Companies Behaving Badly-Functionality

Functionality – the quality or state of being functional a design that is admired both for its beauty and for its functionality; especially

Welcome back.  Hope your Memorial Weekend was restful and reflective.  
This episode of Companies Behaving Badly began with a seed planted by a blog post that was nourished by a vacation experience.  The blog is “Squawk Point” by James Lawther.  I happen to enjoy his writing style but mostly it’s his refreshing point of view of things that attracts me.  The post, Human Error exposes lazy leadership that always assumes, any issue in productivity or safety is due only to human error and never functionality. However we know there is good leadership out there that will actually stop and listen and take a look at the issue.  Which type of leader you want to be is all up to you.  Folks like James and I can lead you to water, whether you drink it, I guess depends on how thirsty you are for knowledge and thought but please don’t give me any of that it’s the culture.  You are the culture.
This human error assumption applies all too often in warehousing, production and manufacturing.  If someone has a digit amputated by a moving part it’s not that the guards weren’t in place, it’s the employee’s fault.  If a new operations procedure fails it must be the workers fault for not understanding.  It’s all great and good when you make improvements in your facility especially when they increase productivity and makes it safer and easier for employees to operate machinery and handle difficult tasks.  I am here today to tell you I’ve survived improvement projects from both sides of the fence, as worker and as management.  What I learned is, even with management’s best intentions or the engineers best ideas or programmers best apps without input and buy-in from the workers who will actually be using the equipment/process you won’t get it right making the rollout difficult due to employee resistance and poor functionality, lowering the chances of success.
Think about how you feel when someone tries to force change on you that you weren’t consulted about.  You resist.  That’s how workers react.  However when you include them on the project team and take their input seriously you’ve now increased your chances of success greatly.
Here’s a real example.  We had to fill 2000 pounds of product into a large bag referred too as a supersack. The brain trust without any input from workers installed new filler tubes to improve flow and produce more supersacks per shift.  However they positioned the fill tube where they thought it should go at the height they decided it should be.  The problem developed when our shorter workers tried to attach the bag to the fill tube, it was too high for many.  They struggled to get the bag on the tube that was over their head and was difficult to hold up their arms for a time while positioning the bag.  It was never taken into account that workers come in different heights.  Imagine that?  Instead this solution only created a new problem, the many creative ways, all unsafe, that workers came up with to compensate for the height difference. Stools, inverted pails, stacked wooden pallets and forklifts were drafted. Some supervisors looked the other way and some just said no!  Needless to say production of supersacks was inconsistent and began to suffer. 
Management, rather than say they made a mistake instead dug in their heels and took the stance it was too expensive and time consuming to lower the tube and instead put pressure on the employees to “make it work”.  You couldn’t count on having tall workers to do the job since seniority got you the better jobs in production and this was basically only for the rookies and very low seniority.  It only made things worse as people who didn’t have issues before were now complaining and others began calling in sick with arm strain so then the union dug in their heels.  Back and forth, yada, yada, yada, no real solutions to the problem.  After awhile it became hazardous as there were so many puddles from all the marking of territory, folks were slipping and sliding all over.  
When I first began working here a year earlier, I had made friends with the chief engineer.  He was one of those guys that always looked old and grizzled, even in his 40 year old Navy pictures.  Not only did he create and prefabricate anything a sailor or marine needed for over 20 years in the Navy, he also loved cigars.  I made sure to take my breaks around the time he did so I could be in the smoking area having a cigar.  One thing led to another, we exchanged a few cigars, had other similar interests and I soon had a new grizzled old friend who was a damn good engineer.  Then, one cool early morning during graveyard tour, while we enjoyed our cigar break the subject of the supersacks came up.  After discussing and tossing ideas back and forth, we, mostly him came up with a solution.   Instead of the stool or ladder, we came up with a metal bridge with railings that could be stood on confidently as it was extremely sturdy and easy to clean.  Everyone got to see it, touch it, stand on it and sniff it and then we got a unanimous yes!  The cost of lost production, ruffled feathers and stainless steel bridge probably cost as much, if not more as it would have to move the filler tube but could have cost even less if they had asked for input and listened to the workers in the first place.
Then this functionality challenge popped up while on vacation.  For some reason someone decided that only one towel rack was enough in a bathroom, in a room made for two people.  That entails 2 bath towels, 2 face towels and 2 wash cloths.  The towel rack couldn’t accommodate all 6 towels.  It appears that the housekeepers were without any direction from management as each one employed their own solution to the lack of towel rack space which made for inconsistent presentation and interesting to see how each housekeeper decided what worked best.   
The first day, after some time searching, we found the bath towels folded and stacked on a shelf in the closet in the room and no where near the bathroom.  Then one day the bath towels were sitting on the side of the tub and one day sitting on the sink. Either the housekeepers didn’t think it important enough to report to management or maybe they did and management didn’t think it important enough to listen and just said, deal with it.  At times it was inconvenient but also fun as we bet on where the bath towels would be next. 
That’s how it goes with most Companies that behave badly.  They perceive a need and put a solution in place whether it’s the right one or not.  If you want to get maximum productivity from workers then you need to make it easier for them to do the job and not more difficult and that means asking them questions and listening to their answers. Once we got the supersack station up and running with the stainless steel bridge we doubled production however management didn’t learn a thing from this experience. Each improvement turned into a battle which was totally ridiculous and they wondered why they couldn’t consistently make their goals.  It only takes a few seconds to listen to employees and use their input and then you create a bond where they trust you and you take care of them.  Otherwise you’ll wind up with constant delays, grievances, injuries and just plain old fashion hurt feelings.



