I can’t sleep. My mind is racing and it generates a continuous slideshow loop of what can go horribly wrong for me tonight. It’s Sunday, New Years Day, I’m home trying to get some extra rest as tonight I fly solo and will be responsible for several million dollars worth of equipment and inventory not to mention the 100 lives that go along to operate it all after only a whole two weeks of whirlwind training, I’m managing the first production startup of the new year.
It turned out the rumors were true about a buyer for the company. A much larger corporation that produces the same product under a well-known brand name and actually understands the manufacturing process has become our new benevolent masters. Right after the sale, they were all over our plant watching, writing, asking, observing, tallying, poking, prodding, and judging. After a few weeks of intense scrutiny, the changes came down from the mountain top (corporate) and it began with the immediate disbanding of the three gangs that previously operated the territories. (For more info and history on the gangs read The Company Civil War).
What was the Creatives gang had now become the Production Department and their management team was beefed up with the hiring of new superintendents. Along with that word also came that the long-feuding DC and Wrappers gangs were to be combined into ONE department that controlled everything from the packaging of the product to palletizing, storage, and shipping so we all had to find a way to get along let alone learn to trust each other. Our former leader, Raoul was quickly pushed into retirement and shoved out the door, along with one other longtime DC superintendents. Pete the sweet was demoted from leader of the now-defunct Wrappers to a Packaging Superintendant and soon after that our new head of the new packaging department arrived.
Back after the sale when they were reviewing us all it was decided that the other DC superintendent, Brad, and I were worth retaining for entertainment and torture purposes as we were now going to be trained and transformed into packaging superintendents. Brad and I had an awful lot to learn especially since before this merger of the gangs we were always discouraged from entering or nosing around in Wrappers territory.
I walked into the kitchen, “What are you doing up?”, my wife asked. I can’t sleep and all I’m doing is just laying there and torturing myself. “Do you want something to eat?” Sure, I answered and while you do that I’ll put up some coffee. I’m going to need a full thermos tonight. As the coffee brewed I pulled out the drawings and notes that I quickly jotted during my so-called training. My training consisted of me just barely keeping up with my trainer as I followed him around, up ladders and down man lifts, under moving conveyors and behind spinning dryers. For a man 20 years my senior he moved with ninja like quality at an incredible speed but spoke even faster while giving me a running dialogue of the sights we were seeing just like a tour guide. He had a heavy accent and I was behind him as he spoke 90 percent of the time while wearing earplugs and surrounded by loud machinery so I wasn’t really sure what he had pointed out or what he was telling me and before I could get my bearings as to exactly where I was in the plant he was off again.
The most unfortunate aspect of our training was that good old Pete the Sweet was put in charge of it and he still carried a grudge against us so it wasn’t going to be easy. He’d call Brad and I into his office and would roll out maps and diagrams of the areas we were supposedly in earlier but they never quite look the same on paper as in real life. At the end of each day, he’d ask with a silly smirk on his face, so you got it now? Every day I’d look at him straight in the eye and say, no. He’d chuckle and say, well you don’t have much more time. Whatever the hell that meant. What helped me the most to learn and figure it all out was to wander around on my own usually during my lunch break and I’d come in a half-hour before and stay half-hour after my shift, making notes and asking the operators questions. It’s amazing how much employees love showing off their knowledge of the operation to someone who shows a genuine interest.
Well, ready or not it all culminates tonight. In my head I hear, “Now FLY!” and laugh at myself as the thought of a Monty Python cartoon where a giant foot kicks people off the top of a mountain as it yells, FLY! Of course, all of them just drop straight down the side of the mountain and land with the loud sound of a splat! Could be me tonight. “Aren’t you going to eat that?” My wife’s voice brought me back to reality. Oh, yea, sorry. I ate, packed my lunch, filled my thermos, grabbed my notes, kissed the family goodnight and drove to work for my solo flight.
As I drove down the road towards the plant it appeared to look larger than usual and could have been a distortion due to all the plant lights against the darkness of the night or just an overflow of adrenalin. I parked and got out of the car. Stood there for a moment, closed my eyes deeply inhaled the cool night air, and walked up to the guard post and checked in. Since this was startup there was no previous shift to take a handoff from so after checking and finding no call-ins on the sick line, a positive, I walked packaging to check in and introduce myself to all the stations and make sure everyone was getting ready for the fun ahead.
The first thing I realized during my rounds was that not only did Pete see to it that our training was less than stellar but the team he had assembled for my shift was scattered with a few experienced people but mostly those with the least amount of seniority as well as the least trained and then for good measure, threw in every misfit and malcontent from the other shifts. Pete had stacked the deck against me and I would soon learn one of them was planted there so Pete could track my activities.
