them and the inherent dangers, you make yourself, the horse, and everyone around you much more unsafe. I can’t imagine that bears are that much different (even though the types of scenarios in which you’d need to be comfortable with them would be vastly different)

    9. Mimi*

      Is this where I connect to the post from a day or three ago and declare that I am much more comfortable existing with the knowledge and tools provided by this employer in area where there may be black bears than I would be driving rural roads in a snowstorm?

      Anyway, I have had so many safe bear “encounters” while hiking and camping, and just existing in the world. I am not very risk tolerant, but can say without a doubt that sharing the road with bald tire pickup trucks in the snow is way scarier than any bear encounter I have ever had, or probably ever will have. Especially if they are black bears, and not grizzlies.

    10. Buffy will save us*

      I work in a forensic psych hospital. I have violent, sexually preoccupied patients. I have had staff who do not want to be in any situation where they have to interact with a patient who sexually acts out- to the point that they couldn’t sit with their back to the pt b/c “they could feel their eyes staring.” I have also had staff not want to be around the patients with a history of violence. That’s like all of them. I can’t say they shouldn’t work here, but I sure think it.

      1. Ex-Teacher*

        I would expect that “I don’t want to work with certain patients” isn’t a reasonable accommodation in a forensic psych hosptial though.

        1. Kit*

          I mean, it depends on the occupation. For nursing staff, I’d agree! For billing or accounting staff… maybe not.

      2. SMH RN*

        I’ve been there! Nothing like trying to assign staff and having someone say I won’t work with anyone aggressive….that’s why people get admitted to our unit 9/10 times. And it’s very clear n the interview process. I don’t get it. They usually move on fairly quickly sigh.

      3. Splendid Colors*

        They didn’t want to sit in a different office where they patient could stare at them, or they didn’t want to be in the same room with their back turned? I wouldn’t want to turn my back on someone who might jump me. But, I have zero training in that area and shouldn’t apply to work there.

        I’m not sure why someone who doesn’t want to be around the residents of a forensic psych hospital applied for a job there, frankly.

    11. Siege*

      AGREED. And I will note, OP is providing MUCH more bear safety than I was given the last time I worked in a bear-intensive area (but moose were much more of a problem there, and we didn’t get any training on that either). The employee sounds like there’s something else at play here. And I think it’s weird that they apparently HAVE the information about bears but they want another intensive training, which is a bit like me wanting to be re-certified to drive when I take a job that requires driving, as though I’d forgotten how to drive when I was hired. Something is way off with that employee’s expectation.

      1. SchuylerSeestra*

        I wonder if it’s a case of the employee not feeling heard? Or feeling like the LW isn’t taking thier safety concerns seriously?

        I understand that the LW feels it’s not that big of a deal, but I also feel like they come across as somewhat flippant. And as someone who has had legitimate safety concerns dismissed by management before, I can get how that could be off putting to the employee.

        While I’ve never dealt with bear spray before I do think assuming that people should just read the instructions is a bit problematic.

        I could just follow instructions for my fire extinguisher but I know it’s more complicated than that.

        I could just look up CPR instructions and I know it’s more complicated that that.

        Anyway practical training can go a long way.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          There just isn’t that much more to it, though. It’s basically like using pepper spray or spray paint: You make sure it’s not going to blow back in your face and then you hit the trigger. It’s maybe two steps if you include popping off the safety.

          1. just some guy*

            As somebody who’s never used pepper spray (illegal where I live), this isn’t all that intuitive.

            I have used spray paint, but when it comes to questions like “how long do I shake the can first?”, “how far away should I be from the thing I’m spraying?”, “what do I do if the thing I want to spray is upwind?” and “how long do I spray for?” I’d feel more comfortable with a little bit of instruction from somebody who knows their stuff, rather than assuming that spraying a bear works the same way as undercoating a Space Marine army.

            1. just some guy*

              (And OP’s work may well have covered those points already, written instructions might be enough – just saying that there is a bit more to it than just “like pepper spray or spray paint”.)

        2. Dust Bunny*

          And I don’t think the LW is being flippant so much as they are exasperated. It’s a job where bears are a risk. There is only so much that can be done to guarantee that there won’t be any bear encounters–it’s just not going to be as close to zero as it would be if you were working, say, downtown.

          1. Beboots*

            OP here – it is so difficult to capture tone in writing! I hope it came across I was more on “exasperated” end of the spectrum than flippant, and I want to be clear I didn’t say “well, we’ll just have to evacuate the campground then” to my employee. I’m genuinely trying to approach this from a perspective of treating this as a genuine concern, that our current protocols/training/tools are insufficient, despite the manner it was raised with me. I want to make sure I’ve done my research and have the right protocols/training in place before the start of the next operational season (and when the bears wake up again!). But I’m also trying not to go overboard and set wrong expectations about the appropriate reactions / likelihood of dangerous bear encounters over the course of the job, and so I’m not out of step with industry standards or what other staff expect on site. E.g., if I contract a bear safety expert to do a half day or full day intensive safety course with an emphasis on deploying bear spray, but this is not something available to other staff who also work in the campground, or who are likely to have closer encounters with bears, and is far above and beyond what is recommended by the occupational health and safety committee for my organization, is that overboard and setting poor precedent?

            I should also clarify that I was able to get my staff some training on bear spray from the other department that handles problem bears, but the leader of that training did say that they didn’t think it was necessary for my staff’s jobs, and the visitors safety officer said that ensuring all of my staff actually read the instructions and watched the manufacturer’s video (and host a team discussion afterwards to discuss scenarios) should be sufficient for them. I am planning on discussing it with the OHS committee this winter too. I want my staff to be safe and feel safe… but bear encounters (unlike bear attacks, which are separate things) are extremely common here. I do provide existing bear safety training. How much is sufficient, given that there will always be some risk in this position of bear encounters?

            1. lilyp*

              imo “ensuring all of my staff actually read the instructions and watched the manufacturer’s video (and host a team discussion afterwards to discuss scenarios)” sounds like sufficient training given all the other details.

              I guess I do wonder like…if reading instructions and watching the video really is all the training you need to effectively deploy bear spray when necessary, then what is point of the more intensive training where you actually practice deploying the spray? Why is that a thing? Is that specifically tailored to like, using bear spray aggressively or as a deterrent or other things your team 100% will never need to do, or is it more like “well those people will definitely need to use bear spray so they need to feel comfortable and confident doing it in a high-stress situation but my team probably won’t ever actually need to use it so it’s not worth the effort to do the full training”?

            2. Splendid Colors*

              Did it include things another poster mentioned, such as how to make sure you’re not going to injure the other people around you?

      2. Chinookwind*

        Being someone from bear country, I agree. But what that employee was expressing was not appropriate concern. I think they are overreacting. Not only are they being given the information that the average visitor receives, but they are also given more tools and awareness. The only other training they could be given is practical (like deploying the bear spray and learning the hard way to be aware of which way the wind is blowing). Other than knowing that bears have right of way, humans should be noisy so they don’t accidentally sneak up on them, and how to store anything that may attract a bear (which is what creates nuisance bears), there is not much more they can do.
        *My experience in bear country includes employees sending photos of bear footprints on freshly exposed pipelines to explain why they would be working at a different site that day, having my parent’s tent trailer destroyed (when I was a child) because they cooked inside it, and every single one of my dad’s back country hiking trips include a story about how they had to pause mid hike to let the bear in the valley ahead of them move on through (and usually have to stop international hikers from going on ahead), and seeing emails from people stating that they won’t leave for work until the bear (or moose with babies) have left their neighborhood.

        1. Worldwalker*

          A couple of years ago, I saw a guy with a powder fire extinguisher (fire was caused by idiot throwing his cigarette in the mulch, igniting a decorative shrub) learn the hard way to check wind direction. He looked rather interesting after that … basically, from about mid-abdomen down he was pure white, like half a ghost.

    12. Hamster Manager*

      I’m baffled because the complainer got the intense training already at another job. So, they already have the info?? Why did they not just say something like “what do we do in the case of [thing that came up in the previous workshop we haven’t ever talked about]?”

      Seems like they were making a fuss just to make one.

      1. Coyote Tango*

        Perhaps that training makes them more aware of how potentially unhelpful it is to turn untrained people loose with bear mace?

        Like it’s great that I’m trained and know how not to get eaten by a bear, but I’d also rather not see a coworker and colleague get eaten by a bear because they haven’t attended the class.

      1. Susie To Go*

        I am in a position where, I think, if I built a blanket fort, no one would be surprised. (The floor is way too dirty for a blanket fort, but if I get a chair with arms, watch out.)

      2. Soontoberetired*

        Black bears are pretty easy to going in relation to other bears. I am m not in bear country but there are black bears around. They never hurt people but they go after food sources. Or climb trees.

        1. Chinookwind*

          DH has a photo of him yelling at an adolescent black bear who had found his way up a tree in someone’s backyard (his partner had a rifle trained on the bear the whole time as backup and he was holding a bean bag gun). Turns out that, if yell at a black bear with the same tone as a you would a bad dog, you can make them run away to another tree and cry.

          He wouldn’t have tried that with a grizzly or polar bear, but then again both of those would have just flatten any tree they would attempt to climb. When he has encountered them, he just remained still and prayed they wouldn’t see him.

    1. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Close, though!

      Historical trivia tangent: The typically shy, gentle, and smallish black bear is the species the Teddy Bear is modeled on! The story has it that a Theodore Roosevelt was once on a hunting trip where his entourage chased, caught, and injured a black bear and tied it to a tree for him to shoot and take as a trophy. He refused because, come on, he was a macho man and didn’t need to shoot tied-up, injured animals. Although he did instruct them to kill there bear to put it out of its misery – his refusal to shoot it himself was purely about not wanting to look like an impotent/incompetent hunter – the anecdote was retold and ended up depicted in a political cartoon where he nobly refuses to harm a defenseless bear. The cartoon was reprinted/imitated several times and with each iteration the black bear became smaller, cuter, and more innocent looking. It was this cartoon and variations of it that provided the template for the first stuffed “Teddy Bears.”

      1. Retired To Morning Room To Write My Letters*

        Great trivia, I have screenshotted this and am sending it to my husband.

      2. Lime green Pacer*

        IIRC, black bears are actually more likely to stalk, kill, and eat you, than grizzly bears are.

        1. Emmeileia*

          I believe (although it’s been a while) that this is because 1) People tend to treat black bears with less caution than grizzly or polar bears and 2) There are more regions of black bear/human interaction than other kinds of bears.

          Source: Bear Attacks, Their Causes and Avoidance by Stephen Herrero. Very good read.

        2. Asenath*

          Really? I’ve lived all my life in an area with black bears, and although I haven’t been camping in a long, long time, when I was younger I often saw bears in the wild, roaming through campgrounds, etc. I was always told that grizzlies were far more aggressive and dangerous (although I never hiked or camped in an area with grizzlies). Polar bears, too, although they were and are pretty rare in my neck of the woods. I seem to recall that there was, I think, one documented case in Canada of a black bear attacking and killing a human, who tragically stumbled on it and disturbed in in its den early one spring, when it (the bear) was disoriented, startled and really hungry. I’ve never felt the need to have bear spray for black bears, but if it’s supplied on job, sure, give training in its use. If the standard approaches for responding tot he presence of most bears work, that’s enough – and it sounds like they are. (No, I am not OP, and I have never encountered a bear on the job. One of my high school classmates did, when we were both in high school doing summer jobs, and he was told to stay out of its way and let it wander off, which worked.)

          1. Pescadero*

            Black bears are much, much less likely to attack humans – but when they do attack humans, they are much more likely to be doing so as a form of predation.

            Brown bears attack humans because they seem them as a threat (thus the play dead). Black bears almost never attack humans – but on the rare occasions they do, it’s because they want to eat them.

            Fight back in black bear attacks, play dead in brown bear attacks, BE dead in Polar bear attacks.

          2. Sal*

            I feel like I just read a mnemonic that was like “If it’s black, fight back; if it’s brown [grizzly], lie down; if it’s white, say good night [b/c that polar bear is going to kill you].”

        3. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Going by raw numbers they do have more fatal attacks because they’re so much more numerous and more likely to have overlapping territory with human areas than grizzlies. Going by temperament, they’re much less aggressive and more likely to flee than attack if they feel threatened. Lone male black bears have killed a handful of people and it’s generally been determined in the post-mortem that they had hunted the human as prey, rather than bears that attacked because they were startled or became territorial. That’s why one of the advice for deterring black bear attacks is to make yourself big and loud and aggressive seeming, because it won’t likely trigger an attack the way it would with a grizzly, instead the goal is you won’t look like prey animal anymore and the conflict-averse bear will seek more docile prey. I think black bears diet is something like 80% forage and only around 20% meat.

        4. Sympathizer*

          Really? I just can’t believe that! Is that because there are a lot more black bears around than Grizzlies, maybe? I thought there was like maybe one black bear attack per year. And as for stalking? Never heard of a bear stalking anything! I thought they were kind of opportunistic feeders. . . Really, really shocked. . .

          1. I am Emily's failing memory*

            Yep, it is about one attack per year, with something like 750,000 black bears spread all over North America, so it’s indeed extraordinarily rare. Brown bears are responsible for almost as many attacks but usually come in a little bit less, despite significantly less regular human contact.

            The significant part of Lime Green Pacer’s statement is that black bears are more likely to stalk humans as prey – that is, looking at all the reasons for bear attacks, the most likely reason for the attack with black bears is predation, almost always by solo males. Brown bears on the other hand have usually attacked people because the people pissed them off or made them feel threatened, rather than because the bears were hungry. Brown bear attacks are also more likely to be multiple-bear or mama bear attacks.

      1. Beth*

        I was expecting “bears” to be a code for something else, along the lines of llamas.

        At the same time, I work in the investment industry, where we really do have problems with bears of a different kind. I wish we could carry bear spray for them.

    2. I'm Just Here For the Cats!*

      I first read the headline and thought it had something to do with the Bears (American) football team

  2. learnedthehardway*

    I do some of my consulting work with mining companies, and they do a LOT of bear safety training for remote locations in Canada.

    I can see the employee’s point of view that training with bear spray specifically is required, if people are going to be using it. In an emergency situation, there’s a potential for someone to get panicked and use the bear spray incorrectly, making the situation worse (Eg. spraying themselves and being less able to evade or frighten off a bear, or mostly missing the bear but making the bear really mad and then having to deal with that). It sounds like there really SHOULD be some training in how to use the bear spray, if it is going to be issued by the employer for use on the job.

    My guess is that this is what the employee is trying to get at, if they didn’t have other objections to the training.

    But perhaps the employee really thinks that the entire training program is not adequate, compared with the training they had previously experienced. Either way, it would make sense to consult a H&S professional who specializes in bear safety.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here, and I think that you are right – bear spray does have the possibility to do more harm if used incorrectly. In this case, I did confirm with the occupational health and safety committee and the visitor safety officer (who is indeed an expert on bear safety) that the training I offer my staff is sufficient, and about level with what they offer for teams that work in the backcountry and in closer proximity with wildlife.

      So one point I’m struggling with is – if I just don’t offer bear spray as an option to carry on my team, because not all staff are comfortable using it given the level of training I currently offer with it, the staff member still said that they didn’t feel safe working in the campground with the potential for bear encounters. So there’s the “hey, boss, I’m not sure you should be having us use bear spray without specific training in XYZ” point, which I think has merit, but then there’s the “hey boss, I don’t feel comfortable working outdoors with the potential for bear encounters, even though that’s the main part of my job” piece. What safety measures can I put in place so my staff both are safe and feel safe, while also recognizing that I cannot eliminate all hazards (possible wildlife encounters) as that is a requirement of the position?

      1. La Triviata*

        There was an article about the strangest questions people had received and one park ranger had a couple ask if they were supposed to spray the bear spray on their jackets before heading on their hike.

          1. Susie To Go*

            Especially if you don’t know it’s pepper spray- if you think it’s just something very nasty smelling, it would make sense that you’d spray it on you so that bears would avoid you, not the other way around.

            At least the person asked first?

        1. My lack of bear knowledge (formerly known as performative gumption)*

          This reminds me of a patient who’s asthma inhaler didn’t work for them and when I asked them to show me how they used it, they pulled their top off and sprayed it on their chest.

          1. GasketGirl*

            That was demonstrated on an episode of House, too. Lady came in complaining about her inhaler not helping her breathing and that she was going through like one or more per week. House asked her if she was using it correctly, her response “Of course, do you think I’m stupid?”, so he asked her to show him how she used it and she proceeded to spray it on her neck like squirts of perfume…

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            It’s baffling to me that whoever first prescribed an inhaler to her didn’t show her how to use it properly. That’s one of several reasons I like my allergist–when I developed asthma as an adult, she made sure that she demonstrated how to use the inhaler, had me practice, and explained to me how it worked/why following proper technique mattered. If a patient doesn’t know how to use an inhaler, that’s a failure by whoever prescribed it for her in the first place. I’m glad you were able to show her!

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Yeah, that’s bizarre. I had an inhaler in elementary school for exercise induced asthma and I still remember the basic general instructions for it. It’s not really that intuitive (beyond stick it in your mouth) as there’s a rhythm and timing in regards to breathing in the medication.

            2. Lucy P*

              Doctors don’t often given instructions on how to take medicines. I think many people just look at the dosing instructions and don’t bother with the rest. There is a little booklet that comes with inhalers that has written and illustrated instructions, but the text may be too small for some.

              1. JB (not in Houston)*

                I am aware that doctors don’t usually give instructions on how to take medicine, but using an inhaler correctly can be a life-or-death situation, and as Happy meal noted above, its proper use is not intuitive.

                1. blam*

                  Yes, I’ve been shown how to use an inhaler multiple times over my 20ish years of asthma – and regularly asked to demonstrate how I’m using it so the nurse can check my technique is effective. It’s not like swallowing a pill.

              2. Formerly Ella Vader*

                In my experience, the pharmacy clerk often alerts the pharmacist when I’m picking up a new-to-me prescription, so the pharmacist offers me instruction even without me having to ask. That was definitely the case when I got an inhaler – the doctor described the process and mimed it, but the pharmacist had me practice in the store and gave feedback.

            3. goddessoftransitory*

              It makes me NUTS when actors on TV who are supposed to be using an inhaler use it wrong! They always take two quick puffs in a row and then charge off to fight monsters or whatever–with mine, at least, you have to take a puff, hold the medicine in your lungs as long as you can, exhale, THEN take the second puff and hold again. The puffs don’t have any time to work the TV way!

              1. Worldwalker*

                People on TV also fire handguns indoors and are able to have a normal conversation moments afterward.

            4. My lack of bear knowledge (formerly known as performative gumption)*

              She was in her 80s and had likely been shown but was developing early dementia.
              Also there are different types of inhalers and the standard one she’d been prescribed did not work for her as she didn’t have the breath or coordination so we ended up switching her to an alternative one in the end. I still use her case as an example to students to think of the practical with patients and making sure they understand what to do. You can prescribe the best drug in the world and be the most knowledgeable clinician ever but it means poop if not right for your patient or they don’t take it correctly.

            5. Bagpuss*

              Yes, I’ve recently been prescribed a different type of inhaler and the nurse described how to use it, including how it is different from the previous one, and also provided a leaflet and link to a video showing correct use.
              And on any ocassion when I’ve had a reualr review and have ticked any of the boxes on the pre-appoitnment form that suggest my asthma isn’t currently well controlled they have always asked me to demonstrate how I’m using the inhaler, as part of the assesment, presumably to rule out poor technque as a reason for any issues. It’s irritating, becaue I am careful about technique, but I understand why they check because so many people don’t use them correctly (alrhoguh not normally as badly as in your example!)

        2. Business Narwhal*

          The bears actually like the taste of the residue of bear spray though, apparently sometimes people will spray their campsite with it to deter them and I does the opposite. :p

            1. Worldwalker*

              One place I lived, I used hot pepper powder on my birdseed to deter the red squirrels. That worked, mostly, except for one little guy: He learned to like it. He was the fuzzy equivalent of a hot sauce aficionado.

          1. Oska*

            I’ve seen a piece of joke bear advice online that touches on this. It’s about how to avoid bears, how to act when encountering them, and the difference between brown bears and grizzlys. Short version: To avoid them, you should wear bells, which will let the bear know you’re approaching, and carry pepper spray as a deterrent in case of actual encounters. When setting up camp, you should see if there’s bear droppings in the area. If it’s from brown bears, it can contain undigested berries and possibly bits of fur, as they’re omnivores, and if it’s from grizzlies, it might contain bells and smell like pepper… :)

      2. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Perhaps bear spray is something you distribute, instead of offer? So it’s not just there for the taking, someone has to ask for it and you can give the five minute safety rundown when handing it out?

        But I think Alison’s point of “you have to have a real talk with this employee if they want to come back next year” is the answer to that question. Saying up front “I cannot eliminate all hazards (possible wildlife encounters) as that is a requirement of the position” and letting people decide for themselves if they can live with that.

