Companies Behaving Badly-Line in the Sand

“And when we draw lines in the sand with regard to certain basic things that are vital to our interest and to the interest of democracy and our friends around the world, we have to be willing to back that up” –Fred Thompson

“We have …drawn a line in the sand.” –George H. W. Bush

“Everybody’s life is either a warning or an example. You’ve got to decide what you’re gonna be and you have to draw a line in the sand.” –Tony Robbins

The line. The magical line we draw (figuratively) in the sand and dare someone to step over. We all say it and turns out to be a popular expression as you can see in the quotes above. What is your line in the sand? Are your one or two lines in the sand something that you stand firm on, no matter what the consequences of your decision or after being shunned, ignored or threatened with being ostracized do you buckle and compromise erasing your line. How often do you change your stance, compromise and when you do, is it because you thought it through on your own weighing good information or did someone push you to thinking their way there by compromise your beliefs? When you constantly move your line in the sand it is hard to be taken seriously and the flip flopping doesn’t help your credibility as a leader.

When it comes to moving that line you made in the sand, how far are you willing to bend the years of work your parents invested to give you a proper upbringing. Are you willing to trash it all along with your morals to obtain a specific goal and is the size of your indiscretion in direct correlation with the amount of money you can take or the amount of power you can gain? Once you compromise your morals the rewards make it so easy to keep the cycle going, making excuses to continually justify your actions. My favorite is, “everyone else is doing it” “They don’t even miss it” or “They don’t appreciate us enough”. Now drunk with your new power of moving your line at will to suit your needs you’ve pushed your lines so far out of whack you are NOW compromised so when the test of loyalty from your new buddies comes and you are asked to lie to an EPA inspector so how can you suddenly put a line in the sand?

A very old piece of equipment was restored and brought back for use once the company discovered there was a market for the product it produced. The problem was the amount of dust it produced, no matter how much it was tinkered with, still exceeded the limits of dust allowed to be put into the environment. The local town and many of its residents filed complaints which led to a pending visit from the EPA to personally inspect the equipment. Simultaneously a very large order from a prominent food market chain for this product was also pending, so where was the line in the sand drawn by the company? They lied. When the inspector arrived they decided to tell her to her face the machine was not working, they didn’t know when it would be in operational again since the repairs were going to be extensive so we’re not using it. She left and would return when they told her the machine was repaired and going to be used. As soon as she left the premises, swing shift was told to prepare the machine for operation so graveyard shift could run it to fulfill the order and in the morning it’ll be shut down. What’s a little dust in the night sky since bonuses and profits are more important than breathing.

There is nothing wrong with drawing a line in the sand as long as the line doesn’t take advantage of others who don’t look or sound similar just to line their own pockets or obtain power just to use it to abuse others for the sake of power. Working together can accomplish so much more. We are in this crazy concept of life together while standing on a spinning orb hurtling through space.

Meanwhile in honorable corporate America — FirstEnergy fires CEO, 2 other top #executives in wake of $61M political bribery scandal https://buff.ly/2HGhjWZ They along with four lobbyist thought public funds should be used at their discretion.

Gee, I wonder how deep the roots of corruption go? — Facing credit downgrades after the firing CEO FirstEnergy board launches further internal investigation https://buff.ly/2JpV47U

Here’s another utility company that has decided to take after their mentor, PG&E — UGI will pay $1.1 million fine in 2017 FATAL gas explosion that leveled a house https://buff.ly/35Tlu9E Just like PG&E they failed to properly react to a hazardous situation when its workers responded to. report of a gas leak including not following their own written procedures which it turns out were deficient. In case you weren’t sure killing customers and employees is not a good move for any company. It’s not sustainable.

OSHA is investigating Table Talk Pies over workplace safety concerns https://buff.ly/3nKoqNt Valid concerns as they have been fined many times for a total of $400,000 in the last three years for safety violations. Because of their line in the sand they have wasted money on fines (may have been budgeted as part of doing business) instead of reinvesting in their employees. Don’t understand such waste.

