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A Word from the Crossroads

May 11, 2013 1 comment

imagesCAPQREO0Let’s be honest.  If you have been in the workforce for any length of time, whether in safety or not, there come times in your career(s) when you reach the crossroads.  Those times in your career when you see your future spanning two very different directions.  Either reality yields a dramaticly different result that you and your loved ones will reap the consequences of it for years to come.

Such is my position.  I have taken on the responsibility of Occupational Health and Safety Manager for the Pepperidge Farm Plant in Bloomfield, Ct..  The position is a dream job I have been training for for my entire college experience.  The opportunity is stupendous.  The geography is the challenge.  Three teenage daughters and a cross country move yields an explosive outcome.  My wife has been toting the line of motivating the kids while dealing with the pressures of a move.  She is in the trenches packing and supporting her parents family with upcoming weddings and births.  She is neck deep in projects.

And then there is me.  Standing at the crossroads, looking down one road to Connecticut and the other to Utah.  My future lies in Connecticut, but I find that moving is a constant gut-check.

Professionally, I have been keeping myself busy.  I have been gleaning safety management ideas from mentors and reviewing case studies in an effort to start supporting this new safety responsibility.

The advice I received surprised me at first.  It was uniform, yet specialized. The crux of it bears repeating and I have decided to parrot many of the ideas and objectives here.

According to my sources, the following ideas will ease a manager’s transition:

B560041141.  Wander.  By far the most common bit of advice I received was to wander the plant.  Wander the factory floor, learn the names of the employees, learn the names of the machines and the processes that the ingredients have to undergo to turn in to delicious treats.

Wandering allows for you to be seen, and being seen is a part of establishing influence as a manager.  Giving others access to you while allowing them to see your human, conversational side creates an influence of trust and dependability.

Wandering as a Safety professional provides yet another benefit…work.  I learned firsthand from performing safety audits that the more you look, the more you see.  The more wandering you do, the more angles you catch and the deeper into the plant you see.

So, wander.  Wander like you’ve never wandered before!

imagesCA7V88FL2.  Listen.  Safety Managers are hired for their unique knowledge and expertise.  They implement programs and plans that will save companies hundreds of thousands (dare I say millions) of dollars.  That being said, for a Safety Manager to come running in, both barrells blazing, taking on the responsibility alone and closing all the gaps in the plant at once is stupid.  Listen, Listen, Listen!

I have heard the sad tale I just described a few times in my recent interviews.  Not surprisingly it doesn’t go well.  I know of one situation where the Safety Manager actually kept his job (after a gruelling professional lesson learned).  All of the others did not fare as well.

A title gives permission to perform duties.  The influence comes after a Safety Manager inserts themself into the work culture.

The “newbie” is best served listening to the experience of the experienced.  Machine operators know more about their own machines than the Safety Manager does.  Plain and simple.

Listening will open a dialogue and with that dialogue a better risk assessment can be performed.

3.  Follow up.  The most imporatant words in business are “follow up.”  Even (and especially) when there is no vital information to share.  If you are waiting for engineering to come back with an answer then by golly go tell that to the follow-upoperator.  What you are really telling the machine operator is that you value their time, their job experience, and their personal safety by seeing their request through to the end.

The employees you care for must know that you have their backs.

4.  Use an action register.  Make a list of what you are working on, who the contact people are, and all suggestions you get during the day.  Post them and keep up on the list daily.  It will help keep you on task and it will report for you when your superiors stop by for unannounced visits.

5. Tote the Corporate Line.  Hold the corporate line.  Your first few months are essential.  People will look for your boundaries and first impressions are lasting.  It is essential to show your commitment to the company line.

When I was a teenager, one of my personal Heroes, Karl Farnsworth, gave me a gem of wisdom.

“On One Side of you are your people,” he said.

“On the other side of you is your boss.” He then paused for dramatic effect.

“Which way do you face?”

I thought it over and the lesson was clear to me…Tote the company line.  Let your people follow you.

6imagesCAZPC8FAAchieve small victories.  Pluck the low hanging fruit during the first few months.  I have never walked into a facility for the first time without identifying at least one safety issue that must be addressed.   Go get some small victories.  The workers will see that you are someone who gets things done.  They can see the effect of you being around.

7.  Avoid the “program of the month” club.  Celebrate your victories internally.  Avoid the frills and “life-changing rollouts” with new programs.  If the safety program is viable it will take on a life of its own.  People will follow it and it will become part of the work culture.  THEN celebrate the program.  If the program bombs when you implement it, then you will have far less egg on your face and it will be easier to dismiss.  If the program suceeds then you will find that your influence in the plant will skyrocket.