      3. OhNo*

        I’m also not a bear expert :) , but it sounds to me like you’ve done all you reasonably can. Offering the bear spray for those with extra concern is a nice bonus to the standard training that it sounds like your employees receive, and I would consider that to already going above and beyond to offer them an extra level of security.

        Honestly, it just sounds like this person might not be a good fit for this position! Which I can sympathize with, as I would definitely be one to opt-out of a position with a risk of bear encounters.

      4. Mockingjay*

        “the staff member still said that they didn’t feel safe working in the campground with the potential for bear encounters.”

        I think this particular employee is not a good fit for this role. Can you just…not rehire them? This is risk associated with this job and you need employees who can handle that risk. And here’s the key. The risk was present before the bear spray. Maybe the spray made it more “real” in the employee’s mind – who knows. But this employee is not a good fit.

        1. ferrina*

          Agree. Something has triggered the employee, and if they aren’t comfortable working in an area where bear encounters are possible, well, that’s a prerequisite for the job. This just doesn’t sound like the right fit for them.

          1. Sal*

            It sounds like it may have been learning that the employer believed that having bear spray could be necessary and/or helpful is what triggered them into now feeling that the campground is too dangerous. I don’t necessarily think that’s unreasonable, especially if it’s “I now feel the campground is too dangerous without bear spray, but I can’t use the bear spray because I need more training,” rather than “I now feel the campground is altogether too dangerous even if I have bear spray” (because the latter should just lead you to quit in this situation), but it may not be fixable.

        2. LRL*

          “When I came back to my staff member with this information, they were still very dissatisfied, and announced in front of the whole team that none of them should enter the campground unless they had intensive safety training in bear spray.”

          This is where this letter really goes off the rails for me.

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Agreed – this sounds like the sort of person who is just not a good fit for a job in the great outdoors – where you know that animals live.

      5. NeedRain47*

        Was the employee was doing their job before the arrival of the bear spray? I may be reading wrong but it seems to me like they were, and only had a bear problem after the spray showed up? The bears didn’t get more dangerous, the person just got more panicky about it.

        1. Qwerty*

          My guess is the arrival of bear spray made the risk of bears a lot more real for the employee. The letter says that employee wasn’t scheduled for any shifts at the time for the campground. Bear avoidance stuff always feels pretty minor – I’ve been a lot more hyper aware of the bear possibility on the few hikes we brought bear spray on (at least for the first 30min of the hike), even though most of my hiking trips have signs to watch out for bears.

          1. AnonPi*

            This is what I was thinking. That before it was more of a general awareness that ‘hey bears are here be careful’, and then with the arrival of the bear spray it went to ‘sh!! just got real’ awakening.

      6. Marna Nightingale*

        Are you in a place that offers Bear Aware or similar?

        Sometimes, because it’s a dirty ol’ world, when your employer does the training and says the danger of X is really very low but also hands out some fairly serious equipment to be used in case of X, you kinda wonder if this is where you find out that your employer’s Health and Safety department is actually in the basement of a different building, in a locked filing cabinet, with a sign on it that says Beware Of The Leopard.

        I am not saying this is true in your case, at all!

        I am only saying that reasonable scepticism about an employer’s commitment to safety is a reasonable stance for any employee until they’ve seen evidence.

        Which is one excellent thing about third-party training, it FEELS more trustworthy.

      7. Ask a Manager* Post author

        there’s the “hey boss, I don’t feel comfortable working outdoors with the potential for bear encounters, even though that’s the main part of my job” piece. What safety measures can I put in place so my staff both are safe and feel safe, while also recognizing that I cannot eliminate all hazards (possible wildlife encounters) as that is a requirement of the position?

        You can’t. If this person doesn’t feel comfortable working outdoors with the potential for bear encounters, even though that’s the job, then they aren’t right for this job and you should just decline to hire them back! You’re trying to make something impossible work, and you don’t need to (and in fact shouldn’t).

        1. spruce*

          My partner is a health and safety coordinator for his company. One of their services is inspecting solar panel installations, which tend to be on roofs. He organizes a regular “working on heights” training, during which is came out that one of their employees is terrified of heights. You can give this guy as many safety trainings and harnesses and procedures as you want, when someone fears an essential part of their job, there’s not much you can do aside from cutting ties.

          (The employee is question thought he could do inspections for solar panels farms on ground, but that’s a tiny tiny minority of the inspections that happen in reality)

      8. Bare (Safety) Necessities*

        Based on Alison’s advice and your follow-up here, it sounds like the employee was indeed not a great match for the role. (If they aren’t comfortable working without the bear spray in a role that the safety officer deems it unnecessary.) So hopefully they don’t apply to work with you this upcoming season and that will solve that issue!

        If the bear spray will be optional equipment again, offering training would be important to make sure people use it correctly. (Grew up in black bear territory and one of my parents had a job that sounds very similar to yours. They had training for bear spray due to the role but exiting the area was always the main thing we were taught.)

      9. EPLawyer*

        I think you have a fundamental mismatch too. I mean its BEAR COUNTRY. This is their home. You don’t want to encounter a bear, don’t go hang out in their home.

        You also make an excellent point — if it is too unsafe for your workers, you sure as heck shouldn’t be open to the public. Because your average visitor will want to pet the cute bear and feed them from the pik a nik basket. But, since your organization is open to the public, it is a case of this person being REALLY off base on their thinking. Again, you don’t want to encounter bears, stay out of their home.

        1. I don't have a clever name*

          I want to pet bears, tbh. I wouldn’t, especially not wild bears, but I want to.

          1. Nomic*

            To those above, an easy remedy for this desire is to google “Shaved Bear Images”. Will cure that wish to pet a wild bear right up!

          2. Asenath*

            One of my sisters, as a child on a family camping trip, went up to pet what she thought, in the dusk, was a Newfoundland dog. She realized in time it was a black bear cub, and moved away slowly, carefully watching for Mama Bear, as we had all been taught to do if we saw a bear (for some reason, our parents didn’t think to tell use “If you see a Newfoundland dog, make sure it’s not a bear before approaching it”, but I suppose they didn’t think of that as a possibility).

            1. Worldwalker*

              I lived in a house in Manchester, NH that had been converted into four apartments. The guy across the hall downstairs was sitting out in a chair in the back yard one evening, drinking a beer and mellowing out. His cat wandered under his chair and he started scritching its ears. Then two things crossed his mellow mind: 1) Why is my cat outdoors? and 2) Actually, this doesn’t feel like my cat!

              He stopped scritching and stayed very still. Eventually, the disappointed skunk wandered away again.

      10. Valancy Snaith*

        I live and work in bear country. Is it acceptable in your org to make bear spray accessible for those who wish to use it, but not required for those who don’t? And once that’s done, I’m not sure there’s anything else you can do. If the staff mbr is that uncomfortable working outdoors where they may encounter bears, this just isn’t the right job for them. In my workplace we don’t equip people with bear spray for defence (shotguns are the accepted tool for wildlife defence instead), but seeing that your employee has gotten the training in the past, has access to the tools required and appropriate safety training as approved by your org, and still does not feel comfortable doing the job…not sure what other safety measures you can put in place.

        1. Happy*

          “Is it acceptable in your org to make bear spray accessible for those who wish to use it, but not required for those who don’t?”

          I mean, that sounds exactly like what OP already did, which started this whole thing…

      11. I don't have a clever name*

        I feel like you can make accommodations (loosely defined) for a lot of things, but “I don’t want to do the main part of my job” isn’t one of them. It sounds like it’s time at this point for Alison’s script about “The potential for bear encounters is a major part of this job and will not be changing. Knowing that, do you want to take some time to think about whether the position is right for you?”

      12. Once I tried to scare a bear while holding a cookie*

        Offering bear spray is fine. Buying a few cans and doing hands on training is not the worst idea – same for bear bangers. Using tools improperly in those situations can just make things worse. But other than it sounds like you are doing all the right things. If a bear encounter is a deal breaker for employees it sounds like this isn’t the job for them.

        You do make everyone watch the great Canadian classic Whoa Bear? AKA ‘Staying Safe in Bear Country’ right? Because it would be wrong, unsafe even, to deprive anyone of this classic with it’s OG Taiga Gortex in all it’s glory

      13. Bookmark*

        OP, am I reading your letter correctly that the employee in question has already had bear spray training at a prior organization? If so, this isn’t a person who’s concerned with their own safety as much as concerned about the safety of their other team members who haven’t received the training, and seems like someone who is trying to organize your staff to push for better safety protocols overall. I’m not in a position to evaluate whether or not this is a justified perspective from the employee or not (in general, labor organizing around safety is good! But I also have known individuals who are determined to speak up on behalf of a group that is utterly uninterested in being spoken on behalf of). I think a key here is getting feedback from OTHER staff members. Are there shared concerns around safety that you need to talk about and address as a team? Or is this one person who enjoys being a rabble rouser? You may find out from these conversations (assuming you approach them with genuine openness to feedback) that everyone else on your team would also prefer the individual in question not come back next summer.

        1. dawbs*

          The “concerned about others” is what I was reading between the lines.

          ex: I work in education. I’ve had armed shooter training at 2 prior employers (realistically, both of these employers were in an area of much higher gun violence). My current employer has given us a rough ‘plan’ but boots-on-the-ground staff hasn’t had this training.
          I pitch getting it frequently. I’m not “paranoid” (I don’t think) on this topic or ill suited to the job; I just want everyone to have some degree of muscle memory about how we should react if something happens and I think I have a clearer idea of the need than the higher-ups who say we don’t need this training.

          (I’ve said my piece on it at work and have let it drop because I’m not gonna win. Also, I’m aware of how appalling it is that educators should have this training. whee)

        2. Jezebella*

          THIS! I was like, why does this person want more training if they’ve already had a half-day intensive training on this very topic?

          1. TootsNYC*

            I wondered that as well–it’s possible they learned things in their training that they found really valuable, and they want everyone to know that.

            Bear spray is potent; using it wrong can be a problem.

            I took a training due to being a floor warden on the fire-safety team. We went over things (like the location of the fire extinguishers, and evacuation tactics) that the rest of the team didn’t get, and I could see value in that.

            In later conversations with people, I realized that they often didn’t even think about the things (like the fact that there even were fire extinguishers) that I’d learned.

            I might suggest the OP contact this person’s previous employer to discuss what the training covered, and think a little harder about whether people should have a little more training than is currently being given.

      14. learnedthehardway*

        It sounds like you’re dealing with someone who has either come to a realization that “OMG there really is a risk of BEARS” OR who is just being obstructionist.

        I think you need to have a “This job entails bears” conversation with the person, and make it clear that this is not an optional part of the role.

      15. Mostly Managing*

        You really can’t make a job in the wilderness completely safe from all wild animals.
        You can’t even guarantee that their bug spray will work and they won’t be eaten by mosquitoes and blackflies!

        A friend in highschool did a summer job similar to what you describe here, and tried to convince me to do it the next year. The combination of bugs and (potential) bears was not my cup of tea – I worked at a summer camp instead. My friend went on to work in national parks. I work in cities.

        It’s ok for the back country/wilderness jobs to not be for everyone.

      16. Snell*

        Adding my voice to the chorus—if this one individual employee continues to carry on like they have, it is fully possible that NOTHING you do or don’t do will make them feel safe working the job. Good on you for paying attention to this concern, but you may need to accept that even if you do everything perfectly, this specific employee might not be convinced by expertise and reason.

      17. I'm A Little Teapot*

        If someone fundamentally isn’t comfortable with the realities of the job, then they need a different job. For this specific individual, they shouldn’t have been in that job, because training in bear spray wasn’t going to make them feel safe. They fixated on the bear spray because it was easier than addressing the real issue.

      18. Human Bear Manager*

        So, I am a little bit of an expert in this area. I used to work in “Human/Bear Management” for a state parks organization – i.e. I helped manage the relationship between humans and bears in the parks. I helped with the education of guests and with trapping and hazing bears. It sounds to me like already have all the safety measures you need in place. Black bears can be dangerous, but the chances of an “adverse” encounter are so so low if you just follow the precautions of being aware of your surroundings and getting big and making lots of noise if you do need to scare them off.

        So, in my opinion, your staff is safe. But we still have the question of do they *feel* safe. To get to the root of that, I think you need to talk to them. If you talk through with various employees what their specific concerns are, you might be able to alleviate their anxiety or you might find a safety precaution your staff can take that you haven’t thought of. Make them be specific about what they think will happen.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I got the impression from the letter that there’s only one employee with any concerns, specific or general. Nobody else seems to have any kind of anxiety, just that one person who’s trying to convince them that they should be afraid.

      19. Zap R.*

        I don’t know if you’re under provincial or federal jurisdiction in terms of health and safety but if it’s federal, I’ve found that the Canada Labour Code hotline folks have been extremely helpful, even with obscure or unusual questions. Provincially, I know Alberta has workplace bear safety materials online – maybe other labour ministries have similar stuff you can take a look at.

      20. Mostly sarcastic*

        Spend $15 and give the person a copy of the book “Bear Attacks: their causes and avoidances”. They’ll be so freaked out they’ll never leave the house (and therefore, never apply to work at your job again).

        For anyone who’s curious: the book is really good, and if you can read it with a logical mind, you realize that black bears are a completely manageable risk if you know the basics of how to respond to them. (Grizzly bears are a different kind of risk factor.) If you’re prone to overreacting though, you’ll read them book and move to NYC, because it’s safer from bears.

        1. Beboots*

          OP here – can I say, we actually have this book in our staff library? :) We actually reference it in our training files for the bear safety training I provide my staff. I agree, it’s a great resource!

      21. Warrior Princess Xena*

        Re: the second part of your question, I don’t think you can, at least not for this employee. All jobs require some level of risk. There are a large number of jobs where I have looked at the risk and thought ‘no, not for me’. There are also a lot of jobs where I have looked at the risk and thought ‘I feel that if I do my job well I can minimize this to the point where I don’t have to worry about it’. Your employee is not comfortable working in bear country. A fundamental part of your job involves working in bear country. These are not compatible needs, and your employee should probably not be rehired next season.

      22. Momma Bear*

        So if the person still balks without the bear spray and there’s no real way you can guarantee that a bear won’t come into the campground, then that’s a “this is not the right job for you” situation. The spray is the topic but it’s not really the subject.

      23. Chinookwind*

        Honestly, if that is an employees response to working in an area with potential bear encounters, then I don’t think they are the right fit for the job. The bears were there first and have seniority. If an employee can’t work with them, then they need to find a different place to work.

        Some people don’t like working at a desk, some people can’t stand working retail. It sounds like your employee has just found a working environment that isn’t right for them.

      24. Hazel*

        OP, you could let it play out. Tell the employee that your safety person is satisfied and perhaps that the Park allows visitors with no training but warnings, and there are processes for aggressive bears and no attacks in x years. If they make a formal H&S complaint it sounds like you would be upheld.

        We had a staffer who insisted that all the handheld debit card payment terminals should be tethered so they couldn’t be thrown by ticked off customers (at a marriage licence counter!). Never happened, not did anyone throw a chair or coffee or any other random thing, but they had to hear it from H&S to be satisfied.

        I always think it is worth a quiet no pressure chat about what really bothers them though. It’s usually another fear/insecurity or need to be validated. If you can find a project for them it may refocus them.

      25. tamarack etc.*

        I live in bear country (brown & black), and occasionally do fieldwork. At my institution, many students and staff members are in the same situation. We have bear safety training modules available and they are widely taken. This doesn’t just include how to use bear spray, but generally safe behavior (food storage, walk in groups, make noise…) and other related topics. Also, the work of Stephen Herrero and collaborators on the efficiency of bear spray is widely known and part of the conversation. We’re also well briefed on the unified bear safety advice that the US and Canadian federal and state/provincial agencies developed jointly a few years back and that they use for their training nowadays.

        In a previous project I regularly did fieldwork in an Arctic environment where bears are common (including polar bears). That project was directly run through a US federal government agency, and they had requirements for us to be trained, and yearly refreshed, on bear defense with shotguns. That would be overkill if you aren’t dealing with polar bears. Also, for the vast majority of people, bear spray is more effective (see Herrerro research…) and much easier to handle than a firearm, and obviously safer.

        It seems to me that it’s completely reasonable for you to expect that your employees are ok with moving around in a safe manner in bear country. However, a) this should be part of what they sign off on when they are hired and b) it’s *also* quite reasonable for them to expect that they have training modules on bear safety available. If what you are talking about is, like, little black bears all over the place in Ontario or thereabouts (that is, not prolonged, possibly solo, hiking in a remote environment), then that could maybe just be a 1h presentation by a conservation officer, or whatever there is in your area.

        1. tamarack etc.*

          (Re-reading the post, I also think that staff that is tasked with delivering bear safety messages needs to be knowledgeable on bear safety. I wouldn’t camp in bear country without having basic competencies and bear spray, and would expect camp staff to be fully competent and equipped. The OP seems to see the problem as a bit mechanical, as if the availability of bear spray would convey competency, but seriously, that’s not the case. The employee may have a point there, even if the words she uses to convey it is less than fully optimal.)

      26. Jessica Fletcher*

        Assuming the manufacturer video demonstrates how to use the spray, that seems sufficient to me as a layperson. I’ve gone hiking and carried bear spray, thankfully never used it. I didn’t feel like I was uneducated. It’s the same as using any aerosol spray. I’m not sure what else the employee wants, unless they want to mace somebody, which seems unnecessary.

        The previous commenter points out the risk of accidentally spraying yourself, but you can’t really train that out of yourself. If you panic in the moment, yeah, you could spray yourself. Practicing spraying something else isn’t going to prevent that.

        Imo, this employee sounds like they just like to pretend they’re facing injustice. I hope they don’t come back next year. They don’t seem cut out for the job.

      27. Lifeandlimb*

        I think your employee is not a good fit for the job. Possible bear encounters are part of the role and something you have adequately prepared your workforce for. I think it’s actually possible that providing bear spray is overkill considering this team seems to work only in public or heavily trafficked areas.

        You don’t need to put any more safety measures in place—just be very clear about the occupational hazards up front. I think this employee is not going to be satisfied no matter what you do.

    2. K*

      Yes, I am quite surprised that according to the safety officer, training on proper use of bear spray is not necessary. I am an avid distance hiker and at the start of every season I watch video tutorials on correct use of bear spray, and bought a canister of mock/deactivated bear spray one to practice using it safely. So I would expect that state park employees are also getting trained in the safe use of bear spray.
      That being said, if I were in OP’s situation, I would re-read my employment contract carefully, to see what it exactly says about my responsibilities to ensure employe safety, and whether I need to address employee’s concerns myself or refer them to the safety officer.

      1. SofiaDeo*

        But they LIVE in bear country. This is hitting me along the lines of “train me how to walk on potentially icy roads” when living/working in Buffalo, NY. Bear spray comes with instructions; I suppose one should make a point of requiring staff who actually want bear spray, read and understand the warnings. Do employees get any kind of basic “what to do if there is a bear” training, or at least a “please read/be aware of/ask questions about”, the Bear Avoidance section of the Policy and Procedure Manual.

        Perhaps one of the job requirements should be adjusted to “experienced in common bear avoidance/mitigation techniques”? or “willingness to learn about/use up to several bear avoidance techniques”? So on my example above, the person should “have reasonable balance and ability to walk on icy roads when performing job duties in inclement weather.”

        Apologies, but this is reminding me of “do not drink while pregnant” on vodka bottle warnings. At some point, living in a certain area, one gets basic life skills. Whether they are rational, or not, or experienced commonly by others, is not the point. So the advice about “is this the type of job for you, knowing you need to do/be exposed” to this is probably needed, if for nothing more than a CYA. Because not everyone living in Bear County, or a big city, or wherever, thinks things through the way many of us would suppose. Like the janitor who was surprised at being reprimanded at Not putting out “caution wet floor” signs. To their thinking, of Course the floors are wet, that’s what he is doing all day long, everyone else should constantly be aware of wet floors. Not “wet floors are the exception, you are required to put out the signs.” And he lost that argument, it was in the P&P manual as well as covered during his training. Even though many might think “that’s common sense to put put a Wet Floor sign.” He didn’t, it was his experience that floors were indeed wet, all day long.

        1. tamarack etc.*

          It’s not just as simple as reading the instructions on the bottle. There’s a lot more that someone moving around in bear country should be aware of. Like, not running. Moving in groups. Making noise. Being aware and on the lookout for bears. When to retreat and when to fight.

          (One of our bear safety trainers, a wildlife biologist formerly with the AK Department of Fish and Game, told us about a state employee who was hired from “outside” (out of state). He had been told “if you see a bear, play dead”. So he saw a bear on the opposite hillside, and fell down playing dead. Which attracted the bear’s curiosity and actually caused the close encounter that followed.)

          Companies train their employees in how to use a scaffolding and how to walk or drive on ice. They should train employees that are moving around among bears in how to behave among bears.