During Pandemic, It’s All Tricks and No Treats for Mars Wrigley Workers Their line in the sand was to deny their employees protection so they could keep safely working so the company could make money. Apparently protecting workers from Covid19 was not in their plans as they fired people for asking. Why would anyone want to work for a company who couldn’t care less about you. Might as well go work for Amazon. Oh, wait!

Thanks for stopping by. If you have a line in the sand when it comes to safety at the workplace, never keep quiet but speak up for the life you save may be your own. You are an intelligent human being who took in all the facts about safety, PPE and equipment and decided it is not worth dying to save the boss a few bucks. You can make an anonymous call to the OSHA HOTLINE – 1 – 800 – 321- OSHA (6742) or your state OSHA. Politics has no place in workplace safety, we ALL deserve a safe workplace. Until next time, please stay socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay safe.

And More Stuff Your Boss Probably Hasn’t Bothered To Tell You Cause No One Told Them.

As I have said from the beginning of this series, through no fault of your own you may have not received the information or training necessary to be successful at operating a machine or running a safe facility. In businesses with high employee turnover sometimes things just drop through the cracks like a game of telephone going horribly wrong. Hopefully these blogs will give you an edge amongst your peers, impress your bosses up the chain and give you the confidence to do the job correctly.

What is a (IIPP) Illness and Injury Prevention Plan?  It is a written process to help companies identify and rectify workplace hazards reducing injuries, illnesses and fatalities. It should also include how your employees are expected to react in emergencies like the importance of reporting injuries and accidents as well as how too.

Many workplaces have already adopted such approaches, in fact 34 states require or encourage employers to implement these programs. Companies are encouraged to review their IIPP to update procedures as needed but as a store manager you don’t have to worry about that but you do need to make sure your copy of your companies IIPP is current and enforced.

Sitting there on your desk is a binder. Chances are a consultant was paid much money to decide the color of that binder along with the fonts and section dividers so you’ll notice it and sense the vital trove of information contained within. Hopefully it’s been kept up to date as corporate has no doubt issued updates over time. I have walked into an office where the IIPP binder was on the desk, labeled and proudly displayed, empty, but proudly displayed just the same.

The binder should have sections covering the areas of management leadership, worker participation, hazard identification and assessment, hazard prevention and control, education and training, and program evaluation and improvement. Go through it from start to finish and if it seems incomplete and you can’t find updates from corporate piled in a file draw, call H.R. or the corporate Safety Officer and verify that you have all aspects of the IIPP. As you read the IIPP make notes on items you are not sure about and research on google. Take periodic walks around your facility and make sure you are following the guidelines. Be kind, as updates come in under your rein, read them, implement them and place them in the binder immediately. Just cause your predecessor left a mess you don’t have to and you do want that good karma. That is also the kind of thing that’ll get you noticed if you’re planning on staying with the company.

You have other resources in addition to corporate headquarters, contact managers at other locations for info and build relationships and you may have district or area managers who’s brains you can pick. You can also go to your states OSHA if you have one or US Governments OSHA websites for guidance only since they won’t include your companies specific IIPP. Either way, you have no excuse not to make sure all your employees are working safely and keeping your customers from harm which will also keep you out of the local 11 O’clock news.

The Time For Change (until March 14)

This Sunday, November 1st, the time change will be upon us. Besides getting an extra hour of sleep, (yea) it’s also a great time to change the batteries in your smoke/carbon monoxide detectors. Why wait to be prompted by that middle of the night beep call.

Replace any detectors that are ten years old and older as aging makes it less reliable to detect smoke.

Check the status of your fire extinguishers to make sure they are still usable and don’t need to be replaced. There is no worse scenario than grabbing an extinguisher to fight a fire and finding out it’s not charged. Also make sure you have the correctly rated fire extinguisher for use in your household. An ABC extinguisher covers most fires that may occur.

Class A is for trash, wood, and paper

Class B is for liquids and gases

Class C is for energized electrical sources

Like all other safety equipment, it only works as well as they should if you follow the manufacturers guidelines and don’t compromise the units ability to operate in any fashion. The rule of thumb is one detector in every bedroom and then one in a central area on each story.

Make sure to protect your loved ones and your home.

