(Dr. Ralph Nichols was the “Father of the Field of Listening” and a founding father of the International Listening Association. You can find out more here.)
Welcome back to another episode, thank you for stopping by.
It’s not a question of “can you hear me?” but more to the point, “are you listening to me?” Not listening to your workers can cost the company in so many ways as you will see in some of the stories below. When you don’t listen to employees you’re just turning them off. They become less engaged, you lose their trust and they feel you don’t care about them or working condition as profits are the only concern. Soon the quality of work drops as more mistakes occur and workers don’t even bother bringing issues to your attention anymore. It begins to totally spiral out of control as the production line is constantly down, quotas are being missed, customer’s orders are not being filled, there is no communication at all except for the finger pointing and actually in the scheme of things no one actually gives a rats ass about anything but just collecting their paycheck. You have successfully built a wall that will take a long time to come down just because you couldn’t take a moment to hear what they have to say. Your life becomes a scheduling hell as you try to keep production from coming to a standstill as the number of employees calling in sick dramatically increases daily and employee turnover begins to escalate as well.
Oh I know, I’ve heard all the excuses before; you don’t have the time, you have production reports to complete, you have too many emails to answer, you have meetings to attend. That’s all bull dink folks because they’re nothing BUT excuses. You just have to do a better job of managing your time, (it can be done, you have to want to) so you can be on the shop floor and listen. Vilfredo Pareto was so kind to help by coming up with the Pareto Principle of 80/20. For you, that means you spend 20% of your time dealing with desk duties and 80% on the floor. Then you can plant the seeds to encourage your workers to speak so you can listen.
Just cause you finish a meeting or training session with the obligatory “are their any questions” you’re not done just yet. There are those who are not comfortable asking questions in a room full of people. Make it clear you’re always available to answer questions that they may think of later and there are NO stupid questions. When they come to you and they will, don’t shut them down and instead thank them for their question and offer a comfortable place to talk where there’ll be no distractions and this doesn’t always have to be your desk or office. I had a boss who used to love to go outside the building to chat, mainly because he also was able to have a smoke. I don’t smoke but I love the idea of going for a walk on a beautiful day around the facility. If you really don’t have time to listen that minute, suggest a time that works for both of you and keep the appointment. When you listen don’t look like you have to be elsewhere and constantly check your watch but give encouragement. (Additional reading People are assets.)
After you listen to their safety concern, maintenance improvement idea or money saving production suggestion, make a commitment to get back to the employee with a date they can expect an update. I would keep a spreadsheet posted for all the employees to see, with the safety/maintenance issue(s) reported, the work order number assigned to correct the problem and the estimated completion date. The employees loved seeing an idea or issue they had reported was actually coming to life. Once you’ve demonstrated you can listen to your workers you’ll create a constant open dialogue with an uninhibited exchange of ideas and improvements that’ll make everyone’s life safer and easier in the long run.
As far as companies not listening to their employees, OSHA Fines Employer $105,000 for Retaliating Against Employee Who Complained About Mold Exposure. When office manager Debra Walters brought to managements attention a mold issue not only didn’t they listen to her but also did nothing. Knowing full well that mold can cause severe health problems in people as well as herself she did what she had to do and filed an anonymous complaint with OSHA. Experts that came in to access the mold situation found significant active toxigenic mold growth. As a reward for showing her concern for other workers health, her employer fired Debra. Now, thanks to OSHA she will get full back pay and health benefits and it’s costing the company $105,000 to learn a valuable lesson that would have been prevented had they listened to Debra. There is really no good reason to expose your employees to hazards.
Speaking of not listening, it appears that the United States Postal Service is stone deaf as well as blind when it comes to the safety of its workers. USPS Faces $111K in Fines After OSHA Inspection Again Finds Workplace Safety Hazards . That’s right, the incompetent weak leadership has AGAIN allowed another post office to deliberately place workers in harm’s way. So much so that when management didn’t listen to the employees they filed a complaint with OSHA. The resulting inspection found recordkeeping and housekeeping violations, exit signs not posted, electrical equipment improperly used, locked and blocked exits and fall hazards resulting in 5 REPEAT violations along with a proposed fine of $111,540. I again call out the union and ask why are you not protecting your paying dues members and allowing their lives to be put on the line? How can you expect people to do a competent job when they have to constantly deal with safety hazards?