      2. hodie-hi*

        IMHO, this employee is either a rabble rouser or not a good fit for the requirements of the job.

        As someone who van camps in remote areas, I do bring bear spray. I have practiced grabbing it quickly, taking the safety off and preparing to fire… quick draw. I have not fired it yet. When I have an expired canister, I’ll practice actually firing. But my main plan is to jump into the van.

        1. K*

          Yes, I mentioned in another comment that employee may not be a good fit for a job.
          There are inert (dummy) bear sprays for training purposes, I bought one on amazon to practice. But I might be excessively cautious due to some personal history of bear encounters.

    3. Alissa*

      As someone who lives in the Rocky Mountains and carries bearspray for 50%+ of the year the staff member has a very valid point. If you are working somewhere that has bear sightings 2+ times a week then they are raising a legitimate safety concern. There is nothing worse from a Health and Safety standpoint than someone raising a legitimate safety concern and just patting them on the head and telling them it will be “ok” while doing absolutely nothing to address the issue. In 2014 Suncor Energy had an employee killed by a black bear while working. Recommendations from the subsequent inquiry included the need for bear safety training and carrying bear spray. It would be easy enough to find a bear safety educator to provide staff with bear safety and bear spray training or use an online program. Bear spray is a useful tool that should come with basic training and not be an “optional” tool only for those who feel comfortable using it with no training or who got training elsewhere (because chances are if you don’t feel comfortable carrying it you also have no clue how to deal with a bear in the first place). Your employee is right – do better.

      1. Pierrot*

        But they already provide bear safety training based on the letter. The actual employees are teaching their visitors about bear safety so presumably, they themselves were trained in bear safety. The LW asked the compliance officer about the intensive half-day bear spray training, and the officer pointed them to videos on the bear spray manufacturer’s website which I’m guessing the LW conveyed to her report.
        It does make sense to offer a brief explanation of bear spray when training employees- maybe show them the video or direct them to it. It seems like the issue is that the employee is advocating for a half-day training that is specifically devoted to bear spray (as opposed to general training on bear safety which they likely already have if they are training other people on it).

      2. Human Bear Manager*

        I don’t know about this. I think you are being a little harsh. I have worked in bear safety education. The parks where I worked had high black bear populations and no one carried bear spray. Different populations of black bears are different. In my experience, if they are working in a park that is fairly close to civilization, the chances of a predatory bear attack (which is when bear spray is most useful) are basically unheard of. In the geographic area where I worked, which was quite large and had high populations of both people and bears, there has never been a fatal black bear attack. You need different bear safety precautions if your working in, say, backcountry Yosemite vs. Lake Tahoe. I think this is a situation where the OP needs to know their bears and their staff. Not all black bear populations are created equal.

      3. Nesprin*

        Thank you for saying this- I really dislike how most of the posts here are about how the employee with (to my mind) reasonable concerns is being told they’re in the wrong line of work, since their concerns are irrational.

        1. Antilles*

          If an employee answers like OP’s employee did, “boss, I’m just not comfortable working where there’s the risk of X” though? It’s entirely possible that the concerns are perfectly rational but also impossible to satisfy because X is part of the job.
          It may or may not be rational to be worried about bear attacks, but if it’s really true that seeing a bear happens multiple times every single week, you kind of need to either (a) learn to overcome your fear or (b) find a different role. It’s just part of the job that can’t be changed.

          1. Nesprin*

            I think I need to point out here that I’ve literally said “Boss, I’m not comfortable doing key part of my job” in the past, at multiple different institutions.

            Reasons why included:
            broken safety equipment (which we got fixed),
            a coworker with comical lack of respect for safety regulations (who got reassigned to accounting after I caught him handling blood with a spinal needle without gloves or a coat on),
            someone not following LOTO procedures (who got fired on the spot),
            being told information that I knew was incorrect by my health and safety oversight people (which involved a safety documentation overhaul).

            I’ve also asked for work to be reviewed because a coworker was pregnant and working with teratogenic chemicals and because an intern was handed a chemotherapeutic agent without the right PPE.

            And my companies took seriously and fixed the problems, because I identified problems that were objectively dangerous and managing safety for myself and my coworkers is a key part of my job that supersedes literally anything else.

        2. Worldwalker*

          The employee told other employees that they should not go into the campground (which is occupied, primarily, not by bears but by tourists) because it was too dangerous unless they not only had bear spray, but a multi-hour-long intensive training in how to use it.

          That is not reasonable. There is no evidence that the bears have ever, or likely will, presented a threat to the staff. The actual bear safety experts have supported this. None of the other, presumably more experienced, staff members have expressed any concern.

          That’s kind of the whole point of the comments: the employee is in the wrong line of work (or at least the wrong location) *because* their concerns are not reasonable, nor are their demands.

          There’s a big difference between “y’know, maybe we should have more than written instructions and a video before we go out with this stuff” and “the campground is too dangerous to enter because of bears, even though no one has ever been hurt by a bear there, and lots of people are camping there, because it’s a campground.”

    4. Carlene*

      Depends entirely on the type of bear – the dangers associated with, say, polar bears are SIGNIFICANTLY higher than those associated with black bears in campgrounds. Being around polar bears (if you’re working, in say, Churchill in bear season) definitely requires special training. And a firearm.

      (I live in Ontario, if you go camping in a provincial park, you will encounter a black bear. It may flip open your cooler and steal your steak. You quietly get into your car and alert the park ranger. The bear will likely be trapped and moved deeper into the park, further away from humans).

  3. Anonymous 5*

    In addition to the admiration for how widely-applicable this advice is (so, uh, OP, I think that pretty much dispels the lumberjack stereotype, if that helps!)…am I wrong to hope that “bear safety” joins llama grooming and teapot painting in Wakeen’s Pantheon of AAM Gems?

    Also, OP, FWIW I think you gave a really clear case here, and I’m impressed how you tread the balance of “this is a fact of life here” and “encounter with bear has a strong chance of not ending well.” I’d feel very confident in your management and judgment if I were staying at your campground!

    1. Posilutely*

      I’d like to nominate ‘mouse jiggling’ to join the others as I had never heard of that particular piece of technology and initially assumed from a glance at the title that Alison had done an AMA with someone who had a VERY niche job!

  4. Sarah G*

    With the caveat that I worked in Yellowstone in the USA, and not Canada, our National Park Service offered training with emptied bear spray canisters on how to safely deploy it for the private sector employees of the park who would likely encounter bears. This was extremely valuable to me as it gave me the muscle memory and spatial recognition necessary to use bear spray even when fear takes over. When I did encounter a bear while hiking, the training ensured that I was safely able to deploy the real canister and scare off the bear.

    The letter writer may want to look into whether this sort of training exists where they are. If so it can be an optional thing for employees, paid for by the employer, if there’s even a fee.

    1. SJPxo*

      Didn’t OP said their kinda is but it’s A really not necessary and that the team that do it just do not have the time to do such intense training on something they’re super rarely going to use, if at all.
      I lived in Kananaskis Valley in Canada and we very much had bear, Moose, Wolves etc and never once did I need that level of training cause like OP we saw them but wildlife there didn’t want to be super close to it, just like we didn’t wanna be close to it..

      1. OhNo*

        True, but I’ve always been told that you should never carry a weapon or self-defense implement unless you’ve been trained to use it. I can see why an employee might insist on having training in a self-defense tool if they are required to carry it by their employer.

        However, this tool wasn’t required, it was optional. So, it sounds like this particular employee had either some misunderstanding of what the LW was offering, or training expectations that were just out of step with their actual position.

        1. gsa*

          “I’ve always been told that you should never carry a weapon or self-defense implement unless you’ve been trained to use it. I can see why an employee might insist on having training in a self-defense tool if they are required to carry it by their employer.”

          The quoted above is it a very important part of this discussion. I would go so far to say that even if only two people carry bear spray, all should be trained in its use.

          If you’re going to be around dangerous tools, you should know how to use them. Doesn’t mean you have to, but you should know how.

          1. Allonge*

            For me the disconnect here is that apparently you can buy bear spray in a shop. It comes with instructions. There is a video.

            Certainly OP could require that everyone watches the video, but it soes not seem to be the case that thre is an easily accessible _training_ beyond this. Would this be satisfactory?

            1. Ursine LeGuin*

              You can buy guns in a shop, too, but do you say that gun owners ought not to have hands-on training on firearm safety? Even the NRA favors gun safety training.

    2. Pippa K*

      This is a good suggestion, and probably the most the OP should try to do. I live in bear country, and the wildlife and parks people occasionally come to the local farmers’ market to do basic bear safety training for anyone interested. It includes how to use bear spray (which I regularly carry). This is just not a subject where I can imagine a full half-day training session like the employee wanted! Especially because, if I’m reading this right, the concerned employee has already had such a training session in a previous job?

      Wildlife safety information is important but the demands raised by this employee seem excessive. Sounds like they’re just not suited to this work environment.

    3. Purple Cat*

      This is where I land too. Although I think there is a fundamental mismatch between this particular employee and the program, I would feel infinitely more comfortable carrying something like bear spray, having been able to test deploy one. Seems like a happy medium between another all-intensive full-day training, which is overkill, and the current training.

    4. Shan*

      I know in Alberta (not sure where OP is), there are quite a few bear safety training programs offered, including courses on bear spray deployment.

    5. crookedglasses*

      Doesn’t the grizzly vs black bear distinction also matter here? My understanding is that even in areas heavily populated by black bears, carrying bear spray isn’t a default. Whereas if there are grizzlies around, the math on that changes and you’re far more likely to need bear spray.

      (I’ve also spent time around black bears and grizzly bears in a captive setting and we operated with different protocols for them just based on how much more temperamental grizzlies are.)

      1. Pierrot*

        That’s what I was thinking too. It’s not that black bears aren’t dangerous- they definitely have the capacity to harm or even kill humans but from my understanding, they are less aggressive (unless it’s a mom bear who feels like their cubs are threatened). I had a pretty close encounter with a black bear on a camping trip when I was 12- the bear actually came close to us but it seemed much more interested in food than humans and it left pretty quickly without bear spray being deployed. There’s no guarantee that a bear won’t be aggressive, but grizzlies and polar bears are definitely a lot more terrifying to me than black bears. I think if someone was going camping in a very remoted area where black bears are common, bear spray is probably more neccessary.

      2. spruce*

        Absolutely, it should. I once had a really amazing job in the Arctic, in polar bear territory. The safety recommendations there went even beyond – you don’t go anywhere without one person in your group carrying a gun that they are well trained to use. No one wants to kill a polar bear, but they are not the type to be deterred by anything… humans just look like weirdly shaped seals to them.
        Different bears, different rules.

  5. badger badger*

    Grew up in bear heavy country here! (Grizzlies too, which can be more dangerous than black bears). Has this person had a bear encounter or worked/lived where more dangerous bears encounters are common? Because this does seem like an overreaction. Even in bear heavy country, the best tool with dealing with bears in the “close” wilderness (campsites, national parks, not backcountry camping) is to AVOID THEM. Bear spray and other “aggressive” bear tactics can give people undue confidence or train them to assert themselves around bears, and isn’t best practice. You’re in their house!

    1. anne of mean gables*

      Agreed – this person’s concern seems out of proportion to the actual danger. I live in (black) bear country, am outdoorsy and live in a generally outdoorsy community, and I don’t know a single person who carries bear spray. Folks who go out west where there are grizzlies absolutely do carry bear spray for hikes but black bears are much less of a danger to humans.

      It may be the case that park rangers and other professionals here do carry bear spray as part of their duties but it’s definitely not considered unsafe to be in the forest without it.

    2. Beboots*

      OP here – I think that this is a very good point. Bear spray is only one tool, and one of last resort. My staff are trained to actually deliver this very messaging to visitors as a part of their job – one of the reasons they work in the campground. A lot of what they talk about is prevention, awareness, and avoidance. In theory my staff know this – but do they then feel that putting it into practice is still not sufficient for keeping them safe? Again, I’ve lived, worked, and hiked/camped in bear country for quite some time, and of all of the bear encounters I’ve had, I only had to deploy bear spray once (and honestly it was my fault for accidentally surprising the bear, going around a corner next to a loud river). We’re guests in bear territory, etc. etc., and should be practicing what we preach.

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        OP, can you clarify — does your team member want more intensive bear SPRAY training, or more intensive bear SAFETY training?

        1. Zap R.*

          Yeah, are they afraid of bears or is this a situation where a WHMIS data sheet could solve the problem?

        2. Beboots*

          I believe it’s bear SPRAY training as they are trained on bear safety (prevention/”bear aware”) as they communicate that message to the public (to the point that my staff tell me they’re sick of talking about bears). But the staff member wasn’t able to make their concerns really clear to me. I did end up sending them and other team members to the team that hazes bears for some additional training including deploying dummy bear spray but I was told by that team leader that that training was not necessary for their role in the park – above and beyond what should be expected in a work context – and that they may not be available to deliver it to my team in the future.

          1. Hazel*

            That’s ok! Play it up! Tell the employee how special it is and they are for having the high level bear training! It might work. I feel like I had the same employee in another life. But if you can get them onto bird species counting or storeroom inventory or something equally harmless that might provide an outlet.

      2. Pippa K*

        Yeah, I’m curious about whether this staff person might be overstating bear danger to the public in the visitor safety talks, too, since they don’t appear to accept the messaging they’re giving out.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I think there’s an implied expectation to keep others safe, which could be heightening anxiety. You can tell visitors all day not to antagonize a bear, but what is the staff supposed to do when one idiot decides to be funny? I’m not saying you haven’t thought of that or aren’t training your staff sufficiently, I’m just offering a perspective on why someone might want extra precautions or training to feel fully equipped to do this job.

        That said, I think you’re overthinking this. You had one person raise a fuss. I can tell from both your letter and your comments that you’re being extremely conscientious. You sought advice from experts close to you, and Alison who knows nothing about bears but can give you the leadership perspective. You’re doing everything right. It’s important to know that no matter how many precautions you put in place you cannot please everyone, and some people just won’t be suited for the job.

    3. genderqueer commenter*

      I grew up in grizzly territory too, and this was my immediate thought – it feels like an overreaction, especially to black bears. Maybe I’m UNDER reacting, but this type of fear feels unwarranted.

      That being said, I’ve also worked for places where I wasn’t even allowed to use a fire extinguisher without being trained first, so I get the argument that an employee should be trained to use bear spray before they can carry it.

    4. tamarack etc.*

      I agree with you on avoidance, but… that’s *also* something that should be on the training curriculum.

  6. T*

    I read this as someone who was asking for training on how to use the spray. Bear spray is no joke, if it gets in your eyes/nose/mouth or on your skin you’re going to have a really bad week. You can’t just say “make sure the wind is blowing away when you spray” and leave them to it. Maybe contact their local PD and ask if there’s training for pepper spray/mace? It’s not the same thing but the canisters deploy the same way and the dangers are similar and the standard training covers what to do if you get it in your face or on your skin.

    This is akin to putting fire extinguishers in offices and never training anyone how to use them properly. It’s not safe and that employee was right to ask for training.

    1. Bearly Listening*

      I was thinking this as well. I took a (human) defense class and they offer pepper spray training and some pepper spray guns even have a dummy cartridge so you can experience and visualize how it plays out when used without repercussion.

      But if the employee received the training at another site I’m not clear on why they want it again. The site isn’t the issue here, bears and apparently proper use of bear spray are. They were trained on this already if I’m reading correctly. Are they advocating for their coworkers to get it?

      1. Ursine LeGuin*

        But if the employee received the training at another site I’m not clear on why they want it again.

        1. The employee appears to believe, quite logically, that his co-workers would benefit from the training as well.
        2. Safety training should periodically be repeated to ensure that “muscle memory” stays fresh. This is why you do fire drills once every six months. It is not “one and done.”

    2. ENFP in Texas*

      I’ve worked in an office for several decades and never received instruction on how to use a fire extinguisher, even though the office had one…

    3. Library Lady*

      I get the point you’re making, but fire extinguishers and bear spray are not comparable. Public buildings have fire extinguishers for public safety because unless you’re using it COMPLETELY WRONG there’s no inherent danger. I have never gotten fire extinguisher training as part of my job training or onboarding; it’s assumed that the fire extinguishers can be used in an emergency by someone who has had little-to-no training. AEDs (automated external defibrillators) are also in many public buildings because they can’t* cause harm even when used by someone with no training.

      Pepper spray, bear spray, tasers, advanced first aid devices such as breathing tubes – all of those require training at some level to use them correctly and safely. What that training entails depends on the device and the situation, but it’s much different than a fire extinguisher.

      *technically the AED user could be shocked if they don’t follow correct protocols but the victim is safe from harmful shocks due to the inherent design of the AED

      1. Cut Short for Time*

        I have received fire extinguisher training several times! Some of the perks of lab work with flammable chemicals.

      2. Elaner*

        Please make sure to either seek extinguisher training or only use in the case of a person being on fire. Fire extinguishers are super hazardous to the individual using them. In the US it is an OSHA requirement that anyone allowed to use a fire extinguisher for property fires is annually trained on their use and risks. And of course OSHA does not apply if you are a public employee, but your state will have an equivalent program/requirement.

        The hazard depends on the type of extinguisher, but even the most mild extinguisher will significantly worsen visibility and ability to breath (on top of any smoke) making it significantly more difficult to exit the burning building.

        1. Worldwalker*

          I have someone who works in the safety department of a federal government-owned facility standing here, reading Elander’s comment.

          First, he mentioned that yes, they do have annual training. They get a reminder to “PASS: P – pull pin, A – aim at base of flames, S – squeeze trigger, and S – sweep back and forth.” Oh, and there’s a video, with advice on when to use a fire extinguisher and when to just run. The video is five or ten minutes and is also covers general fire safety and emphasizes things like not putting office furniture in front of the fire extinguisher storage.

          Second, fire extinguishers are *not* “super hazardous” or we’d have people dying from using them all the time. They aren’t, and they don’t. They’re sold by the millions to people who, while they might not use them effectively (and in fact frequently don’t; RTFM, people!) nonetheless are not harmed, at least not by the fire extinguisher, from trying. For normal (non-laboratory/industrial) usage, a typical ABC fire extinguisher will deal with most anything you’re likely to encounter. And about the only way to hurt yourself with one is to drop it on your foot.

          Have you ever seen a fire extinguisher being used? No, they do not “significantly worsen visibility and ability to breathe.” Typical ABC-type fire extinguishers contain inert dry powder — it settles. It wouldn’t do much good if it was flying around in the air, now, would it? It goes where you spray it — which is why the fourth letter of “PASS” is for “Sweep.”

          And if you have a burning building, you should not be using a fire extinguisher in the first place. Fire extinguishers are suitable for fires around the size of a wastebasket, not burning buildings.

          My expert is still shaking his head at “super hazardous.”

      3. Ferret*

        Fire extinguishers can be pretty hazardous if you don’t know what you are doing – there are several types which can make fires worse depending on the situation – , eg electrical fires vs chemical fires vs paper fires. Training doesn’t need to take very long (I’ve always seen it included as part of a general safety briefing) but it is important

      4. Ochre*

        Yeah, I’ve received fire extinguisher training at several jobs. Various features included: 1) Activate emergency responses first unless the fire is tiny, because most extinguishers are only big enough for a small fire, 2) use the right type of extinguisher for the type of fire, 3) the best use of the extinguisher is to help you get out of the space, 4) actually put your hands on it to pull the pin, squeeze the handle, etc, 5) don’t asphyxiate yourself with the oxygen-displacing spray. At my current employer it’s included in our annual safety training which includes handling of certain chemical spills, evacuation procedures, active shooter (run/hide/fight), radiation safety (healthcare stuff like xrays), etc.

      5. Warrior Princess Xena*

        I can confirm that fire extinguishers can be used by someone with little or no training – I used one when I was six to put out a microwave fire. (Yes, different types of fire extinguishers, chemicals, etc – still a lot less risky to have around than an active fire). Bear spray and pepper sprays in general are a different kettle of fish.

        1. RadManCF*

          This sounds like a case of dumb luck. As previously stated, the wrong extinguisher can be used on the wrong type of fire, with disastrous results (water on burning oil, or worse, magnesium,) and can actually spread fires. I had a chemistry professor tell a story of watching a grad student set a whole lab on fire by carelessly spraying an extinguisher at a burning liquid.

          1. Splendid Colors*

            A neighbor of mine made the fire in his apartment worse with a fire extinguisher.

            He used a water spray fire extinguisher on a lithium battery fire, which spread the fire.

            Luckily, he was still able to evacuate (and the fire was confined to his living room) but if the extinguisher from our hallway had been the right kind for chemical/electrical fires, it probably would’ve helped instead of making it worse.

    4. CheesePlease*

      This makes sense. But even when I got fire extinguisher training at work (multiple times!!) it was just a glorified reading of the instructions printed on the wall / on the canister. It’s good to have the knowledge beforehand. But we didn’t practice spraying anything or anything “hands-on”. It was a 30min training.