Companies Behaving Badly-Don’t Talk Until You Walk

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It is so easy to fall into the open clutches of technology with all those alluring sweet apps, like a genie granting your every wish;  bringing you meals, groceries, bagels, new outfits, games for endless hours of entertainment and finding you the love of your life or an evening of lust.  They do seem to make life so much easier so you have to do less thinking or reasoning for yourself.  Back when this boomer was as a grocery store clerk, I had to count out the change on my own with no prompting from the register but as we all know now the register tells you everything.  Is counting out change the loss of a skill set that helps develop critical thinking to resolve problems?  Maybe?  A start. Less thinking, less brain activity and beating candy crush is not a replacement of the skill set.  

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As we become more dependent on the use of technology and virtual reality especially now with so many working from home which is fabulous for office workers, other white collar employees or late night talk show hosts but when it comes to manufacturing, besides all the support groups like sales, marketing, customer service and administrative, who can continue working from home someone still needs to physically be there at the plant to operate, load and repair the machinery needed to produce, package and ship product. 

Clustered in a control room in that plant along with the latest in technology and behind the bank of monitors, scan counters, dials and flashing lights of various colors all updating production in real time sits the Production/Plant manger monitoring the activity going on, on the production floor.  However are you getting the whole story when you’re just siting behind a desk watching reality T.V.?  Well, I can tell you that the successful ones don’t because they know that tech doesn’t give you the rhythm of production or the melody but when you take a WALK you can hear it live all for yourself as well as being accessible to your staff which is always critical.

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You may have heard of the term Gemba Walk which is part of the teachings of Six Sigma.  I’m not going to go into Six Sigma since it is an involved but excellent way to problem solve but you can Google it and find out more for yourself which I suggest you do.  You don’t have to become a disciple unless you want to get your belts and certification but you should at least understand it and then you can incorporate what you like best of it into your daily workings.  My manufacturing philosophies are a combination of different teachings, tweaked at times to suit specific needs.

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I like the concept of Gemba Walk, it’s like a nature walk but around your facility.  You can call it what ever you want, as long as you are out and about for the staff and around the facility so you can find issues before they become problems.  It’s also a great way to get the blood flowing through some exercise as at some facilities I could walk several miles a shift.  All you need to go for your walk is your eyes, ears and a notepad.  As you touch base with employees and thank them when you find them doing things correctly make notes of items that may need attention or repair.  You may notice an out of date fire extinguisher, dangerous pot hole in the warehouse floor or unguarded chain or sometimes when a worker sees you on the floor they may point out an issue.  It’s your facility and you should know as much about it as possible.  When they do make sure to follow up with them as well as to the disposition.  A leader has a few aspects to accomplish to be successful and the ability to listen is important but to me the one that’s most critical is Credibility! It is a priceless commodity. Once you lose it, it takes a lot to gain it back. 

The walk isn’t just good for your shift but as plant manager I could go for a walk on any shift and quite often did keeping every shift manager and employee on their toes .

This could have been avoided.  OSHA cites Furst-McNess Corp. for safety violations If someone n management had practiced the Walk they would have seen that housekeeping was falling behind and a dangerous situation was developing.  When dust accumulates it can become an explosion hazard and not just wood dust but any dust including sugar and grain dust. 

OSHA Whistleblower Charges Surge During COVID19 What Employers Can (and Should) Do to Prepare and Respond ” https://buff.ly/3jv0oUF Employers you can avoid this, try listening to your employees, they are the ones doing the job. When you blow them off it sends the message of “we don’t care about you”. Listen to their concerns and then give them the plan with a schedule of when corrections will be made.