Like I said at the top of this article, these are the seven pieces of advice everyone I interviewed had in common.  Surprising to me during the interviews, but understandable to me now that I review them.  They are conservative and have the advantage of being tested over time.  They are universal, crossing industry lines and working uniformally.  Knowing this yields confidence and makes me excited to get started on the right foot…

…now to get my teenagers on board.

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OSHA Cowboy and the Spirit of Safety

January 27, 2013 3 comments

osha_cowboy

Our plant had a group return last week from a week long trip to Austria. The group’s focus was to understand the ins and outs of a new oven for our plant expansion. They brought back stories of beer in the workplace cafeteria, cigarrettes on the factory floor, and quick excursions to abandoned castles on their way to and from work.

The stories that really raised my eyebrows were the those of safety protocols…or lack thereof. I was told of employees using makeshift tools that would never make it past today’s US OSHA standards.

The stories made me think of our good friend the OSHA cowboy. This picture is a classic in safety and pokes fun at OSHA’s perceived overkill to drive the safety industry.

I look at our risk-reduced cowboy here and find myself grateful for the job OSHA is doing. There is no such thing as too safe. Risk will never be obliterated. Keeping the US workplace as safe as possible, well that would require such silly things as hearing protection, safety glasses, and the like.

Not all employees in the world are guarded by the spirit of safety like the American worker. I have heard first-hand accounts of some foreign production facilities that have extra employees in the wings waiting for an industrial accident so they can work.

So here’s to you OSHA cowboy. I am glad you are around

Categories: Safety Tags: , , , ,

US Safety Deserves A Pat on the Back (a preliminary one anyway)

September 24, 2012 Leave a comment

U.S. Safety Professionals deserve a pat on the back for the job they did in 2011. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Thursday in a preliminary report that annual workplace fatalities fell by 81 incidents in the past year.

What does this mean?  We are improving the safety of the American workplace.

The report also highlights some interesting trends worth noting.  41% of all work related fatalities in 2011 were involving traffic incidents, with truck transportation fatalities climbing by 14% alone.

17% of all work related fatalities dealth with violent, deliberate actions (a.k.a. On-The-Job homocide, animal attacks, or suicide).

On a favorable note, deaths in the private construction sector decreased by 7%.  Safety messages and practices are getting through to more employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes their preliminary numbers in late summer/early fall.  The final report is issued in the spring of the following year.  Traditionally the adjusted, final report is within 3% of the preliminary report.  The report in its entirety can be found at http://www.bls.gov/news.release/cfoi.htm

So preliminarily (if that is truly a word) the US Safety Industry deserves a pat on the back, that is, unless you are in transportation with a beef against someone you work with.  Then all bets are off.

Production Jobs…More than the stereotypes suggest.

August 13, 2012 Leave a comment

A Factory Worker recruitment poster.

I have been working in production now for four years and have come across a similar reaction when describing my job to friends and family.  That well it won’t be forever look and the consoling words that come from the desk jockeys who have never operated an industrial machine in their lives can be infuriating. 

Indeed the fairytale of WWII factory workers building the equipment to safe the lives of American soldiers overseas has long since devolved away to an all time low, in my almost humble opinion.  Low Education, Loves physical labor, bottom of the barrel…such is the stereotype of the American factory worker.   

I started looking around the web for some comforting news about the image of factory workers.  My google search first turned up a yahoo answers page.  The question (What is the stereotype of a factory worker?) was answered by three people:

  1. PepperEva said, “They had some tough luck. Maybe they made bad choices, maybe things happened that they couldn’t control, maybe they like working a factory. Maybe they want to run one some day. I generally just think, huh, a job. I doubt I’ll get a steady job doing what I love. I’ll probably take the work I can get and do what I love in my free time.”
  2. Apple Jacks said, “uneducated.”
  3. Vanessa said, “Poor.”

…not a very reassuring find for the image of the factory worker.

The Actuality

As I was bouncing around safety blogs and came across an article in www.impomag.com that gave some stark facts that describe the reality of factory workers.  The article was written by Nancy Syverson, Managing Editor.  It is entitled, “Who Works in Your Plant?  A Profile of Today’s American Factory Worker.” 

Today’s factory workers are educated and well paid

Syverson’s article had some facts:

Myth: Factory workers are low paid. 

  • Fact: According to recent reports, the average manufacturing wage is $54,000 per year, 18% higher than the average U.S. wage.

Myth: Factory workers are high-school dropouts.

  • Fact: Some 78% of the manufacturing workforce has a high-school or greater education.

Myth: Factory jobs require vocational education, which attracts students who are less qualified in other areas.