      In this case, scheduling time as a team to review instructions and the basics of when to deploy it could be a comparable training OP can provide.

      1. Green great dragon*

        I got training on which extinguisher to use on which sort of fire. Don’t use water on electricals is the main one, though there are some more obscure combinations which can lead to more dramatically bad results. But there’s a big jump between variations on ‘read the instructions’ and a half-day’s training.

        1. Cut short for time*

          Yes, and it depends on the job. I think for most offices, reading the instructions/online review for fire extinguishers is fine. When I was working in a lab, we also had hands-on training, as fires are more likely than in an office. I think that’s the difference between the OP and their employee – the OP is like, this is a rare occurrence, and reviewing instructions should be enough, and the employee feels like, there are bears, we should have hands-on training to use the bear spray properly.

        2. Sharpie*

          I had fire extinguisher training when working at a service station lo these many years past… Water and petrol (gasoline) is a truly terrible combination, too… Petrol is less dense than water and a river of burning petrol is very much not something anyone would ever want to see!!

    5. no thank you*

      as someone who decided to carry mace while navigating online dating – and then decided, five minutes before leaving for a date that maybe I should know how it works? And then sprayed it into the sink to make sure it did actually work. Which would have been fine. Except I wasn’t thinking this was aerosolized pepper spray, and didn’t immediately step back. And then inhaled the pepper spray that was still wafting about above the sink…. It was not bad at all, mostly it just got into my throat a bit and led to lots of coughing, but I’ve never felt more stupid lol. So while I do think the employee in this letter is overreacting a bit I can kind of see why this type of training could be helpful (to be fair, calling it training seems an overreach – you just need an overview and maybe a test canister to spray once to make sure you know what way to point it. A three minute training, as opposed to an extensive all day training on how to push a button like it sounds like they are asking for…)

    6. RadManCF*

      Seconding this. The employee is absolutely correct to ask for training. Providing people with weapons and expecting them to use them properly when the time comes is one of the most irresponsible things you could ever do. As a person who uses chemical irritants professionally (I’m a corrections officer,) I can say that chemical irritants aren’t as simple as some people think. First, there are different formulations (OC, OC blended with CS, older products based on CR or CN, PAVA, which is widely used in the UK rather than OC…) with different pros and cons (I’d describe the difference between OC and CS, CR, and CN as the difference between jalapeños and horseradish, and the older C agents are more toxic than CS) then there are different spray patterns (stream, gel, fog) for different situations, along with different concentrations. Training should include classroom instruction about the different irritants in use, their mechanisms of action, and the deployment systems to be used. Practical instruction should include deployment, exposure, and tactical drills. Exposure is a vital component of training with chemical irritants; if you deploy them, you will receive second hand exposure. If you’re unprepared for second hand exposure, you may disable yourself. OP, your attitude towards this is horrifying. Please reconsider.

      1. Ursine LeGuin*

        The employee is absolutely correct to ask for training. Providing people with weapons and expecting them to use them properly when the time comes is one of the most irresponsible things you could ever do.

        I would also observe that if OP’s company fails to provide the training, and someone uses the bear spray incorrectly in the event of an attack, the company could be held legally liable for negligence.

      2. anna*

        This is hyperbole. The OP consulted with an expert (an expert in the relevant field, unlike this comment) who confirmed she had done everything they’d recommend.

          1. NL*

            If you’re not yourself an expert in the topic you’re really not positioned to say that since they seem to have credentials you do not.

            1. RadManCF*

              I am qualified in the use of chemical irritants, and that is what I commented on. I will also add that due to physiological differences between humans and bears (fur, less developed tear ducts), a bear would be less affected by a given amount of irritant, just as dogs are, and therefore a more difficult target, making practical training all the more valuable.

  7. Dust Bunny*

    I thought this was going to be euphemistic bears but . . . nope.

    I mean, I agree that you should double-check the bear training with an expert to make sure it’s up-to-date and still adequate, but after that, yeah, maybe this person isn’t cut out for the job?

    I had a friend who liked animals but didn’t like biological effluvia ask what my [former] job with a vet was like and if there was a way to do it that wasn’t too messy. The answer to that was a firm “no”. If you’re that squicked out by blood, vomit, and poop you just don’t work for a vet.

  8. Alex*

    It doesn’t sound like the employee is worried for *their own* safety, since they have apparently already had the intensive bear spray training at their old job (am I reading that correctly?) and that they are doing this as a matter of principle.

    Bear attacks from black bears are extremely rare, and when they happen it is usually because the human was doing something stupid (like trying to get a selfie with the bear). I think I would explain to the employee that you’ve established with professionals that the current safety protocols are sufficient (they certainly sound so) for the environment you are working in, and ask if the job still works for them.

    1. greenland*

      That was the thing that jumped out at me, too — this person HAS had the exact training they are asking for! Maybe they don’t trust their colleagues to use bear spray safely or maybe they are just being generally disgruntled, but it’s fascinating to think about needing a *second* half-day training in how to use a very straightforward device. What new information do you think they’ll have this time??

      1. Lime green Pacer*

        Perhaps the previous training was some years ago, and they were looking for a refresher in order to feel more confident?

        1. tamarack etc.*

          Or the employee is concerned about the (lack of) bear safety culture within the team. Especially since they are supposed to deliver bear safety messaging.

      2. greenland*

        Actually, now that I’ve read more comments here like Marna Nightingale’s excellent comment below, I’m realizing I was wrong in thinking of simply deploying the device as straightforward and not more complicated given the larger context of how to handle bear encounters — appreciate the commentariat here!

      3. RadManCF*

        I suspect that part of the employee’s issue is that they don’t want to find themselves in a situation with a bear and another employee who isn’t as well trained.

  9. Evilsciencechick*

    I am here for bear safety work content! Such a refreshing change of pace from normal office drama! <3

    1. TPS reporter*

      Haha me too, this is so far away from my work from home desk job in a heavily human populated super liberal area of the US. I honestly for a second thought that this letter was about “bears” like leather/hairy types wearing outfits to the workplace.

  10. Escapee from Corporate Management*

    I don’t work with bears (literally or metaphorically), but I work in a company that is lab-based. Everyone must take a certified lab safety course. Some of it is basics that everyone should know (e.g., wear a lab coat, long hair must be in a hairnet), some of it is general (e.g., sterilization techniques) and some common problems are discussed in detail (e.g., chemical spills). We do not go into rare events in detail, but indicate the process and have self-tutoring available (e.g., caustic chemical spills, as we don’t typically use caustic chemicals). To me, it sounds like your employee is confusing a common event, the presence of a bear, and a rare event: a bear attack. To me, this indicates a basic misunderstanding of the risks involved in the role. Assuming an expert signs off on your training, this employee requires education. If that fails, then this is not the right job for the employee, especially since you have bears strolling around.

    1. TPS reporter*

      So true, also as a US person in an urban area I’m automatically terrified by any talk of bears. But the diversity of the commentariat is so helpful and fascinating.

  11. BlackBellamy*

    If you provide emergency use equipment to your employees you should make sure they are trained on it. In a true emergency, people forget to take the safety off, they forget to take the cap off, they don’t point it in the right direction, they spray wrong. This seems to be a reasonable request.

    1. Angela Zeigler*

      Yup! And telling an employee ‘They don’t have to use it if they don’t feel comfortable’ does not address the possible dangerous situation at hand.

  12. Marna Nightingale*

    This is all excellent advice and the only thing I would add as someone who does know a fair bit about peaceful cohabitation with bears that I would be very very cautious about giving untrained people bear spray. Which is Canadian for “I don’t think you should do that.”

    I think making it available without training was a mis-step and maybe that’s what this employee was reacting (not very coherently) to.

    Reasons being:

    1) It can engender a dangerous sense of confidence in bear country.

    2) Or cause people to overestimate the risks which may be what happened here.

    3) You want to make sure you control your best spray and ensure it doesn’t leave work, because depending where you are, it can be perfectly legal to own and carry it for the purpose of defending yourself from bears and yet the *second*’you point it at a person even if it’s not triggered you’re in fairly deep legal soup.

    4) It’s not QUITE spray-and-pray, it’s designed not to trigger by accident. You do want to practice the movement.

    5) If you trigger it too soon all you have done is to cause some pain to an animal who could still have been turned away by posturing and now you’re really in trouble.

    6) If you trigger it too late you’ve turned a bear attack into a worse bear attack.

    7) People being charged by bears are notoriously bad at pausing to check the wind direction.

    Suggestion: your local hunting or outdoors store may offer training, if they sell bear spray. They may see doing a free training as a marketing opportunity, and as your employees probably buy a lot of outdoors gear they’d be correct.

    But honestly, I think I’d lose the spray and buy some bear bangers, they’re much easier to use correctly.

    1. Hadespuppy*

      This is a very good comment, from an information standpoint, but thank you also for “People being charged by bears are notoriously bad at pausing to check the wind direction,” you almost made me spray tea all over my desk. I think some got into my sinuses.

    2. bamcheeks*

      Speaking as someone in the UK who has probably never been within a hundred miles of a bear, the fact that there exist in the world bear bangers is delightful to me.

      1. My lack of bear knowledge (formerly known as performative gumption)*

        Fellow Brit
        I for a moment did imagine someone deploying a bear banger and the bear stopping their attack to get down to some funky grooves

        1. Non-performative bear safety drills*

          Bear bangers: I was picturing someone throwing a couple of sausages–with or without a side of mash–toward the bear to distract him as they backed away.

      2. OyHiOh*

        When I was a kid, camping/summer living in Canadian black bear country, we made bangers/bear scares by dropping a few pebbles into a metal food can and pinching the open end of the can close. We’d then punch a hole through the pinched edges, run a piece of twine through, and tie to a belt loop, walking stick, or blueberry picking pail. I’m decades of doing so, I literally never saw a bear, even though I spent a stupid amount of time picking blueberries, which are also a bear favorite (there is a tumor that at one point as a child, I called blueberries “bear berries”). Black bears would much rather leave before humans see them.

    3. Lime green Pacer*

      Great points! Depending on the setting, bear bangers may not be permissible.

      A few other thoughts, as a Canadian and a regular camper at a park with bears:

      -Risks to staff may be greater than risks to campers, if staff are active when the campground is quiet and bears are active (late night, early morning)

      -Staff members are present throughout the season, individual campers are just there for a few days or weeks.

      -Staff may be working with bear attractants (collecting garbage & recycling, for example)

      As a camper, I don’t even think of carrying bear spray when I’m in the campground. My pre-dawn photo expeditions, though, are higher risk.

    4. Amcb13*

      I am interested to learn what “bear bangers” are without typing that phrase into my search bar at work, if anyone can enlighten me!

    5. Elizabeth*

      Fully agree with all of this! I think this is a case of the tool not matching the problem. Bear spray, as a tool, is too heavy handed for the actual problem, which is just that you need to be bear aware and stay out of their way. Telling employees to sing the bear song seems like a more appropriate solution.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        There’s a bear song? I must know the lyrics! This whole thread just gets better and better.

      2. DataSci*

        There’s an official bear song?

        When hiking in bear country (which I haven’t done for years) I sing “I don’t want to surprise a bear.” Another hiker came around the corner one time and gave us an odd look – we just shrugged and said “Well, we don’t”, and kept singing.

        1. My lack of bear knowledge (formerly known as performative gumption)*

          So does this mean the song The Teddy Bears Picnic is a bear banger?

    6. Pippa K*

      Our wildlife and parks guy, in a public info/training, stressed that bear spray is a last resort when a bear is charging you. Someone said “but what about wind direction? If the spray hits you won’t it hurt?” and he replied “won’t hurt as bad as being mauled.”

    7. theletter*

      This seems like the best solution to me. I think when the staff member is saying ‘intensive’, they really mean ‘any’. There should be someone, somewhere, who can offer a hands-on tutorial to anyone who wants to carry it. A few minutes of “spray this empty cannister into the void” really ought to resolve the issue.

    8. Divergent*

      4) and 7) are somewhat ameliorated by practicing with expired cannisters (assuming the organization has been offering bear spray for awhile, these accumulate and are a good training tool. At the end of the day. Far away from people.)

  13. Halley*

    If I’m given a new tool at work, I expect to be trained to use it safely. Especially if it’s for use in an emergency situation when emotions are high. Bear spray can be dangerous when not used correctly. We received a bear spray training when it was added to our gear and we used a tester canister to see how far it sprays and what it feels like. It can’t be that hard to source a training for this. And if something bad happens with a bear or the spray, you won’t have “covered your ass” appropriately. Why would you give spray if you didn’t expect it to be useful, and how can it be useful if they aren’t trained to use it?

    1. Mill Miker*

      But it seems like this employee _has_ had that training elsewhere. It’s striking me as being like someone who’s been first aid certified insisting that everyone needs to be certified because the employer offered some boxes of bandaids people can throw in their workbags.

      1. Annie*

        This is an interesting trend I’m seeing in this thread. I think some folks are thinking that, because this employee has had the training, their needs are satisfied (and there must be some other reason for them to keep insisting). I’m coming at it from the angle some others are coming from, though: this employee knows that there is training and knows the value of it, and is pretty surprised to find themselves in a workspace that has access to a particular tool (bear spray) that they know benefits from specific training, but that training isn’t available – to themselves but, more crucially, to others. I actually think it’s a fairly reasonable point!

        If we abstract away the specifics of it being bear-related, I don’t think this is all that different from the knowledge and experience we all pick up in our fields and carry with us to other employers. If this employee has been under the impression, from earlier training or a different culture, that this is just Not The Way Things Are Done, that’s understandable, and they might be on the right track.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        Wouldn’t you want other people to be first trained, in places where there’s danger, though? If you’re the injured party you can’t first aid yourself. I have no idea if these training concerns are valid, but wanting your colleagues to be as well trained as yourself is fairly unremarkable imo.

  14. Properlike*

    With the caveat that it’s always good to actively train people on a tool they may have to use… this employee sounds like they could be a bit “trigger happy.” A little too likely to escalate their use of force against bears in a way that could create problems for everyone, including the bears?

    I imagine it’s like wasp spray. Usually hornets and wasps will leave you alone if you leave them alone and stay calm. You don’t spray them just ’cause they’re there – but some people are inclined to.

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      Black and Brown bears: opportunistic omnivores and scavengers. Shyish. Don’t bring none, won’t be none. They don’t like surprises, mostly.

      Grizzlies: flexible omnivores, hunt sometimes, mostly leave you be if you leave them be, but they’re more territorial and they won’t tell you twice.

      Polar bears: Carnivore, hunter, bear spray is a seasoning and you are the entree.

      1. Robin*

        This reminds me of the rhyme my Alaskan friend taught me (that is apparently widely taught to children there):

        If it’s black, fight back (black bear -> posture, it will go away)
        If it’s brown, get down (brown bear -> play dead, be uninteresting, it will go away)
        If it’s white, say good night! (polar bear -> you are dinner)

        1. This Old House*

          I’ve always known “If it’s black . . .” and “If it’s brown . . .” (I live on the East Coast in black bear country, where bears are something to be aware of but not too worried about) I only heard “If it’s white . . . ” for the first time a few weeks ago. Really puts the very occasional black bear wandering through our suburban neighborhood in perspective!

          1. Marna Nightingale*

            And then, thanks to climate change, there are Grolar Bears.

            New bear just dropped, etc.

            Turns out polar bears and grizzlies are cross-fertile.

            We’re still finding out whether they’re mostly going to act like grizzlies or whether we have a bear with the instincts of a polar bear but the southern range of a grizzly on our hands.

            Which is an unnerving prospect, especially as they tend to look like grizzlies…

        2. Farnorth*

          Not so sure about this rhyme. Black bears start gnawing on you while you are still alive, brown bears prefer you dead.

        1. Marna Nightingale*

          Some black bears (Ursus americanus) are brown, though. Well, technically “cinnamon”, also called “red.” And Spirit bears (a subset of Ursus americanus kermodei) are white!

          Grizzlies (ursus arctos horribilis) and their cousins the Kodiak (Ursus arctos middendorffi) are blonde to dark brown.

          More reliably if you’re identifying them in a hurry, they’re much bigger than a brown ursus americanus.

      2. tamarack etc.*

        Welll… I appreciate your comment above, but as far as I’m aware the consensus of North American agencies was to go more by situation (predatory/defensive) rather than species (black/brown) even though there’s a strong correlation (brown bears usually defensive, black bear usually predatory). Also, Grizzly = brown bear. And interestingly enough in the rare cases where bear spray was deployed against polar bears, at least the person survived.

        Yeah, polar bears will actually hunt you. And predatory black bears have recently killed a few people as well (more than the frightening defensive Grizzlies). But that won’t happen in many other black bear populations that live peacefully side-by-side with civilization.

  15. Cacofonix*

    As a fellow Canadian living in a wooded area within a city and who regularly sees black bears outside my door and on my hikes, I think you’ve got an agitator in this staff member. Maybe wouldn’t go as far as a long time resident who has an agenda counter to your mission, but I’d be wary.

    Alison’s advice is good. You address this by vetting your safety protocols with an expert, which in my opinion you’ve already done.

    Consider doing one more step should this come up again. Before you head directly to training, invite someone from your occupational health and safety committee attend one of your staff meetings to give a short outline of your policy, reasons, safety record and answer questions to nip this in the bud.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      This was my thought. This seems more about undermining the manager than ensuring bear safety.

  16. Tom Davidson*

    Note to self: Send Alison an email in November, asking for an update as part of the year-end lookback… ;-)

    Other note to self: Write a short fanfic letter from the point of view of the bear: “Dear Alison: Most of the park workers I encounter are chill — but lately I’m feeling harassed by one in particular. Do I have an EEOC complaint?”

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      OMG, November needs to be fanfic month (tied to NaNoWriMo) like December is update month!!!

      1. Not Mindy*

        Yes yes yes! I want a fanfic month! I have shared the Hench fanfic with several people and laugh every time I read it.

    2. Naomi*

      I would love to read the bear’s letter to Alison, but I’ll also throw out an idea for what I was hoping for from the headline: an employee at a non-bear-country office job who is constantly warning their coworkers about the dangers of bear attacks.

        1. ...beets, Battlestar Galactica*

          Dwight: Jim, could you please inform Andy Bernard that he is being shunned?

          Jim: Andy, Dwight says welcome back and he could use a hug.

          Dwight: Okay, tell him that that’s not true.

          Jim: Dwight says that he actually doesn’t know one single fact about bear attacks.

          Dwight: Okay, no, Jim, tell him bears can climb faster than they can run. [Andy walks away] Jim! Tell him!

          Jim: Andy… nah, he’s too far.

          Dwight: Damn you.

  17. Your Computer Guy*

    I’m sick of these constant bear attacks. It’s like a freakin’ country bear jamboroo around here!

    1. Phony Genius*

      Glad I’m not the only Simpsons fan here who pictured this episode upon reading this. The employee involved reminds me of Mayor Quimby ordering the Bear Patrol.

  18. SomebodyElse*

    Weirdly this is a very relevant question for a lot of workplaces. You just kind of have to replace “bears” and “bear spray” with other things as needed.

    On the one hand I default to thinking your employee was a bit over the top and was probably not well suited for the job (I would hazard a guess that there were other indications and this wasn’t a one off).

    On the other hand it’s been drilled into my head that if you provide something in a job you have to train your employees to use it. So while yes the spray was an optional tool, that doesn’t absolve you (the employer) from thorough training. Understanding your Safety Officer’s response, I think it was probably a bit lazy. At the very least you don’t have any way of knowing who has watched the video or read the instructions. Assuming the video/instructions are enough for people to safely use the the spray, then I think in your shoes I’d train everyone (with documentation) in a more formal setting, or include it in your normal bear training (again with documentation).

    If all that had been done and your employee was still banging the “more intensive training” drum, then I’d probably have the “Do you think this is the right job for you” conversation with them.

    1. She of Many Hats*

      I’m starting to wonder if this employee is one of those “the reason why” employees that so many work places have: The reason why we can’t have/do X, the reason why there is X rule, the reason why we do X.

      And a “The Reason Why” would be a good column or twelve….

    2. Trash Lady*

      Agreed. I work in the garbage collection industry. And while I don’t know anything about bears, the safety side of me is horrified about the cavalier response towards training. We have a brief office training for our staff on how to deal with stray dogs. Those who want to carry pepper spray need to attend a longer training. I believe in the USA, training is required by OSHA if oleoresin capsicum (aka pepper spray) is provided by the employer.

  19. Quality Girl*

    As a safety professional in an entirely different field more focused on microscopic risks than big ol’ fuzzy cuddly ones, this is giving me life!

  20. Miranda oh Miranda*

    Honestly, I can kind of see where your employee is coming from.

    Bear spray is nasty stuff, and if you’re going to provide it to your staff, you should be providing adequate training in using it safely, and what to do if you get it on your eyes, hair, or skin.