Why wearing the proper PPE is critical to your survival. If working over 6 feet off the ground you must have some sort of fall protection. Ask for it — Report: Nearly half of America’s deadliest Jobs are in construction https://buff.ly/3jVUQTn

I have found in my many years that Corporate Cultures only exist when the corporate heads allow it. At Wells Fargo it’s a den of thieves allowed to cheat and abuse customers. It’s the same with safety. If corporate takes it seriously and has consequences for those who don’t then it will work from the top down. — Wells Fargo Fired Over 100 Workers For Allegedly Lying To Obtain Loans Intended For #SmallBusinesseshttps://buff.ly/3lRj8ia

When it comes to safety at the workplace, never keep quiet but speak up for the life you save may be your own. You are not a rat for speaking up, you are not a stool pigeon, you are an intelligent human being who took in all the facts and decided it is not worth dying to save the boss a few bucks in safety. You can make an anonymous call to the OSHA HOTLINE – 1 – 800 – 321- OSHA (6742) or your state OSHA. Politics has no place in workplace safety, we ALL deserve a safe workplace. Until next time, please stay socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands and stay safe.

Other Stuff Your Boss Probably Hasn’t Bothered To Tell You Cause No One Told Them

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Why you don’t block exits, emergency exits, emergency routes or electrical panels with product.  Due to the constant turnover of employees and the many unethical companies out there training is not done consistently or uniformly even comparing store to store if at all and the main reason for doing this series of articles.  To help you.    

As the manager/supervisor you maintain inventory at manageable levels so you don’t disappoint customers but when it comes to those weekly specials and co op advertising deals you usually have no control on the amount or any idea of the quantity that is going to come your way to support the sale and weekly flyers.  Marketing always over estimates the quantity your location will sell and they also couldn’t care less about your limited space or storage issues.  It’s not their problem.  

When that product arrives the tendency may be to store product where ever you can and in some cases with the best of intentions blocking an exit  for a short period of time or at least that’s what you tell yourself.  First you promised to move it within a few hours, then the next day, they’re be no fire here or emergency, that never happens.

In 1911 at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York City where they chained and locked emergency exits.  A fire broke out and 123 women, girls and men died.  They couldn’t get out.  Just over 100 years later, 2012, the Dhaka Factory in Bangladesh was a garment factory and had loads of fabric and yarn all over the building making already narrow passages hard to navigate.  A fire started and 117 workers, mostly women died.  It was too difficult to get out before the smoke overtook them.  

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What’s an Emergency Exit? – It’s as it sounds, an exit from the premises so you can evacuate quickly in the event of an emergency.  Actually any Exit can be used when evacuating but Emergency Exits are for that purpose only.  All Exits, even Emergency exits should be clearly marked and light up and if power is lost equipped with battery backup.  They should never be locked (unless they have a panic bar with alarm for easy exit), chained shut or most of all blocked by anything!  Don’t assume because emergency exits aren’t always used for daily activity, that you can use them for storage.  Remember, an emergency is never planned and doesn’t wait until you have clear emergency exits. 

What’s an Evacuation route plan? –  It’s a path that is the quickest way to exit a building from your actual location when an evacuation is needed marked by a series of signs and/or markings.  You need to have this posted on the walls along the route so everyone can see the best way out.  As with the exits, emergency routes should never be blocked and free and clear of any obstacles.  You also should indicate the meet place so everyone can be accounted for and known safe.

Why do I have to keep electrical panels clear?  When there is a fire, you want to shut the power off especially if it’s an electrical fire.  You must do your best to keep it clear.

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When it comes to the storing the amounts of product, there is no doubt you will have to become creative and that may mean moving it around often.  Don’t be afraid to try new or different ideas, in fact try to get the staff involved.  As far as the specials try to get as much as possible on the floor display so customers can get right to it and hopefully sell out quickly.  It’s not going to be easy but you are responsible for the safety of your employees and customers and you need to take it seriously.  

 

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More Stuff Your Boss Probably Hasn’t Bothered To Tell You Cause No One Told Them.

This is for those of you currently working for either a supermarket, department, discount store or fast food restaurant chain. Whether this is just a temporary gig for you or the stepping stone to a career path within that corporation chances are your bosses haven’t told you how to conduct a safety meeting.

As we’ve said before it’s not really their fault with the constant turnover of employees as well as store managers who are generally underpaid in the first place for long hours but second have to handle massive daily responsibilities, so they could never get around to telling you about those leaflets that come in the corporate mail pouch once a month.