  • Fact: According to NAM, today’s manufacturers seek a range of skills that include hands-on abilities as well as math, science and computer use.

Myth: You have to be a union member to work in a factory.

  • Fact: Unions represents only about 20% of all factory workers, down from 25% five years ago. Currently 22 right-to-work states give factory workers the choice of belonging to a union or not.

Myth: The burden of benefit costs have been shifted to the employee in manufacturing as in other industries.

  • Fact: More than 80% of manufacturers still pay the bulk of employees’ medical benefits, including dental.

Myth: Factory work requires physical labor and can be dangerous.

  • Fact: Certain factory work will always require physical labor, but automation and ergonomic awareness have reduced that type of work, resulting in a 40% decrease in workplace injuries over the past decade.

Using current demographic data, a new picture of the modern factory worker emerges. Tough, hardworking and determined, America’s factory workers are faced with challenges that often require more smarts than strength.

Some further digging found an article published in www.breakingout.net by Kevin Wells.  His article Why It’s Important to Cut Loose contrasts working in production and working in a cubical.  “The term “factory workers” doesn’t have to be taken literally,” Wells says, “Most people in the Western world nowadays are actually office workers, but – same difference. In the West, office work is the new factory work.  When I worked in offices the people I encountered were pretty much the same as the old factory worker stereotype. It makes not a jot of difference whether you are blue collar or white collar.”

My Experience

I work with Pepperidge Farm in Utah, where we make roughly 1/3 of all goldfish crackers produced.  I can count a half-dozen other employees I personally deal with daily on the production floor that have at least a Bacheller’s degree.  Pepperidge Farm pays better than most jobs in the area and we all know that there are lists of people waiting to get a shot working here.  The factory uses more machines than manual labor, which creates the rise of computer savvy machine operators.  These operators are highly skilled problem solvers who invest themselves in the million-dollar machines they operate.

Yes the American factory worker is in dire need of a PR campaign.  This down-and-out reputation does not reflect the dedication, education and technical skill that is mandatory in today’s workforce.

Crying Wolf

July 16, 2012 Leave a comment

I came into work recently and immediately got caught up in the rumor mill.  Earlier that day an employee caught his finger in a cog of a machine.  There was blood, screaming, and a fingertip found on the floor as the drama unfolded.  It was a horrific experience for this unfortunate worker.

The reason I bring this up however is because the news that spread around the plant was more about the line’s reaction to the incident than this poor employee losing his fingertip.

The incident went like this:

  1. The employee stuck his finger in a hole of his machine
  2. His fingertip pinched off.
  3. He screamed bloody murder.
  4. No one looked up.

….ehhhhhh…huh?

The most surprising, and talked about, part of the whole ordeal was the employee who held up a cookie a second  later, still not looking up, and said, “blood!”   Truly not one soul bothered to look up and see the emergency unfolding less than 10 feet away.  Many of the line workers didn’t know it happened until the cleaning crew started sanitizing the line.

Now how could this happen?  Was it because the workers on the line could care less?  In this case no.  Was it because of noise or distance from the scene?  Nope; Line workers talk to each other the entire day.  The issue here is simply over stimulation….that is to say, crying wolf.

Crying Wolf

In Aesop’s Fable, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” a boy assigned to watch the town flock of sheep.  He gets bored and decides to have some fun with the townsfolk by repeatedly crying, “Wolf!” to the startled townspeople.  After a few false alarms a wolf does come and attack the flock.  The boy sounded the alarm, but the townspeople weren’t going to be startled again.  His false alarms had overstimulated them and they simply shut him down.  They paid no attention to him. 

Such it is with the wolf criers of today.  Those who feed off of the attention they get startling others at work will find themselves alone when their jokes become sincere pleas for help.

This highlightes a major safety factor, that of believability.  In our finger incident described above, this employees believablility was shot months previous because of his loud and boisterous antics on the line.  As believability decreases a safety gap increases. 

As one becomes less believable to their peers, a major safety risk grows.

 So what can be done about the crying wolf syndrome?  Well, one manager I know has banned speaking on the line at all. Not an extremely popular move from the employees’ point of view, but increadibly effective from a safety standpoint.  

Short of banning communication (bold and absolute), education is really the only solution.  A “Crying Wolf” campaign with announcements, posters, memos, daily monitoring by administration and assigned workers, whatever suites the need of the facility. 

Fortunately for our unfortunate employee, his fingertip was reattatched.  He has another gory story to get attention with.  Once back on the line, he has learned a harsh lessson.  Howl at the moon on your own time, but at work never, ever, EVER cry wolf.