    I’m not sure reading the instructions is adequate an actual bear based emergency, any more than reading the instructions on a fire extinguisher makes you able to tackle the fire.

    1. Chilipepper Attitude*

      Maybe give out eye/nose masks to wear when carrying the bear spray, then you don’t have to worry so much about using it correctly.

      1. Marna Nightingale*

        As someone who was in the thick of the 2001 Quebec City protests, I regret to inform you that that’s tear gas.

        Tear gas makes you feel like your lungs are on fire. Pepper spray makes your SKIN feel like it’s on fire.

  21. Retsuko*

    I grew up in bear country, and if you are working in bear country constantly and still need a half day training on how to handle bears with every job, employment in bear country is not for you. Training won’t change year over year – there’s a handful of ways to deal with bears.

    1. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Which, I think, are mostly summarized by “stay out of their way and don’t antagonize them when you’re in THEIR living room”

  22. Amber Rose*

    Canadian safety manager here: My service employees all have to take Bear Aware every year plus take on all the safety gear of our customers and do their on-site orientations (I have also taken Bear Aware countless times). Death by bear is one of the most frequent causes of death for oilfield workers! There’s a difference between the personally accepted risk of bears over a camping trip, and the risk caused by having to do work, and your company is held accountable if something happens, which is important for CYA reasons.

    I don’t know how detailed your safety program is or if you have COR, but maybe consider having a COR certifying partner out to do a quick audit of your safety regulations. Ours does consulting work and I’m going to assume there’s probably one near you. If this does step up to the level of work refusal, you’ll likely have to go that route anyway. You’ll need to prove that your current safety processes are sufficient.

    1. Hazel*

      Worse news for the manager, in Ontario the supervisor and employer are personally in liable for fines in the tens of thousands of dollars if they are negligent …

  23. LMB*

    I wonder if this is just a difference in culture and you don’t realize it.

    I worked for company A and received hand on, behind the wheel defensive driving class as part of my job training. I would be driving a company pickup 2-3 hours daily. Later left for a competitor, Company B. Company B provided an online defensive driving course only. While I was be doing less driving at company B; the difference was not that. It was the company culture, rules etc. In both cases this was what was offered to everyone who would be driving. Those at company B who had only worked there didn’t find anything off/odd about their training, but those who came from A were always surprised.

    At the end of the day all the manager can really do it say “this is what we offer and this is what your job duties entail” As long as that isn’t grossly negligent than the employee needs to figure out if it’s enough/the right fit for them. In my case I left company B exactly a year later, essentially the second I wouldn’t have to repay relocation costs.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I think this is probably it; the culture shock of “what we did at my last company”. I also think it’s relevant what OP says about all-singing all-dancing bear spray training only being relevant for certain areas and roles. This employee’s previous trainer over at Company A probably only went into detail about what was needed for situations at Company A. It’s unlikely they would have told them alternative levels of training for other areas, roles and organisations during a half-day workshop. Just because the employee was “expecting the same here” doesn’t make them in charge of equalising training at different places. If the employee preferred the training situation at their first company, maybe there’s a reason to go back.

  24. SJPxo*

    I am from England the worked in Canada, outside, in a nature resort and never once felt threatened or even needing to carry bear spray.
    I mean I get your staff members point of view but like you say, they rarely would get close enough to even use the spray.
    I encountered Moose a lot where I worked, they can be just as dangerous as a bear, even more so as they’re likely to charge more than bears would, and as OP said you keep your distance as neither really wants to encounter one another.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      Moose are stupid and aggressive, esp. in rutting season. I will never forget the sheer torrent of swearing that emitted from the traffic manager on the day a bull moose charged a train in Northern Ontario.

      The moose did not survive the encounter, but they did derail the train.

      1. hodie-hi*

        Holy crap, that’s a big moose! I have up close and personal encounters with moose every couple of years, but it’s mostly in spring and summer, sitting silently on my porch while a young or female moose crosses the yard mere feet in front of me, or similar while out on a walk.

    2. SJPxo*

      Exactly, like don’t get me wrong bears are nothing to trifle with but I was trying to make the point that me, an English person, who comes from a country with neither bears nor moose never felt overly intimidated by either and definitely not enough to get best spray so I kinda think OPs report is being a little OTT when wildlife generally wants to be left alone just like we do, and that having bear spray may just make OPs report a bit ‘trigger happy’ if ever encountering a bear and make it a bad situation that didn’t need to escalate

      1. SaffyTaffy*

        @SJPxo I have to say, I live in an area where black bear are common, I have a few run-ins with them every year, and I really think the fear of them is ridiculous. They’re incredible and powerful creatures, and up close it’s easy to understand why some Indigenous people believe we’re descended from them. But they’re nothing to be AFRAID of.

  25. Other Meredith*

    Love this letter for us. If you are particularly interested in the topic of bear safety, may I recommend the podcast Tooth and Claw? It’s about animal attacks, done by an actual wildlife biologist who has mostly worked with bears (currently in Yellowstone). They talk in every episode how to keep yourself safe if you actually encounter any of the animals they’re discussing, and bear spray and how to use it is a frequent topic of conversation!

  26. my cat is prettier than me*

    How odd, I had a nightmare last night where I was attacked by a bear. Granted, it was a grizzly, but it’s interesting timing.

  27. MissAnnThrope*

    Canadian who occasionally works in bear-country here. My company provides bear spray and provides hands-on training” with using bear spray in addition to video presentations.

    Basically, after we’ve watched the video, a bear expert comes on site, tells us about bear behaviour and explains the use of bear spray. Then a guy in a bear costume (think fuzzy mascot-costume) lumbers into the training space, goes “Rawr!” and acts (as much as possible for a guy in a bear costume) like an aggressive bear. We all take turns “discharging” an empty bear-spray canister in his face and then get feedback on our technique.

    Honestly, it’s useful. You have to be standing surprisingly close to a bear to use the spray. The hands-on training makes that point clear and gives trainees valuable physical practice in unstrapping the canister and deploying the spray.

    I’ve encountered quite a few bears and they usually do move on peacefully. I’ve never needed to use the spray and hope that I never will! I will say that facing down an unexpected bear with one’s bear spray at the ready is a nerve-wracking experience. Having practiced unstrapping the canister and discharging it right into a (pretend) bear-face gives me better confidence that I’ll react appropriately if I have to.

    1. La Triviata*

      I’ve seen videos from Japanese zoos where they have practice runs of what to do if a large, dangerous animal gets loose. They have staff put on a cardboard costume of the animal and run around while others use nets, etc., to corral it, maybe use a tranquilizer dart and return it to its enclosure.

    2. Zap R.*

      Serious question: how much does the guy in the bear costume make? I think I’ve found my dream job.

  28. Olivia*

    I think it’s also concerning that the employee was trying to warn other people away from doing their job, and was telling other people that they were being put in an unsafe situation.

    One thing that makes me think that the employee was incorrect in their assessment is that they didn’t saying anything until the LW mentioned that bear spray was available. They weren’t just saying that they needed more training on how to use the spray safely. They were saying that they needed more bear safety training and that the training given thus far wasn’t enough. It doesn’t seem like this is simply about a concern over people hurting themselves with bear mace. Rather, the mention of bear spray seems to have changed this employee’s assessment of the kind of bear danger there was.

    Assuming the LW has made sure that they really are following the best practices, it is really not acceptable to have one employee telling others that they are being asked to do something dangerous if that’s not the case. It seems kind of like having someone on a plane who is saying that the plane is going to crash–when everything seems fine. It could cause undue panic. This just doesn’t seem like a good candidate for bringing back next year.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – yes, I think you articulated something I was trying to sort out in my mind. I felt blindsided, because this person has worked at this site for several operational seasons, delivering bear safety messaging to visitors in the campground and other outdoor places, and only raised concerns about the sufficiency of training once I made bear spray available. I’m trying to make sure that I am following best practices – bear spray can be a useful tool, in extremis, but it’s not standard practice or a requirement from our occupational health and safety committee for staff to carry bear spray. If it was a misstep for me to offer that tool (which is carried by other departments on site) without more “intensive” practical training, I don’t have to make it available to my staff next season. But my staff are definitely trained on bear safety (without bear spray) because so much of it is in prevention and awareness. It was the whole… announcing to the whole team, including new people, that I was asking them to do something actively unsafe? I just want my staff to be safe and feel safe while doing their jobs so I wanted a gut check – hence, talking to bear safety experts on site (visitor safety officer), the OHS committee, and Allison.

      1. Heidi*

        Is it possible that your employee equated the bear spray being made available with an increased risk of bear encounters that hasn’t been disclosed by the higher ups and is, therefore, concerned about an increased threat?

        1. Sal*

          or even just a signal that their own previous estimation of bear-related risks was too low. (e.g., if Employee thought it was a 10% risk, but knows or believes that management wouldn’t offer bear spray unless there was a 30% risk, Employee could now believe that both there is a 30% risk AND the training on offer, both as to spray and as to bears generally, is inadequate for a 30% risk level). Whether any of that is reasonable is up for debate and depends on the particulars, I suppose. But it could be.

      2. Yoyoyo*

        I’ve seen this happen with my former (totally unrelated to bears) team. There would be a refresher training on some aspect of safety and one or two people would become very anxious about it, as if the risk hadn’t been there all along. Then they would whip others up into a frenzy and go to the higher ups to demand that they “do something” about a risk that cannot be eliminated and is in fact present in their personal lives as well (think potentially bringing home bedbugs). I think, at least in that setting, it had something to do with being overworked, underpaid, and feeling like they lacked control of their work in general, and these risks were the vehicle for the redirection of that anxiety. It could cause a surprising amount of stress within the team. Your employee seems like they are simply not a good fit for this particular role.

      3. Trash Lady*

        I’m in a different country and a different industry. But I do think it’s a small misstep to offer bear spray (or any tool) if it’s not a standard practice. It confuses employees and exposes companies to liability. I work in garbage collection. Some of our employees are issued puncture resistant gloves because of their specific work risks. I “could” offer these gloves to all our employees in garbage collection, but I don’t. If I did, they would start worrying about possible risks that don’t really apply to them.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I almost wondered if they are intending to sue or similar and are laying the groundwork…

    3. Sick of Workplace Bullshit (she/her)*

      Sometimes one person is required to point out something dangerous or off-seeming. I’m not saying that’s the case here, but not all people pointing out a risk are being shit disturbers.

      1. Sal*

        And in the US, I would 100% consult an employment lawyer before disciplining (or not rehiring, etc.) an employee for talking to other employees about a work-related safety concern. Not sure about Canada, but this could be protected under labor rights (for talking to coworkers) or whistleblower laws (for raising the concern to management–employees don’t have to be right about a policy being illegal or dangerous, in many states, they just have to have a reasonable, good faith belief that it is).

        1. Hazel*

          Yes, in my area of Canada, which may not be OP’s, OHS regulations protect employees with a reasonable belief from reprisals. Which is the right thing since many workers used to die in unsafe workplaces and were fired if they said anything.

          This employee sounds like a person with misplaced energy, but the OP has to treat them as if credible, if only to allow the opportunity to be proved correct or not.

  29. Awesome Sauce*

    I occasionally hike in bear county and do safety and risk assessments professionally (not in a bear-related profession though haha).

    Re: the right to refuse dangerous work, depending on the jurisdiction of the workplace here and which set of OHS regs apply, the right to refuse may not fully apply – it sounds like bear encounters are an expected condition of the job, therefore it may not be possible to exercise the right to refuse to work under these normal and expected conditions. LW should probably talk to their regulatory compliance folks, or may be able to contact the OHS regulator and request a clarification about the right to refuse in this case.

    Re: the workplace hazard and risk assessment, I agree with Alison’s advice to verify with a bear safety expert whether the assessment of risk is in fact accurate. Usually when we’re exposed to a high-consequence risk, and we do it a lot without experiencing that severe consequence (for example, driving), we start to underestimate the actual risk. It’s possible that could be happening here, and it’s worth getting an outside view on it.

    Re: the bear spray training, I don’t think it’s that unreasonable to request training in using a tool when the workplace is providing said tool – even when not everyone will use the tool at all times. To use another example, when you might be expected to use a fire extinguisher at work, it’s not that far-out to expect your employer would find you a training where you get to actually spray a fire with a fire extinguisher. Similarly, if you’re offering bear spray for employees to use, it would be good to find them a training where they get to handle and use bear spray (or at least a safe analog).

    It could even be argued, if one wanted to draw attention to the matter, that introducing bear spray is introducing a new hazard to the workplace (eye and soft tissue irritation and possible injury due to expose to bear spray chemicals), and that employees have the right to be informed about the hazard and about controls for the hazard. Bear spray is a consumer product, but WHMIS/GHS might apply here as well. This idea is probably what the staff member that LW writes about was feeling on a gut level, but perhaps not articulating well – “we had bear spray at my old job and we all got this training on how to use it; this job has bear spray too but no-one is getting that training! I should advocate for my co-workers!” and then it went a little sideways into the refusal to work discussion.

    tl;dr Alison is right as usual!

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – you articulated some things about OHS and levels of risk here really well and I’m definitely thinking about your words.

  30. Physics Lab Tech*

    THANK YOU! I’d just say — don’t do what the hotel I used to work at did which was not tell employees if there is a bear problem!

    For context, I worked in a hiking hotel in upstate NH as the overnight desk clerk. I was the only employee on site for 8pm to 6am. Unbeknownst to me, one night the kitchen crew left the compost in the loading dock. Fine, it was most likely dark and cold when they left. But! This was spring, and bears, famously, awaken in the spring and I am told they were hungry. The other part of this is the door to the loading dock was always unlocked because the night person (ME) had to go out through the loading dock every 3-4 hours to load up the wood burning stove that was the heat for our whole building.

    Well one night I get off, super tired but go to have breakfast which is also my dinner, and I hear gossip at the other end of the table that there were bear prints in the loading dock! Did you know bears can open doors? I do now! Anyway the bear opened the door, ate the compost, made a mess and left, and I never noticed.

    It was fine in the end, we started locking the loading dock door, they stopped leaving compost in the loading dock, and I just tried to make a lot of noise going out of it when I had to do my 10pm, 2am and 5am top offs of the fire. But I still think my boss should have talked to me afterwards, but she never mentioned the bears I just heard about it as gossip lol.

  31. BuffaloSauce*

    If nothing else think of this as a liability issue that could end costing your organization thousands.

    A potential scenario….
    A bear comes in the vicinity and for some odd reason attacks the humans that are within reach. They happen to employees. The employees cannot activate the bear spray and end up getting attacked, terribly injured or worse. In addition there are customers several hundred yards away who witness this gruesome scene.

    Suddenly you have a couple of severely injured employees, racking up thousands in medical debt, trauma for life and/or life long injuries. You also have customers that witnessed the entire thing. Who sue for emotional trauma. You have terrible press for weeks on end. Not to mention the rest of your staff quits because they feel unsafe.

    This all could have been prevented if you provided a training session on how to deploy bear spray. If it were me, I would do the training.

    1. Red*

      Yep, looking at the comments, bear spray requires a particular technique to use. Given that OP’s company takes the stance of “read the instructions (even though you’re in an emergency and likely panicking)” compared to the previous company providing training, I think this employee likely did it for the sake of their colleagues.

  32. DEJ*

    A content creator that I follow accidently deployed bear spray in his tent while camping this summer. They had seen a bear the night before and the next morning realized there was something outside the tent and while taking the safety off he also sprayed a little.

    Turns out what was outside their tent was a deer, but the point is that using bear spray under duress may not be as intuitive as you think.

  33. Sassenach*

    I saw Alison’s tease about this topic on social media and could not wait…that being said, if you are going to give your employees a tool to use in the work environment, they should be trained on it if such a tool could be dangerous if used incorrectly. Why not take the step to do so instead of arguing with the employee and pushing back? I would compare this to giving policy officers tasers but not training them in how to use them.

    1. Heidi*

      How many work places now have narcan but have trained exactly zero people on how to use it? Completely worthless in that circumstance, imo.

  34. Elizabeth*

    As both a former people manager, and a frequent hiker/backpacker, I am in full agreement with the LW, and with Alison! I think the LW may have accidentally escalated things by providing bear spray at all: Providing it opened the door for the employee to make the argument that more needed to be done. I would lean towards not providing it next year (if only because it’s expensive and it expires, so if you truly don’t need it, why keep buying it), but tell people they are welcome to carry it themselves if they feel comfortable and know how to use it.

    I have supervised many college students in what are essentially seasonal positions: one- or two-semester on-campus jobs. I have no idea if this person is the age of a traditional college student, but I have found that the combination of brains still in development, plus being presented with a million new experiences, plus going into a role where you know you only have a very short amount of time to make an impact, can all lead to an intense need to make mountains out of molehills. And surely there are things that we all, as managers of short-term employees, could do better, and there are things that need to be mountains! But this issue needs only to be a molehill. Anyway, I say all of that because I wonder, if the person comes back next year, if they’ll be over the bear safety thing but will find another issue to raise in a similar manner.

  35. Zipperhead*

    Bob: “Boss, I’m concerned we’re not doing enough about bears at work.”
    Boss: “Listen, Bob, Gail is the best copywriter we’ve got, and she’s a valued member of our team.”
    Gail: “Grrrowlll…” (pushes jar of Peanut M&Ms forward)

  36. Meg*

    I wonder if there’s a “trainer” bear spray out there that’s an empty can where people can practice with. I had something similar with my fire extinguisher training so we could get use to pulling the pin, squeezing and sweeping.

    1. Elizabeth*

      Many outdoor stores offer training like this with bear spray. But I don’t think these employees actually need bear spray! Take away the tool and take the training need away with it.

    2. Moonlight Elantra*

      My kid’s Epi pen comes with a dummy injector, for exactly this reason. My job’s optional office safety training course covered using the pen, but my husband and parents/inlaws were grateful they could practice with it in case of emergency.

  37. AmericanExpat*

    From a workplace safety perspective, no one should have a tool, even optionally, they aren’t properly trained to use. I would imagine if you handed out tranquilizer guns, you’d properly train people on how to use them, even if they had the option to never use them. So while bear spray is presumably a lower-risk of inadvertent harm, the principle applies. Now, if there isn’t really any other training than ‘read the manual and remember these 3 things’, then you’ve done your bit. But I think the main idea is that everyone is trained on the use of and is comfortable using the tools they have access to. Outside of bear country, this also goes for things like vehicles, special machinery to access things, things that produce flame / fire, caustic cleaning chemicals, AEDs, safety protocols on elevators, etc. It wouldn’t be reasonable to just give people keys to stuff and say they can use them if they want.

    1. Betty*

      I really like this take. Reading the comments, it really seems like while asking for extra bear-specific safety training may have been excessive, asking for bear-SPRAY safety training is actually pretty reasonable, both because of the specifics of that item and for the general principles you articulate, AmericanExpat.

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – I think that this is a very fair point. I discussed a bit with my colleagues in the other department who carry bear spray and double-check what their training is. One (the visitor safety officer) said they just review the instructions on the bottle and watch the manufacturer’s video. The other said they do on occasion do refreshers with a dummy spray but they also pair it with other bear related skills (which they need to trap and relocate bears) – again, very intensive, and not something they could provide to my team. But there may be something there with collaboration with the other team to get more hands-on training with a dummy spray, again, if I were to provide it as an available tool next year.

        And yes, my staff already get bear safety training – they actually deliver that messaging to visitors so they have more knowledge than the average staff member at my site. But it’s the bear SPRAY training that should be under discussion here.

        1. AmericanExpat*

          Yeah so I work in public health and this is a weird psychological thing that when you give people more tools for safety, they can feel less safe. Some of that has to do with not feeling comfortable with that tool. But also if that tool is viewed as an ‘escalation’ in terms of protection, then somehow the original risk seems more threatening. When actually the risk of bear attack hasn’t changed, only a person’s perception of it.

          It might just that getting the bear spray now has the implication that one would actually use it, which is a whole other level of bear safety for this person, largely because of their prior experience (which also maybe wrongly changed the risk calculation in their mind).

          Risk communication is a whole field that we always get wrong, even the experts (duct tape and plastic sheeting, anyone?) :)

  38. Ground Control*

    It sounds like the LW casually offered bear spray as a new option for employees, and the new hire was concerned because she had experience with bear spray at a previous job and knew it’s not a casual thing. I was initially annoyed with her but realized that I’d also be extremely vocal if no one was listening to me that actual training sessions for something I’d taken a half-day training session on were important.

  39. Ferret*

    Fire extinguishers can be pretty hazardous if you don’t know what you are doing – there are several types which can make fires worse depending on the situation – , eg electrical fires vs chemical fires vs paper fires. Training doesn’t need to take very long (I’ve always seen it included as part of a general safety briefing) but it is important

  40. Non-performative bear safety drills*

    I like Alison’s answer. People have uniquely different levels of risk tolerance, and this staff member. though they understand they are in bear country in an outdoor job, won’t be comfortable unless they have more tools in their bear management toolbox. That said, once the conversation is had and the extra training is delivered, the person needs to know that if they still feel they can’t tolerate the level of risk, the job is probably not for them.