Each month, someone in corporate picks a topic (usually from the same list they’ve been using for the last 30 years. February is always hearing protection and March fire extinguishers) and generates the associated propaganda with talking points and handouts for you to give and cover with the staff at your monthly safety meeting. Monthly? Yes they should be given monthly but the reality is corporate probably couldn’t care less if the meetings are conducted on a regular basis but if that day comes along and IT happens at work and someone gets hurt be aware when you know what hits the fan the corporate lawyers will say the company takes safety seriously and training is important and then throw whom ever is in charge under the bus and that could be you!

Don’t panic. You can take control of the situation. Conducting a safety meeting is easier than you think.

1- Get prepared. After you know the topic to be covered read the handout and study the talking points. Does it make sense to you? If you’re not sure google the topic. Now make notes for yourself that’ll help you with the presentation and any particular area you want to stress. This is all critical for your credibility. as the manager. Also prepare a sign-in sheet with the topic to be covered at the top, the date of the meeting and a list of all employees in alphabetical order with an area that they can sign their names and then attach one of the handouts to it and keep for your records.

2- Pick a day and time(s). You know the ebbs and flows of the business better than anyone and the slowest days are the best to do safety meetings. Schedule the day and stick to it! Don’t put it off or keep making excuses as to why you put it off otherwise you’ll soon find it to easy to come up with an excuse to continue pushing it back and your staff will think you don’t take safety seriously so why should they. You need to set the example so do it the day you scheduled it.

3- How do I have everyone attend with different working schedules? This is why you want to do this on a slow day. You’ll have to stagger the meetings so you can cover half the staff at the first session and the rest of them the second session. If there are still a few individuals that were not able to attend either session just give them a personalized safety meeting. I’ve had to do this a few times, one on one where I covered the bullet points with the person, asked if they had questions, discussed for a minute so I knew they understood, had them sign the meeting attendance sheet and done. If a video needs to be watched as part of the months meeting handle it the same way, just stagger the viewing times.Yes it’s a little more work on your part, but it’s time well spent and even the short term workers will appreciate you care.

Back at Corporate Headquarters, everything is status quo as long as money is being made and to ensure that nothing interrupts that cash flow. They’re prepared, budgeted for and ready to deal with any public relation issues that may pop up due to lack of training which continues to be a hidden problem with the potential for a very bad ending. Protect your staff and they will take care of you.