Two companies that decided not to listen and the results are what you’d expect. OSHA: East End Bridge companies knew wind gauge was broken months before crane collapse. Both companies knew that a critical aspect of crane safety is wind speed and they both knew that the anemometer was damaged and didn’t work since December 15th, 2015. So instead of replacing it, they asked the crane operator to confer with other operators on nearby cranes. Was a great idea as a short term solution only. Two months later, on the morning of the collapse, the crane operator sent a text message to that other crane but the worker wasn’t there, leaving the crane operator without vital information and that’s when Murphy’s law took over. A gust of wind knocked the crane over and luckily the 4 workers on the barge escaped without injury. When your workers see you don’t listen, they’re just not going to care either.
Not only do some companies not listen to their workers, but they also don’t listen to OSHA. Pennsylvania feed mill faces OSHA fine for repeat offenses. So OSHA had once before inspected the facility and told them they had to fix several issues. Rather than listen to what OSHA was telling them they ignored it and now it’s going to cost them $195,000 for a collection of Willful, serious and repeat violations. Nothing sends a louder message of total disregard for your workers’ health and safety then ignoring OSHA’s advice when they’re trying to help you and they get angry when you don’t listen. With the new higher fine amounts and the increase in prosecuting of severe violators, it’s ludicrous to ignore your workers and OSHA.
Well, that’s embarrassing. OSHA cites fire extinguisher company after two workers severely injured. Can you imagine that a safety company, in this case, a fire & safety equipment company didn’t bother to TRAIN their employees on how to properly fill a compressed gas cylinder? Two workers were injured when one exploded during the filling process. Listen to this, training is a critical part of safety. Workers need to know how to operate machinery safely, that includes how the machine works, how to turn it on/off and what PPE is needed while operating and what to do when there are problems especially if you don’t want to spend time at the emergency room. This lesson came with the cost of a recommended fine of $19,774.
We’ll end this issue with this story. Men. The number 3 overall killer of men is accidents. That’s correct, right behind heart disease and cancer and before a stroke. It’s probably also why women live longer than men as well. Wouldn’t you say Kyle at Toyota? (Kyle has been doing a video series on forklift safety titled “Why women live longer than men”. Highly suggest you follow him at the website or on twitter @ToyotaEqupment ) Men also seem to have this need to torture newbies/rookies in the forms of initiations, pranks, and horseplay. In this case Workplace ‘prank’ proves painful and costly it cost a worker a fine of $6000 and $517.50 in costs because he thought it would be funny to spray brake cleaning chemical all over a fellow worker who suffered burns when it ignited. What a friend, what a funny joke, what an idiot. Today, production facilities and warehouses are places of business and the days of horseplay are over, done, put a fork in it. There is only room for professional employees and yes, driving a forklift is a professional job in my eyes. With all the competition out there, the costs of manufacturing, storing, shipping, advertising, marketing, facilities and workers comp the company can’t afford to have you joy ride on a forklift or light someone on fire so you can relieve some stress by having a chuckle. You CAN have fun at work and still be professional and that’ll be the topic of a future blog. Horseplay in the workplace is a pet peeve of mine. I had a friend who lost part of his foot screwing around with forklifts in a warehouse. I worked in the office as a production scheduler and was offered the warehouse supervisor position that this event had created an opening as the previous supervisor was terminated. My friend suffered a lot of pain and a lot of frustration trying to get back to normal which lead to depression. It was a long tough road but we got there and I can’t let anyone go through that. As the new sup, I was tested, but I stood firm.
That’s what workplace safety is about. You are fair and you stand firm. Explain the rules, what the consequences are for non-compliance and enforce it fairly and equally. Don’t worry about what the other shifts or departments do, this is your staff, your territory. Protect it and the people in it! Until the 15th. Stay safe and PLEASE DON’T DRINK AND DRIVE THIS HOLIDAY WEEKEND.