  41. Chilipepper Attitude*

    Everyone is focused on training to practice using the bear spray, but the OP said the concerned worker actually asked for “intensive training” and said that the current training was not enough to keep them safe. Then the worker announced that bear spray was required (it was not), and they wanted training on it and almost refused to work. Overall, they seemed to me to mischaracterize the work, and Alison’s advice focused on this.

    The bear spray is optional, and if they did not like the (lack of) training, they did not have to carry the spray.

    I’m not surprised the OP was confused about what the worker even wanted.

    Comments from the concerned worker:
    “One staff member, when they heard that I had made bear spray available to our team, said that we needed “intensive” bear safety training and that what I had provided was not sufficient to keep them safe from bears while they were on duty. ”

    “They countered that carrying bear spray was necessary when working outside on site for “safety reasons.” It almost got to the point of a refusal to work”

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – yes, I think part of why I wasn’t sure of what my approach should be was because I don’t clearly understand what my staff member wanted. I did consult with on site experts at the time, and did in the end get my team (including this staff member) some additional training on how to use bear spray from the team that works with bears more closely, but the leader of that training did tell me afterwards that they thought it wasn’t necessary for my staff in their roles. And this staff member was still extremely reluctant to work in the campground because of bears (despite this training) and in the end I had scheduled them to do other work that did not bring them into the campground. They weren’t shy about talking to other members of the team about how dangerous it was for me to assign staff to work in the campground though – I overheard it on several occasions.

  42. Copper Boom*

    I think you had good intentions with making bear spray available for your staff, but it’s possible that has caused some confusion. While you stated it is optional, it may be sending an unintended message that they should have it. If you are providing staff with any tools to use at work, they should be sufficiently trained. While I don’t agree that a half day course is necessary, I do think it would be advisable to ensure staff are familiar with all equipment. Maybe that’s making it mandatory to watch a safety video on the use of bear spray prior to them being able to take it with them on the job or have them attend a team meeting where you talk about the proper way to deploy bear spray and pass along a canister while speaking so they can look at the components you mention.

    There is also an issue with your employee though, and their personal feelings around what is deemed safe work. At the end of the day, you may need to have a frank conversation with this employee detailing the safety measures you have put into place for dealing with wildlife, and that through these measures you have done what is reasonably practical to protect the health and safety of all workers.

    I am curious as to what is driving this behaviour from your employee. Is it just what they received more training previously or is there some fundamental fear or experience that is behind the behaviour. That may be worth digging into, and either determine with the employee whether they are suited for work of this nature (pun intended) or support them in creating their own personal safety plan to ensure they feel comfortable while working.

  43. Rosyglasses*

    I love that today there was a question about bears. This is one of my favorite sites for many reasons, and these types of questions are the icing on the cake!

  44. Lizzianna*

    This is a tough one, and while I haven’t encountered it specifically with bears, have dealt with it with other safety risks for field-going employees. There are certain tasks that just have inherent risks, and we can’t eliminate them completely without fundamentally changing the job, and the services we offer. It’s hard though, because I want to foster an environment where employees feel comfortable raising safety concerns, and I’m hesitant to overrule an employee’s concerns.

    At the same time, a 4 hour training for a seasonal employee is a lot, and I don’t think you’re unreasonable to push back on that if the experts are telling you its not necessary (though I do agree with Alison I would confirm that’s the case – it’s easy as a supervisor to get tunnel vision and figure that just because everyone uses a tool, it’s safe to use it with minimal training). In that case, you explain to the employee that you took their concerns seriously, you talked to a bear safety expert, and this is the plan they recommended. Then it’s up to them whether this is a job they feel comfortable doing. It’s okay if it’s not.

    1. Fluff*

      Oh my – now I’m seeing Bears in the hospital.

      – They hog all the PAPRs – due to the facial hair. (contraption for those who cannot get a good seal with an N95 often due to beards).
      – HR reminds team members not to use the purple XXXL gloves since those are for the employees with claws only.

      – The hibernation FML lunch and learn is tomorrow.

  45. Dorothy Gale*

    As a Canadian living in urban/suburban black bear country, my main concern would be the spray being deployed near the general public. One of your workers accidentally spraying a camper (or another staff member) in the face could mean the person needs medical attention. How far is the nearest hospital? Do you have insurance for that type of accident, and would your insurer think bear spray training was necessary?

    Workers in the backcountry don’t have the same risk of hurting innocent bystanders, and the person being attacked would most likely be themself or a coworker. In a busy campground I would think it could easily be a child, a dog, etc – and the risks and decision making is more complicated.

  46. Fake bear scare*

    I live in an area with a lot of bears and always carry bear spray. I finally took bear spray training and realized that reading the instructions was definitely not sufficient for me to be competent with it. We had to use inert spray on a fake bear on wheels that was rolled towards us. Despite looking very fake (the instructor even put bright orange wheels on it to make it look less threatening), I found it incredibly hard to quickly take the safety off and spray it in a big Z as instructed.

    Even in this very bear-y place, there aren’t many incidents but the ones that happen are high consequence. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to get some inert cannisters that people can practice with, or better, bring in someone to actually offer the training.

  47. Spearmint*

    I grew up in the mountain west and am a hiker, so I have some knowledge about this. I think it may help your employee to know that bear attacks, especially black bear attacks, are extremely rare, and deadly attacks even rarer still. If you can give them hard numbers, rather than vague reassurances, that might help.

    For those who don’t know, 41 people die in the US from lightening strikes each year, whereas there’s only one death by black bear attack every two years on average. Black bears will usually ignore or run away from humans. (Grizzly’s are relatively more dangerous but even so the risks are extremely low and it doesn’t sound like this is Grizzly country)

    1. Canadiana*

      I’m from bear country in Ontario and was also coming to the comments to say the same thing – black bears are the chillest bears to encounter! Just don’t leave food out so they don’t have a reason to come to your camp, and they run away from humans easily. The employee’s reaction seems disproportionate to the actual risk. (Not a judgment of character – my reactions to spiders are definitely disproportionate to the actual risk. But also I’m not trying to get a job that involves frequent spider encounters haha.)

  48. FarawayintheNorth*

    We take the concern seriously and send employees out with an armed bear guard whose sole purpose is to watch for a bear and warn workers.
    I’m not a fan of bear spray, I prefer hornet nest spray. Easier to simply point & spray from a distance.

  49. Elle*

    Yeah, this person is just mismatched for the job. I’m more concerned about the spray being used by twitchy employees and possibly injuring another person.

    1. Splendid Colors*

      Good thing Wellington PD didn’t issue bear spray. Officer Minogue would’ve discharged it in the car on a regular basis, as well as in his eyes, Officer O’Leary’s eyes, etc. and not just at werewolves.

  50. Tesuji*

    It is wild to me that the employees’ literal job includes giving bear safety lecture, but that LW thinks that handing them a can of spray and letting them figure it out is enough.

    This isn’t a “my employees have a job that takes them into bear country.” Their job literally involves training other people in how to handle bear attacks… and the LW doesn’t think that maybe the people doing the training should have a higher level of expertise in the tools available than the average bear guy.

    Holy f__k.

    I feel like that’s not being taken into account by a lot of commenters, who are treating it as though these are employees that just happen to maybe be around bears sometimes, as opposed to people that this organization is putting out there as experts in the field.

    These are people who, as part of their actual job, could reasonably be fielding questions about how to deploy these tools (e.g., how close they should be). Making sure these employees are competent in that field shouldn’t be left up to a video on the manufacturer’s website.

    1. Valancy Snaith*

      But the employee is not instructing people in how to handle bear attacks. “Giving a bear safety talk” usually comprises the basics of not leaving attractants around, staying away if you see a bear, making noise to scare them away, and otherwise being a good neighbour to bears when they are visiting the campground. They are not training people in handling bear attacks. Bear safety is really, really common in a lot of areas and it’s usually pretty low-key and it sounds like this person specifically is NOT an expert in the field, and would not be instructing other people on best use of their own bear spray.

      1. Beboots*

        OP here – Yes, the second commenter is fair in their assessment. The talks we give are primarily preventative (not leaving animal attractants out, what a safe distance from a bear is, keep your dog on a leash), not teaching visitors how to deploy bear spray. Bear safety and prevention are different than bear attacks.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think you’re confusing the bear safety training (which employees receive as well as give) with the bear spray training (which is a DIY, optional add on). The staff get the bear safety training on stuff they really need to know – things like not attracting bears and how to retreat. The spray is for a super rare situation.

  51. Divergent*

    We work in somewhat similar situations, and to address folks who feel uncomfortable with using bear spray, we take them somewhere remote and let them practice setting off the expired cannisters so they can gain familiarity. They also learn not to set it off accidentally that way — good for a summer day with open truck windows at the end of day.

    I’ve taken the more intensive course and it’s really great, but most places I’ve worked offer no more than what you describe offering yourself, and that’s definitely within all levels of institutional safety tolerance (gov, worksafe, etc)

  52. Twix*

    I’ve never worked with bears in a professional capacity, but I am an extremely experienced outdoorsman and first responder and have been through multiple trainings covering bear safety and emergency situations. Based on LW’s description of their work, I would agree that bear spray is not a necessary piece of equipment. However, as LW noted bear spray is a last resort in emergencies, and one that can make the situation far worse if it’s misused. (Imagine going from “A bear is aggressively approaching me” to “I can’t see or breathe and also there’s a blinded, enraged bear flailing around nearby”.) In emergency situations, established plans of action and muscle memory are far, far more valuable than theoretical knowledge, and the difference can quite literally be life and death. It’s also a well-researched fact that arming people with tools to address a particular emergency situation can lead to them being more cavalier about avoiding it, especially with inadequate training. (It’s the Dunning-Kruger effect in action. People without Llama Mosh Pit Safety Bubbles know to avoid Llama Mosh Pits. People well-trained on using Llama Mosh Pit Safety Bubbles know that they take 3 minutes to deploy and can fail if there are any Alpacas present, and don’t treat them as infallible. People with no training think “I’ve got the right tool for if I encounter a Llama Mosh Pit” and are less likely to take common sense precautions. People with cursory training think “I’ve got the right tool for if I encounter a Llama Mosh Pit and I know how to use it!” and actively make stupid decisions.)

    In short, I think the employee might have been somewhat overreacting, but I also think this follows the basic outdoorsmanship and emergency response rules of “Don’t deploy/rely on equipment you don’t know how to use”. It sounds like a half-day seminar on bear safety or making bear spray part of your standard equipment are probably overkill, but if you’re going to make it optionally available to your employees, it should definitely come with some training that involves actually handling and aiming and (simulated) spraying a canister. The kind of situation where you’d actually need one is not when you want people to be trying to figure that stuff out for the first time.

  53. DataGirl*

    I grew up in bear country too, we learned how to deal with them in school. I’m having a hard time understanding this person’s level of fear given that the OP says they are from the area and should have plenty of knowledge about how to deal with a bear encounter.

    Fun story, my sister and I encountered a bear cub once when we were kids (it was the 80’s, children were allowed to wander in the woods alone). For a second or two we were all ‘awe, a cute baby bear!’ Then we remembered that where bear cubs are, mama bears are close by, and mama bears are no joke, so we very quickly got out of there.

    1. irene adler*

      Yep! Smart thinking!

      One day a coworker was late to work, claiming that a mountain lion cub got into her living room via the doggie door (suburb dweller). No, not a kitten- an actual mountain lion cub. She could tell because its head was very big. She had to get animal control out to remove it.

      Then she went into all sorts of drama saying the local news would be out to interview her about her experience. This went on All. Workday. Long.

      I resided a few hundred feet from her home. Knowing the same as you about wildlife mamas and babies, I wasn’t about to go home until mama mountain lion was accounted for. She looked at me completely clueless as to why.

      So I called the local authorities- starting with animal control. No one knew of any mountain lion cub being found. And yes, this would be of great importance to the safety of the neighborhood. I even called the local TV stations. Nothing on their radar either.

      I ended up discussing this with the state wildlife dept who said this was a complete lie. Animal control is not authorized to handle wildlife.

      Some people.

      1. DataGirl*

        Wow, what a crazy thing to lie about! Personally I’m not scared of wolves or coyotes (I’ve had both run through our family property) but mountain lions freak me out. Cats have zero fear of humans to keep them in check.

        1. DataSci*

          Young male mountain lions (who haven’t quite learned what’s food) have been known to stalk humans. Lion safety is more like “Be bigger than this. If not, try to make yourself look like you are.”

          1. Splendid Colors*

            An adolescent male mountain lion attacked a hiker who walked around the corner before his wife did. I don’t recall if it was ambushing him or just took advantage of the surprise appearance of Really Big Prey Animal. It didn’t want to let him go when the wife came running, but it did when she gouged its face with a pen. This was somewhere in Humboldt County, CA–don’t remember which park, but it was around 2009 or so.

            I’ve heard about three reports of teenage male mountain lions sneaking up behind hikers and biting them on the butt. Luckily, they often end up getting a mouthful of jeans pocket.

  54. HannahS*

    OP, I think that offering extra tools for safety was well-intentioned, but if I transplant it into my own environment (health-care,) I can get your employees concerns.

    In the early days of the pandemic, my team was told that none of our patients had COVID. Rarely, the PCR test is wrong and actually they did have COVID. The PPE I was told to use was a gown, surgical mask and face-shield. The other team, who worked with patients known to have COVID, had fit-tested N95s instead of surgical masks. If my boss had said, “Hey, great news, I picked up some N95s! They’re in the office if anyone wants one,” I’d be deeply concerned. Is the PPE I’m being given not adequate? Should I be using an N95 with every patient, to lower the risk, and if so, why aren’t we? Moreover, the N95s aren’t fit-tested, which means that they aren’t as effective. If I brought up to my boss that I wanted to be fit-tested, because I know that this gives the best protection, I’d be pretty upset if they said, “Oh no, you don’t need that.” Well…then why was it great news that you picked up some N95s? Do we need them, or not?

    I realize this isn’t a perfect 1:1 example,* but I think what’s happened is that you were fairly casual about offering extra protective gear against a threat that can be very serious, and it was confusing to your employee. I know and you know that bear spray and PPE are about risk assessment and the risk is never zero, but it’s important to give people clearer explanations than “This safety gear is here if you want to use it.”

    Next time, include all of the information up front, something like this:
    “Typically, our team doesn’t use bear spray or receive bear spray training because our own risk is considered similar to that of the public compared to the close-encounters-with-bears-team. I know some people–including me–like to carry it when hiking, so I have two bottles here that anyone can use. You can learn how to use it by reading the manufacturer’s instructions.”

    You can even say something like, “Because our risk is so low, we don’t qualify for specific bear-safety-training, but you can seek it out privately using [resource.]

    *In reality, we were all fit-tested, but believe me it was incredibly stressful to hear hospital administration telling us we weren’t allowed to access certain kinds of PPE to conserve the resource when we knew we were still being exposed.

  55. Fluffy Fish*

    OP – this sounds like a flavor of what i deal with at work with “emergencies” occurring near buildings where employees work.

    we have policies, procedures and trainings in place. if something is happening that could endanger employees they will of course be notified….IF we know. because the reality is police/fire incidents occur all the time and no one magically has all the information. we encourage people to be proactive, not to wait for permission if they feel endangered – they can take action and won’t be penalized.

    there are just a handful of people who any time something happens and they don’t know, they complain. no matter how we explain it. no matter if we guide them through decision making exercises like what would you do if you were at (home, travelling, etc) and saw lights and sirens?

    there’s just something about work where certain people think we (a) magically have all the answers/info and (b) they’re uncomfortable taking action with out being explicitly told to

    I say this because it sounds like that’s where this employees mindset is about bears – the spray is a red herring. I think you could do all the training in the world and they’d still be uncomfortable with the risk. something about the bear spray made the risk very real and very disproportionate to them for some reason. they’re basically looking for a 100% everything will be ok, and that’s not something you (or anyone) can give them.

    so I think yes, moving forward, you do need to be sure you are advising all potential candidate of the risk of bear encounters and that they need to be comfortable with that and the protocols.

  56. Hi, I'm Troy McClure*

    This was actually a thing where I was growing up (BC). It was a potential reason for school lockdowns, and I actually took a class called “Bear Aware” as a kid. My parents still get them on their property from time to time!

  57. Bear to say no*

    I’ve taken a Bear Safety course. It is by far the MOST entertaining course. You get to watch videos of grad students standing entirely too close to bears!

    Plus you see a lot of great footage of bear behavior so you know when the bear is actively dangerous vs just threatened.

    I get it, the seasonal sounds demanding but as a former seasonal… you have to stand up for your own safety because you don’t have health insurance and you are very much viewed as replaceable/disposable. The power dynamic between you and the seasonal is pretty steep as is.

    1. Katharine*

      This!! I agree completely. I worked in Forestry in Canada as a seasonal employee. I learned very quickly that I needed to be proactive about my safety because the companies I worked for would and did allow unsafe practices and conditions. There’s a real mentality that gets pushed that working outdoors is unsafe and just deal with it. Well, not exactly. There are things we could put into practice to keep it safer.

  58. obk*

    There’s a non-zero chance this person worked for and was trained by me or with a training I developed. I’m the risk and EHS nerd for a large national org.

    Issuing bear spray without a specific (and documented) training on its use that covers storage, carrying, deployment, reporting, etc. is a liability gap. It’s unlikely to generate an issue, but you’d look foolish if it did and you wouldn’t be in the best position to defend. Saying rtfm is tempting, but how often do employees actually read the things you give them? When they do, how often do they retain the not sexy bits?

    A brief lecture combined with an exercise of deploying an inert can on a simulated charge can get this done in 30 minutes. Basically have someone run at the person with the training aid on their hip from ~20m out while they try to deploy. They’ll do worse than they expect, it’ll be fun. You’ll have time to deal with the real management issues going on.

    The more likely issue you could run into is bear spray being used on an unruly visitor. Making it clear how bad of an idea that would be in training would be time well spent.

  59. Ground Control*

    I’m curious about the general vibe at this job site and how that may have affected the new hire. I grew up in bear country where a lot of us considered that a flex and acted like taking precautions seriously was something that only outsiders not used to that rugged lifestyle did. When I went to college across the country I bragged about how I’d go hiking by myself in sandals all the time and never bring safety gear because being in the mountains with dangerous wildlife was just how we rolled, and my new friends were like YOU CAN’T DO THAT. This didn’t come across in the letter, but I’m curious if the new hire was really a bad match and couldn’t deal with bears in general, or if maybe the LW and their team are maybe a little too lax about formal safety protocols and she was just concerned that they weren’t taking it super seriously?

  60. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

    I don’t think the LW was asking for advice on adequacy of bear safety training. I think the issue is “my employee just told my whole team that I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m putting them all in grave danger”. It seems to me that it is an insubordination issue.

    1. Student*

      I’ve been the person pointing out that a leader doesn’t know what they’re doing and is putting the whole team in danger. (I was right; we caused an international incident.) It’s not great to jump straight to insubordination whenever safety is involved – partially because it’s probably not intended as “insubordination” but a genuine miscommunication somewhere, and partly because you don’t ever want to discourage people from reporting potential safety issues in the future.

      I think AAM is very prudent to recommend consulting some other people to make sure this isn’t the case first. If this campsite had grizzly bears instead of black bears, then the employee might actually be right. Here, it certainly sounds as if the OP is correct, to my limited non-bear-expert understanding.

      1. I need coffee before I can make coffee*

        That’s just it – LW does know what they’re doing – even checked with the safety officer to make sure. This employee is actually saying the whole organization doesn’t know what they are doing, and is essentially trying to instill fear in the rest of the team.
        As a side note, if bear spray really required intensive training, I don’t think they could just sell it over the counter at any outdoor center or camp store.

        1. Ahab*

          “As a side note, if bear spray really required intensive training, I don’t think they could just sell it over the counter at any outdoor center or camp store.”

          That’s a flawed premise, and a flawed conclusion. You can buy guns over the counter with no training. You can buy HF over the counter with no training. You can buy fire extinguishers over the counter with no training. All of those are tools that require training to use safely and effectively. The responsibility of a workplace to provide safety training is not related to the ability of a consumer to purchase items.

          1. Beboots*

            OP here – There is something to what you are saying in this thread. I work on a very safety conscious team and I have been an OHS committee member in the past. Regardless of the tone of the message delivered by the employee in front of the others (which did, as others have suggested, cause anxiety among other team members who then perceived the risk to be very great based on the employee’s words), I really DON’T want to dismiss genuine safety concerns on the part of my staff because I may have an internal emotional reaction to being challenged. I want to act in the appropriate way and address concerns, regardless of how they were expressed.