Why the falls won’t stop. Because of you.  Worker killed in fall at Sutter Home winery in St. Helena Yes!  You.  Due to being lazy, stupid or just plain crazy enough to believe you’re immortal, some of you still don’t believe you need to wear fall prevention gear while you work over 6 feet from the ground.  I don’t know exactly what happened but from the info in the story I can tell that there was no cover or other fall protection placed over the skylight and he was not tethered.  No matter how easy the job looks, if you don’t wear proper fall protection gear you may not get a second chance and wind up evaluating your bad decision at the pearly gates.  

Suffocation has to be one of the most horrific ways to die.  Struggling and gasping for air as oxygen is slowly cut off.  The bodies natural instinct is to keep fighting, keep struggling to survive but the gasps get shorter, your lungs begin to burn and you can’t breath and finally you fade out. Unfortunately one man died like this in a trench collapse OSHA: Man killed in Acworth trench collapse worked for Bellows Falls company and another was rescued from a grain bin In the wake of grain bin accident safety officials urge caution.  When you work in a confined space like a grain bin or deep in a trench you should have received training on how to escape in the event of a cave-in.  That may mean ladders or a retrieval system.  When was the last time someone inspected the area?  Don’t assume everything has been taken care off, ask questions and use your own eyes.


We’ll finish this episode with a look at two different leadership styles. There’s an old expression that my High School football coach used to say to death, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” and not everyone in the city of Oakland is getting that message.  With everything that has happened recently with the Ghost ship warehouse fire you’d think city department managers would take it up a notch and stay on top of hot spots to almost give a sense of competency to the public.  Yet the Oakland fire department on top of all their regular fire and emergency calls they handle also have to continue to fight fires on vacant city owned property and no one responsible seems to care or the gumtion to take care of the issue.  Oakland fire officials upset over blazes in city-owned building   This is leadership happy with keeping the status quo and does not have the ability to handle unexpected issues or thinking outside the box to respond in an immediate manner.  They had an opportunity to demonstrate their abilities to respond immediately and help out the firefighters while also protecting citizens of Oakland but they chose not too.  On the other hand, the  leadership at Chobani Launches Second Food Incubator Class with Call for Applications understands that a company doesn’t just exist in the here and now but prepares now so it may exist in the future with better products, service and workers.  Yes, it is easy to get caught up in the day to day activities, but with effort on your part you can see clearly what direction you need to go and how you can get there.  The best way to do this, as said at the beginning of this episode, respect, communication and listening to your workers.  You may have ideas on improvements but so do they and they’re the ones doing the job.

Until June 15th. Never keep quiet about safety for the life you save may be your own.




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