Back at the office and was worried about my green staff who were being led by a green superintendent and that my first day was going to be my last. I sat in my chair, looked at the packaging schedule, actually just looking through it as my mind floated when I was Jared by the phone ringing. Production was sending over the finished product to the bins and we could begin to pack. I regrouped and remembered what had gotten me this far but also had something going for me that Pete or myself never imagined.
We were scheduled to run seven packaging lines and now that the bins were full of product we were ready to go. Most of the crew knew that I was brought over from the distribution/warehouse and had gained respect there for championing safety, in fact, shutting down a palletizer because it was missing a chain guard exposing employees to leg amputations and also generating work orders to be expedited for safety reasons then posting the work orders progress so all the employees could see it. It was a great morale booster as most of the w/o were generated by issues employees pointed out.
It took a year there to get to that point of trust and it didn’t help that people like Pete the Sweet and most of the previous old management treated employees like crap. They yelled, threatened, harassed, and discriminated against them, and if one of Pete’s spies could find something juicy they would blackmail on top of everything else. That wasn’t my approach and it had worked very well for me. As I touched base at each station I didn’t tell them what to do, I asked if they were aware of the schedule, did they have all the raw materials they needed or anything they needed. Some of the operators were so welcoming, demonstrating how their machine worked and how it could work more efficiently. It was the best education I could get and I was getting paid on top of it all. I took notes on issues brought to my attention so I could look into them.
Even those that were deemed as trouble makers or non-redeemable approached me and only wanted to be heard and not told it’s none of their business or promise to get back to them and then didn’t. It turned out they were capable and job knowledgable employees just no one gave them the opportunity to care before. The one thing that Pete never counted on is that his dislike by all would help us bond together and as much as I empowered them they taught me manufacturing, maintenance and patients. During the next six months, we became an amazing team out producing the other two shifts on a regular basis but this would spur jealously in Pete as he could never motivate a team to achieve what we were doing. Luckily it was soon after he began cooking the production numbers before sending them to corporate to make us look bad that he would be caught. In addition the team knew who his spy was and several of my staff quietly pointed him out to me from day one and sometimes for pure entertainment we would feed him all kinds of stuff which we knew would drive Pete crazy. Soon Pete’s rhein would end as the company terminated his employment for several issues and the general culture generally improved to a more positive and productive one. This was an exceptional team of people, from every spectrum of the human race and I was truly proud of them all. We got through some tough spots but got it done through strong communication, training, trust, and respect.
You don’t have to know everything to get the job done as long as you can motivate a team to navigate, you can learn to fly.
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up and the world got still
Coming down is the hardest thing
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
Yes, it is
Yeah, it will break your heart, steal your crown
So I started out for God knows where
But I guess I’ll know when I get there
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
But coming down is the hardest thing
(I’ll tell you one thing, baby, I’m gonna learn to fly)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, and fly over my troubles, fly over my worries)
(Fly up high in the blue sky, lookin’ down on the world below)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, above all my worries, and over my troubles)
(Yes, it is, yes it will, gonna work, fly)
Baby, that’s the hardest thing
Downtime! A word that can send chills down the most seasoned production manager’s spine especially when it’s unplanned. These little headaches often arrive in the form of product packaging jams, a broken belt roller, a burned out motor or a blown fuse but are quick fixes with production back up and running usually at most within two hours, (as long as there is a spare motor in the storeroom which I can tell you from experience is not always the case). Then there are those real shift killers of downtime when a pallet stacker has lost its memory and refuses to be reprogramed or the main screw conveyor that brings product from production snaps and a fire watch must be set up before it can be welded.
When you encounter a long downtime period whether it is planned or out of the blue you can be the hero if you already have a list of projects ready at hand for just such an occasion. Depending on contracts, company policies or other past practices when there is no product to pack or produce some employees are able to and may opt to go home, please check into your situation before assuming you’ll have the staffing to accomplish your lists of projects. However, if you can and want to keep employees busy then you can use the opportunity to actually make your team stronger. Some items you may want to include on your list are:
1 – Cross-training – One of my favorite things to do during downtime. I expected my supervisors to work one level up and two levels down and all other staff to be able to accomplish at least two functions. For a shipping forklift driver on the dock that meant they could also pick an order via voice or operate the bailer. This helped greatly during peak season and was able to reward employees with higher hourly salaries based on the number of jobs they could perform. Downtime is the best time to refresh or conduct training and the best people to train are the ones currently doing the job.