            This is why I reached out to members on site, and also a gut check to Noted Good Work Advice Giver, Allison. I want to make sure I do my research and figure out the best approach for everyone (providing different training, updating protocols, removing the bear spray, whatever that looks like), to keep people safe, and not make assumptions about intent or insubordination. It is really hard not to take things personally when a staff member essentially calls you out in front of everyone (and I was genuinely trying to improve safety on the team and provide tools that other members of my team had actually asked to be made available to them) but regardless of my personal feelings I’m trying to do my best to act with integrity and the right path forward.

            I really do want staff to be safe and feel safe at work. I’m also trying to figure out what is reasonable/feasible to ask for in this context, and be in keeping with what the professional norms/protocols are on site and in this field, which is why I’m reaching out to others and coming up with a thought-through measured response instead of a knee-jerk one. I know some people at sites like this have a very cavalier attitude towards safety but I don’t feel like that’s the case, at least not on my team. I’m trying to do a gut-check.

            It all feels very escalated because bears = obvious danger in people’s minds… but so much of what me and my staff do is teach co-existence and safety through understanding bears, their behaviour, and what actions we can take to prevent it. Bear spray is one new element – and may have been a misstep. Again, bear safety =/= bear spray.

  61. Student*

    I have not worked with bears.

    I have worked on sites with cougars and coyotes. Perhaps more relevant for your staff issue, I work regularly with radioactive materials, often in quantities that require highly specialized safety training & procedures. For the bear-relevant analogy, I’ve done the radioactive work version of relocating bears, not just the radioactive work version of your staff’s casual bear encounters.

    Some people do not have the disposition, attitude, comfort, risk-acceptance to do work with an above-average danger level of any sort. Work where you (peacefully) encounter bears on a weekly basis is more dangerous than average, more dangerous than your campsite visitor experience due to your higher frequency of encounters, if lower than your bear-relocating colleagues.

    It’s worth talking with your employee and seeing if there’s just a misconception in your employee’s view of bear hazard in your workplace. If talking about your long history of bear encounters ending peacefully and following AAM’s advice does not help, then this employee may just not have the right skills and inherent capabilities to do the tasks in your job that may involve bear encounters. If that’s the case, your options are either to move them out of the job (maybe a position shift, maybe firing), or see if you can only assign them non-bear duties.

    We run into this a LOT in the radiation industry. Some people are fine working with small amounts of radioactive material. Some people are fine working with lots of highly dangerous radioactive material. Most people start backing away slowly if they hear the word “radiation” spoken too loudly, and will outright sprint away if they hear an actual radiation detector going off (geiger counter clicking sound effect goes here). We try to assign people to tasks and jobs that their risk-tolerance and experience matches with, we educate folks on safety appropriate for their tasks, and we find that some people are just not suited to the work.

  62. Modesty Poncho*

    OK who else is thinking of the Bear Patrol episode of The Simpsons?

    We’re here! We’re queer! We don’t want any more bears!

    -Let the bears pay the bear tax! I pay the Homer tax!
    -That’s the home*owner* tax.

  63. Katharine*

    I am with the employee on this one. I used to work in Forestry in Canada. I have had unfriendly encounters with black bears. We were supplied bear spray by the company to use if needed. There was some training about how to use it, which makes sense because it is essentially a weapon. You don’t hand someone a weapon without giving some instruction about how not to hurt yourself and other people when using it. There was a mention about reading the instructions and watching a video–that should probably be mandatory before anyone takes the bear spray.
    My personal opinion is everyone should have a canister when working around bears and should be given the basics of how to use it. It’s like a seatbelt. Statistically, you are probably going to get home fine if you didn’t wear a seatbelt. However, if you are one of the people who gets screwed by the statistics, you are going to be glad you were prepared and strapped in.
    Personally, I was pretty unhappy that my bear spray wasn’t in reach when I got charged by a black bear.
    I also think there are valid issues that need to be addressed. For example, where am I aiming the spray? How far away does the bear need to be before I spray it? What about wind direction? You need to talk about how if you do spray it, you need to get out of the area because the smell will attract bears etc.
    These are variables you don’t want to be considering as a bear is charging you or you have a predatory bear meandering their way toward you. Having had some practice of drawing it and knowing where to generally aim (and when) would no doubt be useful. I can speak from personal experience. You don’t have a lot of time to make a decision. And you are panicked and maybe not thinking clearly. What seems obvious when not in danger, maybe won’t be when you are in danger.

    Also, if you supply no real training about the bear spray, you kind of open yourself up to a lawsuit from someone that gets injured while using it. For example, they ran into a predatory bear and got mauled because they were fumbling with the bear spray. Or they accidently spray themselves in the face. You should never assume that something is obvious when it comes to safety.

  64. Laura*

    I work for a museum and we have a lot of hazards in the collection – things like asbestos, low level radiation, PCBs, old medicines – these are all manageable and we have the best training programme for dealing with them in the sector. But – what we have found is that as we improve and expand our knowledge of/ training in hazards, some people become more confident but others become more anxious and worried that they are working in a constant death trap. This post has reminded me of that effect – the bear spray made someone think about their job in an entirely new light and they didn’t like it.

  65. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    As someone who lives, spends about 60% of my nights camping in the backcountry, and occasionally works in one of the most black-bear-dense areas in the U.S. – I don’t think it’s crazy for them to want to practice deploying an inert can of bear spray.

    I’ve had to diffuse bear spray a couple times and I was so grateful I’d had a chance to practice with an inert can. When you’re getting charged by a bear, the muscle memory makes a HUGE difference. Knowing exactly what it feels like to remove the spray from your holster, gauge the direction of the wind, get the safety off, point at the correct angle, all while a 400-pound bear is coming at you at high speed from 40 feet away…the instructions on the can don’t prepare you. My first few practice rounds with the can did not go well, and if I’d been in a IRL risky bear encounter…let’s just say anything but a bluff charge would have been Really Really Bad.

    You can buy the inert cans from outdoor retailers. It’s like a $40 investment to offer staff who want it. I guess I don’t really see the downside of having a few on hand for staff who are more nervous or have had scary bear encounters in the past.

    Any more intense training beyond basic bear-aware stuff seems excessive, but the practice with inert spray seems immensely reasonable to me.

  66. Trillian Astra*

    I worked in a situation similar to yours, and your employee makes only one valid point – that when using a piece of PPE, you should be provided training on that piece of PPE. Therefore, the bear spray should come with a small amount of hands-on training, if you expect that someone using it will use it properly. Ideally, you’d get one of those blank cannisters and allow everyone who may want to carry the bear spray the ability to practice pulling it out and spraying it the correct way – the alternative is that you’ve provided a piece of equipment without training and the employee may inadvertently use it incorrectly! Either spraying themselves, or having it go off because it was holstered incorrectly, or using it on a bear incorrectly and actually becoming injured.

    it’s common workplace safety to provide some small training on these items.

  67. Lizzo*

    LW, I think some good advice has been offered in other comments about ensuring that your team has sufficient practice using bear spray so that they have some muscle memory built in if they ever need to deploy it. The thing that bothers me is how the employee is…practically in a state of panic about the current situation? And seemingly unwilling to be proactive about whatever issue they’re having? It sounds like there are resources available for them elsewhere in the organization if they feel they need further training, or they could also put together some formal suggestions for you to consider. While the concerns seem legit, their way of communicating about it comes across as very unprofessional. That is definitely worth discussing with them.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – yes, your assessment of the employee is correct. There are several other times where they’ve expressed concerns about things but aren’t proactive about correcting them. In those cases, it’s about their individual comfort level and not a blanket thing for the whole team. The example that springs to mind is how I provided a 1h training session and a reference document/communication protocol for how to use two-way radios, and this person chose not to carry it or turn them on because they weren’t comfortable using this (safety!) tool, and didn’t take the time to practice or seek guidance from employees more experienced in using the devices, despite using them being a common part of the job and this person having ample time (multiple summer seasons) to practice to gain that comfort. I also do see a history of this person asking for things to apply to the whole team (this isn’t the only “intensive” training session they have said all team members should have, just the only safety-related one) when it may speak more to their individual comfort levels. But again, when it comes to safety in particular, I wanted to make sure I did my research not with the goal of just confirming what I personally felt based on my own comfort levels, but to make sure that I’m actually meeting the needs of employees.

      It does sound like it was a misstep not to provide more training initially. I did end up sending my team (including this person) to the department that works in the backcountry for training later in the spring to get practical training with the bear spray, but the feedback I got from the other team was that a bunch of the stuff in their training wasn’t applicable to my team’s work and that they couldn’t commit to providing it next spring.

  68. Martin blackwood*

    I’m not an expert in bear safety. I know in this scenario the bear spray is mostly to make the holder feel safe. But. A bear getting sprayed by bear spray, probably, will leave you alone but is likely still pissed, right? Is it likely to, in a fairly populated area like a campground, just go be aggressive at someone else in the area? It’s preferable to being mauled by a bear personally, but…idk, feels risky?

  69. ModelT*

    As someone who has lived and worked in black bear heavy areas my whole life, I think OP’s actions were totally fine. Black bears just aren’t that dangerous unless there are cubs around. To put it in context: I would be more wary of a large dog wandering around than a black bear. (Grizzlies and polar bears are a totally different story though!)

    I was surprised to read that the employee was from the area – I would have expected this type of reaction from someone who grew up in a city and wasn’t used to wildlife.

    I’ve seen people get overly concerned with safety issues as kind of a performative thing, could that be what’s going on? Like, “Oh, no one else even CARES and I’m the ONLY ONE and no one is listening!”

  70. Knit more sweaters*

    I did employee relations and workers compensation for an agency in Alaska with remote workers. I also had training in operational risk management. My concern would be about the potential for pain and injury to an employee if they or a coworker deploys bear spray incorrectly. Then I would consider the odds of that happening if I relied on the current video training. The third part of the evaluation would be the cost to mitigate.

    In my experience, repeated exposure to a risk had a tendency to desensitize people to the risk. I had plenty of cases where people took safety short-cuts because they failed to adequately assess risk, over-estimated their competence with a task, or skipped measures to mitigate risk because they didn’t think they were worth the time or money.

    I certainly can think of a few people I would not trust with bear spray if their training was a video they were supposed to watch on their own, because they over-estimated their competence, multitasked during training videos, or were simply reckless people.

    1. Splendid Colors*

      One of the things I always hear in woodshop “safety and basic use” courses is that most accidents don’t happen when people are new to using power tools, because most new users are still working hard on doing things right. They still remember the safety training, they RTFM and use checklists, and they don’t feel bashful about asking for help. The problems happen after someone gets complacent and stops using a checklist–and forgot to do an important safety step. Or they use a machine they haven’t used for a while but overestimate how much they remember how to use it safely.

  71. former_guide*

    I used to work in the wilderness where bears were a real danger and I carried bear spray regularly. I can’t speak to whether your employees need bear spray; your optional approach seems reasonable given the details you’ve provided. What I can say is that people who are regularly carrying bear spray would benefit from training in how to use it, including practice with a “trainer” canister that has no pepper in it. I have been accidentally sprayed with bear spray, and it is HORRIBLE. A detailed understanding of how it works and how to prevent accidents is a REALLY GOOD idea for anyone who will be around it a lot, regardless of whether they may ever need to use it on a bear.

  72. Single Parent Barbie*

    Workplace safety specialist chiming in (as well as someone who dealt with bears when I lived in the city in Alaska.)

    One thing we look at is risk, and severity. Yes the risk is low (but not zero) but severity of an injury is high. safety’s job is to mitigate risk with what you can control. We have an issue here that is being held up by our landlord. It creates a real risk. It was slim it would happen, BUT , if it did happen someone would be badly hurt. So we implemented a procedure that wouldn’t remove the risk but would reduce severity.
    It sounds like this employee feels this is a high risk as well as high severity.

    At the same time, if she is screaming BEAR and nothing is done and then there is a bear incident, it could mean some sort of liability.

    What you might consider is putting her in charge of developing bear training for new hires . This would address the gap she is concerned about, and the research would allow her to maybe gain better perspective about what the risk is. I often do this with reports when it is something they are passionate about but there is no room for me to move it forward. They do it, they learn about it by doing it, and they get credit when it goes well.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – I think you have a good point about risk level versus severity level of the potential hazard. However, as you say, even if the potential risk level is inflated that doesn’t excuse me as the employer from doing my best to provide appropriate training/ PPE/ tools to my employees to reduce/mitigate the hazard. There’s definitely a sliding scale here and I think based on people’s comments I need to do more to provide training if I do provide bear spray even as an optional tool.

      I do like your idea of putting the onus on the employee to learn more and be a part of addressing the raised safety concerns… but based off of other judgement concerns with this employee would not trust them to develop and deliver a bear spray safety training.

  73. More Bears*

    This is my new favorite AAM headline ever! As someone who works in outdoor roles in bear country (and has been formally trained in Bear Hazing!), I often feel like much of the rest of the working world has no idea about the kind of stuff some of us deal with at work.

    If you’re going to provide employees with bear spray (or any piece of safety equipment), they do need to be trained how to use it safely; otherwise, if something goes wrong that’s on you. Having said that, reading the instructions and watching the safety video as the OP describes should be sufficient. IMHO, the employee is being unreasonable. Wildlife encounters are a part of jobs like this (and life in rural areas) and if that’s not acceptable to this person, they should consider a different line of work.

    Also: re: bear hazing, it’s the people who should be hazed, not the bears. We are the reason they come into campsites and if we let them get food or trash, they’ll keep coming back. Relocating wildlife is difficult and resource intensive, and bears will often find their way back even after being moved hundreds of miles. Once they become a nuisance, they have to be killed. A fed bear is a dead bear.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – good point in the second paragraph haha. ;) As a part of the safety/prevention talk we give to visitors, one of our main messages is that when it comes to human/wildlife conflict we’re more concerned about human behaviour than bear behaviour. We can control what we do. Bears are just going to be bears.

  74. seriously frivolous*

    I work as a mountain guide in bear country (in Canada). We train all participants on our trips about bear safety. We insist that each participant carries bear spray, and we ensure that they know how to use it (firing expired canisters). I’ve had many, many bear encounters (black and grizzly) that were low stress and I was beginning to feel complacent. Then last summer I had a scary encounter where the bear followed me for an hour. I know that this is rare, but it’s very very scary.

    In summary: don’t be complacent. Discuss bear safety and practice the procedures. This doesn’t need to take more than two hours, and it’s worth it. Even if employees don’t need it, not taking safety seriously sends all the wrong messages.

    1. GimmeTheBearSpray*


      When a bear is coming at you, the adrenaline kicks in, and it’s easy to freeze or do the wrong thing. Even more so if you’re in charge of other people’s safety. Having bear spray, and having practiced how to use it, is the bear (excuse the pun) minimum.

      I live in Alaska. In the past few years, we’ve had several fatal bear encounters at the workplace. The most recent one was partially due to a lack of training.

  75. Tati*

    Hi! I did wildlife field research for 15 years, and have worked around bears and in bear country. The training you offered sounds like the typical ‘industry standard’ for your level of risk.

    It’s worth noting that the wildlife/natural resources field has a history of not very great safety standards compared to other fields. As an example, my bear safety training for my first wildlife job (located in a remote wilderness region where supplies were flown in by Cessna) was that there was a ‘problem’ bear that liked to hang around camp, and if we saw it we should throw rocks at it or chase it with a big stick. I’m not joking.

    1. Tati*

      And just to clarify- the training for black bear encounters is MUCH different than what is needed for how to be safe around grizzly (brown) bears. Black bears are pretty easy to run off and very rarely see people as prey.

  76. Born in Bear Country*

    Having been raised in bear country myself, I find it very strange this employee lives in bear country, has safety training regarding bears, and is kicking up this much of a fuss. I wonder if there’s something else going on with them and they’re attaching their anxiety to this.

    If you worked around Grizzly bears or Polar bears, I’d get the extra caution but black bears don’t have the same level of aggression (usually) and are especially unlikely to be so in a campground full of human scent.

    The level of training and information your staff has seems appropriate for the environment…I think it’s probably worth sitting down with this employee and trying to get to the root of what’s irking them. Did they have a recent fright with wildlife? What about the training and information they have now doesn’t feel like enough for them?

    The other important part of this is that if they are this scared of bears, the WORST thing to do is for them to work in an environment where they might see them. Animals sense fear and there is no better way to make yourself a good target for an animal attack than to be afraid of them. For a good chunk of the animal world, fear means that you’re prey or you’re a weak link. If this employee is this fearful, it’s best for them to be in a role with no reasonable risk of animal encounter.

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – I think your insight is correct. I think that this is one way anxiety over other things in the workplace is coming out. I’m trying to make sure that I have the right approach to address this specific staff member’s concerns without blowing things out of proportion, but also not ruling out that I do need to reassess my approach for the whole team.

      1. Splendid Colors*

        I am glad to see how open you are to re-evaluating your training etc. based on reading the feedback to your letter and Alison’s answer.

  77. Isabel Archer*

    The heck with D&I and microaggressions training…I demand formal bear safety training immediately!

  78. RPOhno*

    To me, from an occ safety standpoint, this sounds suspiciously close to voluntary vs mandatory use of fire extinguishers (maybe it falls into a similar category, so I’ll go into it). Basically, standards in the US are such that if fire extinguishers are available for voluntary use, and workers can choose to use them, but are not required to, you just have to go over fire extinguisher use in theory. However, if a worker is *required* to use a fire extinguisher in case of fire, you’re then required to provide hands on training involving using an actual fire extinguisher to put out an actual (controlled) fire. Maybe your guy is taking a standard like that and thinking about it backwards? Taking “If I’m required to use bear spray as a part of my job, I have to get hands-on training” and incorrectly broadening it to “if I am allowed to have bear spray at all, even if I’m not required to, I have to get hands-on training”.

    There are lots of those light training for voluntary use/use by choice, heavy training for required use clauses in occ safety/occ health regs (see also: respirator use) so that may be something to look into.

  79. Fit Farmer*

    I love that this reads like one of the “analogy” letters, a la llamas or teapots, but it really is actually about for-real bears.

    Also given the content I was definitely expecting it to be about grizzlies and went into it thinking “You’re right bears are super scary!”…then they turned out to be black bears, which are not at all the same.

  80. Maggi O*

    I worked for the park service in summers and college. We had black bears that we had to call the rangers to come and shoot in the butt with rubber bullets to move them along. They would chow down on people’s hotdogs.

    I had aggressive patrons remark that they were angry we wouldn’t let in their dogs but we let in BEARS???

    1. ...beets, Battlestar Galactica*

      I live near Yellowstone (Bozeman, MT), and the start of every tourist season always has the locals rather giddily keeping an eye out for the inevitable Darwin awards that will get handed out that year.

      The sheer number of people who will walk RIGHT UP TO wildlife to try to pet them and pose for pictures is absolutely astounding. And then they inevitably get gored/chased/chucked through the air like a ragdoll by a bison *head shake*.

  81. Grendel's Sister*

    I almost laughed at this letter. I live in the southern Appalachians in a city well known for “city bears”. The bears are just a way of life. Everyone knows what to do and no one requires special training to do it. The bears swim in our pools, play on our swings, lounge on our porches, steal lunches from closed cars (and occasionally get stuck in said cars,) and of course, eat our garbage. Maybe the bears here are just used to loud bumbling humans, but black bears are pretty reasonable creatures; don’t bother them and they won’t bother you. Especially don’t go near a mama and her cubs. A loud whistle will make a bear run. So will a 90-pound grandma or a 10-pound cat. If the worker is concerned about using the bear spray, tell them to not carry the bear spray

  82. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    I obviously don’t have enough information to divine this, but another possibility: We have had several employees who will invent faux safety concerns so they don’t have to do some aspect of the job they don’t like. When I first started as seasonal staff, several full timers explicitly tried to get me to pretend to have the same issues so the expectations for them wouldn’t change.

    Even if that is happening, it’s still worth it to treat the complaint as sincere because it’s in everyone’s best interest to get curious about any potential opportunity to increase staff safety.

    If you do end up hiring this employee back, though, I would encourage you to get curious if there is some other aspect of the job that may be the root cause of this fixation. Not saying that’s what it is, but it’s a potential avenue to explore if you for some reason must have them on staff and further training is not an option. At least for the sake of their poor coworkers who must be fatigued with them banging on about this endlessly. (I got promoted out of that mess ages ago and it still haunts me.)

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – yes, exactly. This is one of several complains/concerns raised by this employee (the only real safety one though) about aspects of their position that they don’t enjoy as much (or the complaints are raised at the time of the season when the employee is particularly busy and could use some things off of their plate) so it is a part of a pattern… but doesn’t absolve me as the employer from investigating, asking different experts for their opinion, and potentially changing my approach. I needed a gut check to make sure I’m treating the complaints seriously but also having a reasonable approach.

  83. Quickbeam*

    Decades ago I took a wilderness first responder class to supplement my RN skills. They made us fire off extinguishers and dummy spray cans to get the feel of it. They also made us actually do rescue breaths on each other in CPR. The feeling of having my lungs inflated like a balloon will never leave me.

    For some people actually doing hands on training really makes a difference.