The Sounds of Being a Being

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We’re in the process of change.  My wife and I recently sold our home of 36 years and do you have any idea how much crap is collected over that amount of time?  It’s very deceiving as it never looks like that much stuff but then you find it is cleverly hidden in closets, shelves, drawers, and boxes in the attic and garage.  We had been thinking about doing this for a few years now, to move closer to the grandkids, wasn’t looking forward to dealing with the expense of increased maintenance of an aging house and tired of the four season upkeep of all the landscaping.  The final sign came from heaven just as it does in so many books and movies when I went to pick up our order from our favorite Chinese restaurant and the owner who we had come to know very well over the years shared with me they had sold the business.  It took a second to sink in, as my previous meals flashed before my eyes.  We broke fast here, we celebrated birthdays, anniversaries and graduations here, it was our go to place to bring out of town visitors, our first grandson had his first potsticker here.  When I got home I found a way to break the news to Sue.  Her reaction was as expected, before I could open the fried rice she was on her laptop searching for a realtor and our  next challenge began to unfold.
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We finally closed on the sale of our house after some unexpected delays and drama which wasn’t helped any by the stress of the on-going coronavirus pandemic and then simultaneously closing on our new place.  So now finding a mover, turning utilities off, turning utilities on, finish packing it all up, changing addresses and notifying relatives made it seem like an endless daunting insurmountable task.  After the physical move it took a good two weeks to be 90% officially unpacked and things in place and sure there will be tweaking to come here and there, but for now we can stop, take a deep breath and appreciate living here.
Currently my days are spent learning my way around town and the names of my new neighbors, (who I hope I can still recognize when masks are no longer needed), and making sense of the HOA rules and regulations but I’m also in the process of getting used to a new set of sounds.  Our old house had its own set of sounds and after 36 years I could identify them all and their classification: should I be alarmed, concerned or ignore?  Creeks from different parts of the house caused by expanding or contracting, the strange still unexplained to this day dining room wall intermittent noise, the sound created when the drip system started, the sound of the ice maker dropping cubes into the bucket, the squirrel on the roof, the sound of the postal truck starting up, sound of the UPS truck’s sliding door, my neighbors dog’s bark, the other neighbors rooster, the garbage trucks, the sound of rain hitting the roof and the sound of water flowing out of the downspout.
Those in manufacturing can appreciate the importance of sound as you can assess much information from it, if a packaging machine is operating at maximum efficiency, production line conveyors are operating properly when at full speed or if a ball bearing is going bad, the sound product makes when dropping into the packing bins or the sound of forklifts in motion, rattling along moving finished goods from production and placing it on a rack followed by a beep of the scan gun confirming location.  Sometimes it’s also the lack of sounds that can tell you all is not right.
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At one facility I co-managed there was a spot that few knew existed let alone even attempted to get too.  It was a small semi-enclosed area, two stories above the production floor and where all 8 conveyor belt lines intersected and the bags of finished product were sorted and sent on their way down to the proper palletizer.  You could sit there, close your eyes and listen to the sounds to know when everything was operating at its optimum.  Each conveyor belt had its own beat created by a combination of the spinning rollers and intermittent movement of the sort gates opening and closing and stops popping up and down.  This was accompanied by the palletizer section that added its own harmony of clickity clack as the stabilizer opened and then a large burp of air as the completed pallet moved out and finished with a flourish as the shrink wrap machine spun it’s magical tune.  Like everything else in life when all is in harmony  together they create a beautiful symphony.
We had several senior machine operators who did most of their preventive maintenance by sound but we had one in particular who was in such tune with his machine, after listening in one particular section or another would then put in a parts order because he could hear what part was wearing down.  When he retired we could never find any one who could operate this unit as efficiently and productively as he did.
Sounds are also a great way to relay the message in a large area that there is an emergency!  Some companies use whistles or horns and the number of blasts tell you how big an emergency.  One blast a medical emergency, two blasts a fire and so on.  Others use an alarm, siren or bells and some just use a PA system.
Sounds can also bring us great joy.  The sound of a cooing baby or hearing their first words.  The pleasure of listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony or BB King’s blues.  The exciting sound of a solid check into the boards or the bat hitting the ball.  Bubbling sounds of a sauce simmering to perfection or the sizzling sound of a steak hitting the grill.  Sounds allows us to create, communicate and appreciate the world around us.
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However, to ensure a life time of listening to sounds you must protect your hearing and the only way to do that is by wearing the proper PPE. Losing the sense of hearing sound is not usually an instant injury like breaking a leg but happens slowly over time.  It doesn’t take much sound to damage the unprotected ear, so make sure to begin a baseline by having a hearing test done.  You company should do this usually on your anniversary date of employment.  Next, find out what the number of decibels are in your work area and that should be measured with all the equipment running as if a normal work day.  Then find the best protection for those beautiful ears.  In most cases a simple earplug will do but in high decibel areas that you need to be in for a long period of time you should have earplugs and earmuff.  A safety professional can help you with the selection of PPE needed.  If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.
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Now FLY! An Adventure in Leadership

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.   

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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.

 

Learning to Fly
Well, I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up and the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Now the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
Yes, it is
Now some say life will beat you down
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
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
But coming down is the hardest thing
Yeah, that’s
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(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)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(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)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Yes, it is, yes it will, gonna work, fly)
Coming down
Baby, that’s the hardest thing
 
 
 

Downtime Can Be Good Time

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

 

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Companies Behaving Badly-Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin Rules