2 – Drills – Great time to have an emergency drill and see if everyone responds to a spill, gas leak, fire or employee injury as they should and make sure they use all the emergency PPE required for those emergencies to ensure they properly function. Breaking the group up into teams and competing in response times can make the training fun. Rewards for winning teams can be pizza, sandwiches or one team serving breakfast to another.
3 – Walk Around (Gemba walk) – It’s also a great opportunity to walk your facility to see if there are any issues that may need to be addressed. Sometimes when you are caught up in the day to day activities going on around you, it’s easy to miss small issues like bent rack support, missing fire extinguisher label or burnt-out light. Make notes and get those things repaired immediately. One thing I have found out over the years if your facility looks good people don’t look deeper as they have confidence you know what you are doing and besides you owe it to your employees to give them a clean organized place to work. Don’t know if you’ve heard the term Gemba walk, but it’s part of Six Sigma a philosophy on improving and solving problems. I love the sound of the name, Gemba but you can call it whatever you want. Google Six Sigma, 5S, or Gemba when you get a chance it’s an interesting aspect to add to your repertoire.
4 – Cleaning – One activity that never gets done enough especially since a lot of companies have severely reduced or totally eliminated their sanitation departments. Keep a list of areas and equipment that would benefit from a good deep cleaning. Other areas to consider would be dusting the racks, cleaning under the dock levelers (it’s amazing what collects under there), sorting pallets, washing ceilings, or dealing with the dreaded employee refrigerator.
What other tasks would you tackle during downtime? When it comes to downtime for retooling, modifying changes to production lines or yearly maintenance that is another situation altogether as most employees considered non-essential for retooling must take their vacations like it or not. Some companies track downtime for performance-related issues and determining future expenditures as well as longevity of equipment and materials but think how good your production report will look when you have downtime but demonstrate what you accomplished to make the company better. Yes there are companies that understand stuff happens but more interested if you can make lemonade. So far be it from me to tell you what to do with your employees during downtime but make sure you’re not missing out on that golden opportunity?
Today’s lesson learned at the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly disregard the laws of physics, corrupt the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But here reality kills.
Training/Certification – Whether you drive the family wagon or other pieces of powered equipment like a forklift or backhaul you need to be trained and certified before legally operating that piece of equipment. To drive a car I took Driver’s Education to get training and then my written/road test to get certified and obtain my license. In the workplace, the process is very similar. The company that hired you will give you classroom training as well as hands-on training on how to properly operate, inspect, report safety/maintenance issues, report accidents and professionally conduct yourself within the confines of the facility. After passing a written and road test you will be certified to operate that vehicle and the more hours behind the wheel, the better your skills will become and you will achieve the status of professional.
A professional understands their certification is a privilege earned through hard work that can be revoked by the company at any time for violating safety rules. A professional understands the limits of the powered equipment, never uses it for horseplay or any other purpose than the intended, observes the speed limit and all other rules of the road, reports all maintenance issues immediately, and respects the vehicle by keeping it clean and free of debris.
The certification process is to protect the company as well as YOU! Your certification says they invested the time and money to train you to operate the vehicle safely and efficiently. If you were to operate a powered vehicle without training you could cause a serious accident and the company would have no choice but to throw you under the bus for doing this. That’s why you NEVER do it without training even if a boss tells you that it’s okay this time. It’s not okay at any time unless an extreme emergency. If you do not receive any training at a facility and told you are required to operate an industrial powered vehicle you need to stop and ask why? If the answer is not satisfactory you have three choices. You can find another job, you can continue and risk your life or you can call the OSHA Hotline at 1-800-321-6742 (OSHA) and make an anonymous complaint. Remember, the life you save may be your own.
Today’s lesson learned at the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly defy the laws of physics, perverse the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But here fire burns.
What to do if a fire breaks out? You have 3 choices if this happens. A – You can immediately alert everyone nearby, evacuate the area and call 911 allowing the professionals to deal with it. This is the preferred method. B – You can quickly assess the situation and size of the fire to determine if using a fire extinguisher will put it out safely. If you can, grab the extinguisher, making sure you keep yourself between the fire and your means of escape and P.A.S.S. (Pull the pin, Aim at the base of the fire, Squeeze the lever and Sweep side to side) C – Remember, you don’t have to be a hero. If the fire continues or gets out of control, evacuate and call 911.
Whether at home or at work, make sure you know where all the emergency/evacuation routes are located and all the fire extinguishers, as well as smoke/carbon detectors, are current and fully operational. At home, you need to have at the very least, two ways to get out as mentioned in Home Safety-Shouldn’t have to be an Escape Artist If you haven’t done so yet, and please don’t tell me if you haven’t, change those batteries! To me, the greatest act of karma is a smoke detector beeping its disapproval in the middle of the night. So you can do it then or you can get on the time change-battery change bandwagon.