  84. Sabina*

    I was the department safely officer for a government agency in a very rural area. Our employees spent a lot of time outdoors, In my 20 plus years career I saw injuries caused by the following natural hazards: poison oak, bees wasps, tree limbs, tree roots, mud, rocks, ice, angry cows, dogs, hot vegetables flying out of cooking pots, extreme heat and cold. Bears are notably absent from this list, though my boss did hit a bear on the highway in his personal vehicle. I think your employee is being a bit of a drama llama.

    1. SofiaDeo*

      And I as well as my neighbors see black bears at least weekly, within city limits of a place with almost 500,000 people, most weeks of the year outside of hard hibernation weather. The places with large residential dumpsters, and near certain restaurants, often see them more than that. One neighbor a block over states he sees them nightly on his security cameras most of the year. I believe it, from how often my dogs react at night and from how certain neighbors who leave garbage in their cans other than trash day cause messes. It’s become such a problem, there is an ordinance that trash must be kept inside until the AM of trash day unless in a bear resistant can. And some of the bears seem to have learned this, and show up early AM on trash day. So just because you, yourself, haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it may not be a problem.

  85. raida*

    Personally I’d want the name of the last place that gave them bear safety training.
    Then I’d contact that place and ask who provides their bear safety training.

    THEN I’d set up a meeting to discuss the training they supplied and find out specifically:
    Did they train the staff that they are not safe without bear spray, their employer is responsible for training them in bear spray as equipment, the correct approach is to raise safety concerns on these bases and refuse to work somewhere ‘unsafe’ while encouraging co-workers to do the same.

    Essentially, were they professionally trained in “Your safety is paramount. Do not follow unsafe instructions. Look out for other staff. Bears are no joke. Carry bear spray. Insist on training in bear spray. Bear spray is dangerous.”

    Because if that’s what their training covered – then they are doing the right thing. They are following very very very important safety instructions, provided by professionals, on the exact subject (bears).

    While I’m talking to the trainer, I’d find out what they would suggest in your work. They may simply say “Oh no your work doesn’t require x, y, z.” or they may say “If you have identified a potential need for bear spray you must a) provide enough for all staff to have it on their person b) provide training on how to use a piece of equipment that can harm them or other people.”

    And THEN I’d talk to the people that you mentioned who do things like relocate bears and get their opinion on your current setup, and if bear spray is helpful or alarming or necessary – and perhaps sitting in on a training session would be of value, who knows.

  86. kiki*

    I do feel like the employee in question is likely making a bigger deal about this than it needs to be, but a lot of people respond better to emergency situations when they’ve physically practiced the actions they need to take. It’s part of the reason schools and workplaces do fire drills instead of simply telling people, “In an emergency, find the closest exit and go outside.” I understand the desire to receive somewhat more thorough training and actually walk through what using bear spray looks like.

    Once there was a small kitchen fire in my neighbor’s apartment. They were panicking and grabbed me. I knew to grab a fire extinguisher, but I had never actually used one before. It didn’t actually take that long to figure out and the fire wasn’t rapidly growing or anything, but it did delay my response. In a time-sensitive emergency, having muscle memory and not needing to think about the instructions can help.

    I know there is only a tiny chance this employee will actually ever need to use bear spray, but I don’t think it’s completely out there to expect a bit of practice.

  87. Nelalvai*

    By LW’s wording, it sounds like normally bear spray isn’t in the supplies, but LW decided to make it an option this time? Is it possible the change made LW’s employee think the bear threat was increasing/bigger than they previously believed? LW knows from 10 years’ experience how rare bear attacks; does the employee know that? I wonder if it would help (either with the current employee or future inexperienced employees) to make that part of the training, e.g., “there’s an average of X bear encounters per year, and in the past Y years there were 0 bear attacks.”

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – there may be something to this. I actually purchased them because several other members of the team requested it and as other staff members on site carried it (and we do recommend visitors carry it in the backcountry) I thought the idea was fine. It’s not a requirement to carry it and there wasn’t a larger number of problem/danger bears this past year… but maybe that wasn’t the perception.

      1. lilyp*

        It does sound like the bear spray conversation really raised this person’s anxiety level about bears in general! I wonder if they just sort of… hadn’t thought much about the real possibility of a dangerous bear encounter doing this job before (“oh sure we have to give that spiel about bears all the time but it’s not like an *actual* bear is every going to *actually* attack *me* at work”) and so when you said “hey here’s some bear spray you might want to consider carrying in case you ever actually encounter an aggressive bear on the job” they heard “you COULD ACTUALLY get attacked by an ACTUAL bear working here!” and it sort of brought that possibility into focus for them? Especially like, if they have a perception that you only need to carry bear spray in really high-risk situations, then to them providing bear spray might’ve implied that this job had a much higher risk of dangerous bear encounters than they’d previously thought. Or maybe they just liked the attention of making such a dramatic and righteous-sounding complaint over and over. Idk all speculation! It does sound like this job is not a great fit for this person all around, I hope they also decide that and don’t come back next year.

  88. A Pound of Obscure*

    I live in both grizzly bear and black bear (and mountain lion and moose and …) country. This person needs a different job if they can’t accept that it is not possible to conduct intensive training for every scenario — especially one that (based on LW’s experience) is essentially low-risk and unlikely to result in injury. I get the point about being responsible for other people’s safety, and maybe a somewhat expanded safety presentation for everyone would be a good idea, but this employee needs to go back to the city if they are unable to evaluate and accept the risks inherent in spending time in the great outdoors.

  89. Bears Thinking About*

    I have worked many jobs where bear safety was an issue/bear spray training was required. Only one of those jobs actually had us practice with inert cans (NOT expired cans that will hurt like hell if the breeze shifts the wrong way, mind). At that particular job, we were carrying bear attractant on our persons and had reasonable expectation of encounters. At all other jobs, including government, a PowerPoint was the standard. Personally, I think bear spray should be treated with respect and handled like the weapon it is (but I’ve had it go off on my face before, which shaped my opinion). I’m more concerned about it being left in a hot car than someone understanding how to deploy it properly (which is fairly intuitive and can be shown in a video in my opinion). All this is to say that it sounds a bit of an overreaction on the employee’s part, but would be pretty easy to accommodate their concern with an inert can and a half hour review with the staff on how to use it.

  90. Despairing of Humanity*

    Not bear-related:
    I have been in this position as an employee – coming from an environment where staff turnover was high, safety’s training was strict and extensive, my current job is an incestuous nightmare where it took me 15 months to get access to the safety training that company policy mandated.
    Checking with long term staff proves nothing. Check with your new staff, have you covered everything they need or want to know.
    Someone who was told “it’s like this everywhere” when I was the only person on my 6 person team who hadn’t done their PhD in that department, and one of only two who had worked in this field in any other building

  91. Delta Delta*

    There are days when I wonder, are we doing enough about bears at work? And it turns out, probably not. I am probably not doing enough about bears.

  92. Suzanne*

    All staff should be carrying bear spray and have training on it. Reading the label and using it while scared are two vastly different things!! I work for an environmental science company with staff who do field work in back country and every single person in the field carries bear spray and gets training. A bear doesn’t bother you until IT DOES. Even black bears. You can’t predict what is going to cause it.

  93. Ali*

    I actually think the team member was correct, not the LW. If an employer provides any safety aid to an employee, it must train them on how to use it, regardless of how simple it seems. It will not stand up in court that you have provided a safe work environment if you don’t do this. Surely, it would not be that hard to provide a demonstration to all team members at the start of the season?

  94. Petty Betty*

    As an Alaskan who lives in bear country and works in bear country, I’m laughing.

    “Be Bear Aware” was engrained into us in elementary school. I see moose on the daily and they are taller than pick up trucks. We have neighborhood alerts for when the bears decide to wander our streets in the spring and summer, and the moose year-round. We have bear drills at ren fair for when they inevitably decide to wander on stage during tech week.
    At work? Oh yeah, little dumpster diving cubs routinely get trapped and we have to chase mama off so we can let the kids out. Or deal with a hungry bear wandering into a shop.

    Never used bear spray. I open carry in the woods (city bear don’t care about spray, black bear are skittish, brown bear will ignore small caliber and swipe you). Never had to use a weapon against a bear, luckily. Had to hide under a car from a moose once when I was a kid (it had gotten hit, it was real mad).

    I wonder how much practical experience with the outdoors and bears this person (the employee) has. They sound kind of skittish.

  95. Self-Appointed Bear Safety Trainer*

    Sure this training is unnecessary in the sense that there’s not much to demonstrate except how to look big and scary, and how to operate a spray can, BUT it sounds like it might be a worthwhile endeavor just to make the employees feel safer by feeling prepared.

    Maybe this is a niche waiting to be filled: I’m willing to wear some sort of scout-like outfit, arrive in a vehicle with an Acme Bear Training sign, and lead a course in arm-waving, noise-making, and not pepper spraying oneself.

  96. ...beets, Battlestar Galactica*

    OP, I know you say you’re confused by what this employee is asking for, but if you take a step back, I think it’s pretty straightforward: they’re concerned about a workplace safety issue (not being given adequate instructions/practice on how to use the bear spray), when they spoke up about those concerns, they were (while not the intent I’m sure) in effect dismissed and told no, everything is fine, why are you being a problem? Again OP, I don’t think this was your intent, and if I’m being a bit brusque throughout this response, I apologize as I’m about to rush out the door.

    OP, was it you or your employee who used the word ‘intensive’ to describe the bear spray training the employee was suggesting be undertaken? I ask because if they used it, to me it suggests they’re coming from a heightened emotional state, and if that’s the case, you can throw logic/facts/figures at emotions all you want, it doesn’t matter, it won’t work (believe me, I logic at my anxiety all damn day, and if that solved the problem, I would have been rid of it years ago lol). I don’t think treating this as a normal workplace problem to solve is helpful, because however minimal, the risk of bodily harm is present here in a way it never will be for the average office worker. By that I mean, coming back to the employee in question and telling them in effect they’re wrong, the training is sufficient, does nothing to ameliorate the emotion behind their concerns, and in effect, invalidates them, while I’m sure that wasn’t your intention. Invalidating someone else’s emotions/not using empathy will only make someone double down on their original concern/complaint, because they (rightfully) feel that they’re not being heard.

    I realize commenters on here have argued/want to argue that because of their own personal experience (i.e. they live in bear country, are an avid hiker, choose to put themselves in bear-space all the time and come out fine, take your pick) that the employee is overreacting, and because they’re overreacting, they should be ignored (I’m distilling since this response is already getting long). To that I say:

    1. A sample size of one is statistically irrelevant, lacks empathy (i.e. the imagination to perspective take and the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes), and does nothing to solve the problem.

    2. Just because only one person has raised questions/concerns about the bear spray doesn’t mean they’re the only one to have them.

    3. Danger, or more accurately, the perception of danger, is subjective. I forget what the psychology term is, but when you’re exposed to danger on a regular basis (as an extreme example, growing up/living in a war zone), you become desensitized to it. You have to. From a biological perspective, your body cannot continue to pump out high levels of cortisol all time, it has horrendous effects on your body (says the woman who stressed herself into getting shingles at the age of 25, yikes). Hurrah for you if you think the bear danger is minimal, but just because someone else says the danger is higher than you think it is doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

    Taking a broader perspective on the issue you wrote in about OP, what would you/your employees/your employer GAIN by bringing someone in to give a hands-on tutorial where your employees could practice unholstering and discharging a can of bear spray? What would all of you potentially LOSE by not holding the class? Frankly OP, I personally cannot get on the side of people (and I don’t think this is you BTW) who would argue that the small amount of time/money that would potentially be ‘wasted’ by holding the class should be weighed as being more important than giving people the confidence to use a tool that, no matter how small the possibility, could potentially save their life. Even if they never need the bear spray while they’re in your employ, who’s to say they won’t need it down the road? We can practice prevention all we want for any given situation, but people WILL inevitably make mistakes (as you admitted to in an earlier comment about surprising a bear yourself years earlier), so why not give them a chance to make mistakes in controlled/safe environment first?

    Finally, if anyone, particularly people scoffing at the danger, would like to read some truly fascinating but horrifying stories of first-hand accounts/witnesses to bear attacks, I would highly suggest: Mark of the Grizzly, Stories of Recent Bear Attacks and the Hard Lessons Learned.

    After living in Montana for 15 years, I’m happy to thank whatever deity for my own lack of bear encounters, but I suggest that book in particular as my friend’s husband was one of the people interviewed for his story. After being attacked by a grizzly multiple times (while retreating), my friend’s husband was able to shoot it while it was charging him, but it took more than one shot, and she said the bear’s head landed between her husband’s feet when it finally died. TOO FREAKING CLOSE FOR COMFORT, dear lord!

    1. Beboots*

      OP here – thank you for this comment! You have given me a lot to think about. I’m working at making sure my own emotions don’t come into play while addressing this staff member’s concern. There have been other performance related issues with this person that summer and I’m working really hard at being self reflective and not letting my other concerns about this staff member’s judgement colour issues like this, and I know I don’t always succeed. It’s good to check myself I can’t remember if the word “intensive” came from me or them, but I think it was them (they described the training to me and they often use hyperbole when speaking), though I’m not sure.

      I should note as I mentioned in a few other comments that I did in the end have a colleague on another team provide some bear spray training including demonstrations/deploying a dummy bear spray and bear bangers (one of the reasons that I couldn’t ask earlier in the season is that they were incredibly short staffed and I was told on other occasions by my manager I couldn’t ask them for things as they were run ragged), however, even after taking this training, this staff member still expressed to other team members that it was unsafe for me to schedule any staff members in the campground.

      I am planning, before the operational season really kicks off again and my staff return, on reaching out to the OHS committee at my site to confirm what training level makes sense/what the options are, and to talk to my colleagues who work more intensively with bears to see if we can arrange an in-house training session that makes sense given the context of my staff’s jobs and what tools I’ll make available to them.

  97. InsufficentlySubordinate*

    Ha! Very true. Also, had to let a co-worker know that they should not type “shaved bear images” into google at work.

    1. ...beets, Battlestar Galactica*

      Hi Dwigt, I’m delighted to see someone quoting the Office scene that caused me to change my username to …beets, Battlestar Galactica, just for this post :D.

  98. Jonquil*

    Okay, so I’m going to sound like an Australian “our wildlife will kill you” stereotype, but this makes me think of snake safety, which is a big thing here (depending on where you live). Snake protocols are absolutely standard in a lot of workplaces, especially those that are rural or bushland/grassland-adjacent. Most schools, for example, have procedures on how to manage a snake. Teachers aren’t going to be dealing with the snake itself (they would call a snake handler to relocate it), but they do have some basic training in staying calm, not provoking danger, and getting children out of the area.

    The bit that stood out for me in this letter was:

    “We do not have a specific documented work practice from the occupational health and safety committee for bear encounters”

    I think you need one. It will cover your legal liability, if nothing else. But you need to be clear on expectations and training for your staff. Making them do an annual refresher is probably a good idea. I would also make it part of your interview process (the same way you might mention that the job involves dealing with the public) that bear/wildlife encounters are part of the job, and you will be provided training, but if that sounds like something you are not comfortable with, it would be best to withdraw from the hiring process.

  99. bear anon*

    I and most of my coworkers live where we work. On the land owned by our company, there is a black bear. It’s lived there for years. We’ve never had bear trainings. We just send charming emails to the entire staff whenever we see it and shelter in place on the rare occasions it wanders into the part of our land where buildings are. I’m not sure that’s the right handling, now that this post is up, but I do love having a work bear.

  100. Amy*

    I feel like if this person wants extensive training on how to operate pepper spray they can find that on their own.

    It’s sort of like when I began working in the school system I sought out some training (one day) and asked if the school could pay for it. Turns out it was actually free if I submitted something from the district which I did. Sometimes this is some we must do for ourselves to feel comfortable.

    I’d they aren’t comfortable working around bears maybe not the job for them next season!

  101. Actual Bear Expert*

    Oh Hi, it’s me! I facilitate bear awareness training at work and also live in an area that bears are prevalent enough that I carry bear spray while walking my dog during bear season. I can actually add a few helpful things to the letter writer.
    1. The basic training for bear awareness is this AMAZING 1994 PSA that is available on youtube:
    2. We do go out with summer staff and expired bear spray and teach them how to fire it off. It’s fun. Bring a gallon of milk.
    3. The biggest key for people working in a park is to ensure the campers minimize attractants. This is not limited to food, bears like a lot of weird stuff that they associate with people. We had a real problem a couple years ago with bears who liked to pull all the flagging tape out of the back of our truck and make a huge mess. They actually destroyed the metal drybox we locked it in to get to it one day.
    4. Bears are one thing, but aggressive moose are much, much scarier and less predictable!

  102. Strawberry*

    Hi there, I work at a Canadian research-oriented university that offers Bear Safety training for field researchers.

    Here’s the description:
    Bear Awareness and Safety
    Bear identification
    How to stay safe in “bear country”
    How to avoid and manage bear encounters
    How to use bear spray safely
    <3 hrs

  103. former green shirt wearer*

    Fellow Canadian from bear country here. The last time I bought bear spray (at Canadian Tire of course ;) ) I had to sign off on a form promising not to threaten people with it, how to use it properly, etc.
    I’ve definitely worked places where it was like ‘eh here’s the bear spray if you want it’ (sounds like OPs situation) but I think you really should be doing a basic sign off if you’ve watched the video on how to use bear spray and know where not to point it for legal liabilities for your organization if nothing else.

  104. John In AK*

    As both a trained and certified bear ‘hazer’ and trainer on the North Slope of Alaska, I can tell you that it is a minimum standard for ALL workers that MIGHT come into contact with a bear to receive basic training in bear avoidance’ GOOD training includes behavioral tricks and survival techniques if avoidance doesn’t work. If it is LIKELY that the worker could encounter a bear, there is specific extra training required for THAT. If one permits or requires a worker to carry bear spray, there is also specific training for THAT, including how the stuff works, what it can and cannot do, how it must be carried and deployed, and includes using an inert ‘trainer’ deterrent canister, which is readily available.
    For the employer, failure to administer the proper training to ensure worker safety in a bear-rich environment would be grossly negligent, and against OSHA regulations regarding workplace hazards–and wildlife certainly fall into that category.
    Carrying and, if necessary, using a safety device such as deterrent spray should NEVER be ‘optional,’ by the way. If a worker isn’t ‘comfortable’ carrying life-saving Personal Protective Equipment, then they can’t be allowed to perform a job that requires it.
    In this case, the employee is emphatically correct–start training!

  105. Per my last email ....*

    My brother did a summer study program around the town of Longyearbyen in Svalbard, Norway. It’s close to the North Pole territory and maybe the northernmost human settlement? More polar bears tha people kind of a place. Day one included polar bear training. I’ll have to confirm details with him, but pretty sure they had to carry a rifle anytime they went outside. I remember getting a photo of a polar bear ambling past his dorm room window. That’d be a nope for me.

  106. Bear Country*

    I live in rural Montana where bears are also common and most people are laid back about it. That said, in a professional setting, why not just pay for the training for them? I’m not sure what the employee means by “intensive” training but I’ve seen community bear safety classes—including practice with those fake bear sprays—that are free or cheap and open to the public and take less than an hour. How cheap can you be to say no to an employee’s request for that? And you or the other team can’t spare an hour of time for it? It also could help them do their job better since they can better advise guests. Just provide the training. OP is making way too big a deal of this.

    1. Bear Country*

      Also, I couldn’t believe it when I read that OP bought two canisters for employees to share! Every employee should have their own canister and be required to carry it on them at all times. That’s the most basic of basic bear safety advice. Can’t believe it wouldn’t be required for employees.

  107. Memarise*

    Hi OP – asking because this reminds me of a former coworker – is this employee normally direct or indirect about making requests? When I was reading through I kept thinking “It sounds like they want to be asked to provide this training for their coworkers – maybe to have a trainer’s certificate paid for and perhaps a stipend for providing the class and the status of being the person who brought/provides this training.”

    I had a coworker years ago who would bring things up like this, persistently, hoping to be asked to be in charge of it and gain some additional training/perks/pay, but wouldn’t directly ask for it. They just hoped that eventually someone would say “You know, we should send someone to get this training and bring it back and this person talks about it all the time, we should ask them if they’d be interested?”

    On the surface this seems similar, but people contain multitudes and there is a lot of good advice, suggestions, and ideas here already.

  108. Just Another Tired US Fed*

    Right out of school vice-principal? That sounds odd, usually many years of experience is required to advance to being principal or assistant principal.

  109. Greg*

    If the OP’s employee ends up leaving the job over this issue, will they “Exit pursued by a bear”?

  110. Vio*

    Am I the only one wondering if Alison should write some advice for the bears too? It’s only fair to consider both sides after all. What if a bear were to write in asking for advice on how to deal with aerosol wielding humans encroaching on their habitat or how to make it clear when they were and weren’t in a mood to maul?

Comments are closed.