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As it is workplace safety is not the most glamorous topic around the world and when it comes to personal safety in general it’s not something most people talk about at all unless a major incident has been recently covered on television or the internet.  It doesn’t help when safety managers and other professionals are perceived and portrayed as scolding mothers reminding the kids to wear their mittens or put away their toys.  The reality is it’s not easy walking that fine line between what the regulators proclaim, what the company wants, what the employees comply with and what YOU know is right.
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What the recent defiant acts of the people, opening a salon by the owner while quarantine ‘stay at home’ orders were in effect or protests by other members of the pubic serve as a perfect example as to why workplace safety is so difficult to prevent 100% of accidents.  When you are dealing with people, as we are witnessing when it comes to the health and safety of others let alone their own health and wellbeing, they’re going to do what they want to do even if what they believe to be their right is wrong and dangerous.
So your company spends all the money in the world on high-quality training manuals full of detailed glossy colorful 8 x 10 photos, along with the best quality professionally produced videos possible and enlist the most elegant and entertaining silver voiced of all motivational speakers and after all that plus the additional training reminders, slogans, contest, drills, toolbox meetings, tailgate meetings, monthly meetings and huddles if that worker has it in their head they can still beat the machine and grab that jammed package out of the way without doing a proper Lock Out Tag Out, they’re going to do it, consequences be damned, not when a challenge is right there in my face.

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p>Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately the consequences of this employees actions are a reality no one wants.    The employee wound up with a serious injury (total of 15 stitches on two fingers), the company issued a written reprimand along with a 5-day suspension without pay so the employee could contemplate the error of their ways and then upon their return must suffer further indignity by going throught the company safety orientation and safety training on his machine again before being allowed back to work.  Do you now have.a loyal happy employee?  Was a suspension necessary? I didn’t think so, I thought the injury and safety refresher was enough.  Why did he do it and will he be careful and use better judgement next time?  Only the shadow knows. We’ll come back to this later on.
When the people openly protested the stay at home quarantine and gathered close in proximity while not wearing masks or other protections they did so because they believed their freedom to do what they wanted was being taken away.  Their freedom to expose themselves and innocent people to the virus.  Isn’t it funny how people pick and choose which freedoms they want but damn everyone else.  What if a manager or supervisor believed repairs on a piece of equipment needed for production was taking too long and he wanted to sped it up and decided to unlock the LOTO in place at the power source and get things going while a worker was still finishing up on it.  Is he wrong?  He did justify his actions by stating his concerns that his bonus may be reduced for not meeting production goals or as we used to call it making quota?  Because of that, he would not be able to feed or properly care for his family and so he cut safety corners even though someones life could have been at stake.
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Let’s take it further.  A manager is tired of the production line stopping and starting due to a safety mechanism.  The device is doing the job it was intended for and that is stopping the high-speed production line so employees don’t get injured or worse, caught in the conveyor and killed.  However, this manager is concerned about losing his job due to problems beyond and within his control at the plant.  So to get ahead on production he disables the electronic eye from stopping the machine and keeps the line going, that is until an employee got a sleeve caught and was pulled in to the machine and now ironically the line is down and production halted until OSHA can finish their investigation.  As he told the grieving widow, “Yes he’s gone but we met quota and hey, you’ll meet someone else, no big deal.”
In actuality these two stories are OSHA violations and would be willful violations at that but hopefully it bothered you that people were purposely put in danger.  It is against the law to tamper with safety devices and yet like everything else in life there are those who will obey the law and do proper LOTO and then there are those who only care about themselves and their own greed and that’s why more than ever we need to watch each others back.  Now back to our machine operator with the stitches.  Did the company really do justice in that situation?  Did they look at all the facts including his previous record in which he was given increased responsibilities over the 5 years he worked there and improved his skills and abilities without an accident until now?  No, they did not, only pointed out he had an attendance problem over a year ago as they didn’t care it was due to issues he had with childcare.  So what motivated him to do what he did?  Could being pushed to make quota be a partial cause for his accident?  Was it to close to break or end of shift and his blood sugar was off?  Was it boredom or just a case of poor judgment?  The truth is he was was going to hit a new personal high on the number of cases packed on his machine during a shift.  He was very proud of himself in how well he had the machine tuned and got lost in all the excitement and really wanted to hit that number.  The good news is he will set a new record on that machine and he won’t lose any body parts to achieve it.

 

So as we see contrary to popular belief, rules are not meant to be broken.  It’s actually records, records are meant to be broken.  Rules are put into place for a reason and not just because Mom said so, or your teacher is mean, or your boss is a jerk but to keep you safe from yourself and the world. So before you decide to change or ignore them be sure you are ready to suffer the consequences.
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