Hope you are all staying safe and practicing social distancing while you stay at home. I know it may have been tough to get adjusted to working at home and keeping the kids entertained but what a golden opportunity to solve a problem with the family. Enjoy!
Today’s lesson learned from the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly defy the laws of physics, perverse the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But here gravity always rules.
LESSON 4 Preventing Falls: Falls don’t just occur off the top of a building but can happen in facilities where production occurs within buildings of several stories including several levels of mezzanines and conveyors belts. Lack of railings, guard rails or open holes in floors are especially dangerous in these areas since you are not wearing fall protection gear so if you drop the only thing stopping you is the bottom. If you were to slip or trip in an elevated area the safety railing/guard rail is there to stop you from going over the side preventing serious injury or death.
If a section of safety railing needs to be removed for repairs or replacement it should be completed as fast as possible and not wind up on a backburner. Until the railing is back in place properly mark the area as hazardous with signs and cones and limit the amount of traffic. As far as the odd holes in the floor, they’re usually the result of machinery that use to operate in that space. Why some companies leave the holes I’ll never understand as it’s dangerous and illegal to do so. How can you concentrate on your job when you have to wonder if you’re taking your last step. In areas where a lot of debris is created makes the holes even harder to find. Cover and repair them immediately!
If these unsafe conditions exist where you work and you have reported them and no one gets back to you, there is no movement to correct it, or you’ve been told to mind your business and you’ve spoken with H.R. and/or your union representative and still, nothing is done then you have to decide how important your life is. Call the OSHA Hotline 1-800-321-6742(OSHA) and make an anonymous complaint. The life you save may be your own.
Today’s lesson learned from the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly defy the laws of physics, perverse the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But in our world, the earth sucks as gravity still wins.
LESSON 3 – Weight Limits. Each of you has a limit on how much weight you can lift and hold safely. Machines and equipment are very much the same way in that respect. When they are built at the factory, with the specifications made by engineers, they can easily move or lift the weight they were designed to handle. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with those limits so you use the right equipment for the job so it’s done quickly and safely.
This applies to everything from forklifts (try to pick up something over the weight rating and you will tip over) motorized pallet jacks and tugs. It also applies to trucks, (too much weight on an axle will get you red-tagged at the state scale because it’s dangerous). An overweight truck is harder to stop and very unstable and harder to control on the road. Even the steel racking in your warehouse has weight limits that you must observe and should have posted so everyone can stay safe and not worry about falling racks. So as you see it’s just not just fashionable to worry about being overweight but healthy for you on many levels.
Today’s lesson learned from the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly defy the laws of physics, perverse the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But in our world reality always wins.
Lesson two – Daily inspections and checklist. Yea, yea. They’re a pain, every day the same thing, what a waste of time said one employee as he picked up a forklift checklist and just marked everything off right down the list as ok without even looking at the forklift. When I challenged him on it he asked does anybody really look at them? Yes, I do, I replied. Not only did I look at them and keep them on file but when items are indicated that need maintenance or repair I always attach the repair technician’s report of repairs so there is one easy continuous paper trail available if you were to ever have an OSHA audit.
However, what is more, important than the completed checklist is the actual conduction of the inspection. That’s right, the checklist is not there just to torture you but to remind you what to look at and for during that preshift inspection so the forklift or other powered vehicle is safe to operate for the full shift. An inspection report is a tool for communicating needed maintenance and a legal document that must be properly completed.
Did you see a puddle under the vehicle, does the horn work properly, what condition are the tires, do the breaks work? Those observations make inspections critical to your safety. Don’t assume the last person to operate the equipment had no problems or the warehouse fairy will do repairs overnight and if the horn stops working or the breaks are pulling don’t wait to report the problem on the next inspection. Stop and report immediately! Take the few minutes to do a proper inspection, complete the checklist and have a productive day at work.
Today’s thoughts on lessons learned from the Wile E. Coyote school of safety where they constantly defy the laws of physics, perverse the rules of nature and live in animated immortality. But in our world gravity always wins.
LESSON 1 – Never stand directly under a suspended load of materials or a bin with a clogged auger. If it were to suddenly drop or flow you don’t want to be there between it and the floor upon its landing. Even when clearing any kind of jam don’t try to clear it from directly underneath. (Are you seeing the theme here?) A sudden release of the jammed product could the very least seriously injure your neck, spine, shoulders, head or suffocate you if not outright kill you. Also when you are clearing jams please make sure to Lock Out Tag Out the power source to help prevent injuries, Never keep quiet about safety for the life you save may be your own.