Just Putting It Out There – Survival Chest Project




On Sunday at 3:20 a.m. we were shaken out of a sound sleep as our bed suddenly became a wild carnival ride. Being less than 10 miles from the quake center lamps were knocked off end tables, pictures fell and furniture was rearranged. We were very lucky as our only losses were a flower vase, a candle holder and 4 beer bottles from my bottle collection. However closer to the epicenter in the city of Napa some weren’t as lucky as they have lost their home or their business. When disaster strikes you are never really ready for it but you can prepare and increase your chances of survival by putting together a survival chest and even though this article was originally written and published for the workplace it can also just as easily be done in any home.

A cool family project or a great team building exercise whether your are In the process of forming a safety committee or have one already established. Preparation for a disaster. It sounds worse than it really is but the truth is earthquakes and tornadoes don’t make appointments and can strike at any time. Depending on your location and the severity of the disaster First Responders may not be able to get to your location for some time so be prepared and have the team assemble a survival chest. Start by working together on creating a list of items to include in the chest. What should you include? Flashlights, batteries, water, food, candles, radio, blankets, matches, sleeping bags, first aid kit. What else would you include for your survival? If you live in California I’d also add a wrench to turn off the gas if needed. These suggestions should help get you started on what to include now determine how many days and the number of people you want the survival chest to support, then make sure to keep an inventory of what’s in the chest and what items if any have expiration dates and are perishable and when to replace. Then you can also decide where to keep the chest and who in the case of the workplace holds the keys. In a recent survey conducted by Staples’ (click here to see the article) only half of employees felt their company is prepared for a disaster. Put your employees at ease, heck put yourself and your family at ease and make sure you’re ready for an unexpected disaster.

p>Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you need assistance or have questions about a survival chest or about forming a safety committee I’m here to help, please don’t hesitate to contact.

If You’re Finger Pointing, It’s Too Late, 2.

This article was originally published Jul 2012 and was spawned from a discussion on LinkedIn.  However, In light of recent accidental workplace explosions and fires it has been revised and updated.

What is going on people?  There has been a series of serious workplace accidents in the news of late, happening around the world and the U.S.  This is a big concern since it tells me people are getting lazy, cutting corners and looking the other way from glaring safety violations.  I fear some are using budgetary concerns as an excuse to reduce safety awareness, training, preparation and enforcement which is infuriating since most if not all of these accidents were absolutely preventable.

(Warning-on my soap box for a moment)  When you read about American manufacturers crying about the cost of compliance of safety and environmental programs laid out by U.S. Government Agencies and how the industry can do a better job of regulating itself, I look at these incidents and wonder how bad it would get if they did.  Don’t these corporations realize these incidents only lead to further scrutiny by those Government Agencies,  adding more red tape and contant OSHA investigations which always leads to finger pointing, not to mention the lost revenues due to shutdowns for investigations, the imposed fines as well as the care and rehabilitation of the injured or even worse, death benefits.

You can always recognize a facility that has slashed or eliminated it’s safety budget as soon as you walk in the door.  Immediately you notice the safety violations, lack of organization, cleanliness, enforcement and poor working habits.  It has been proven over and over the best course of action is   still prevention.  So let’s look at some of these recent accidents.

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• April 8, 2013.  7 Workers Die Inside Mexico Brewery Tank.  PREVENTABLE.  There are several measures that should be taken before any employee enters a confined space.  An air sample should be taken before anyone enters to check for toxic fumes.  Do you know what was stored in there before?  Not only should the employee(s) entering wear a tether so they can be retrieved quickly, but someone should also be spotting, constantly maintaining visual and verbal contact while employee(s) are working inside.  There is no quick in and out with this and all procedure need to be followed.  The worst thing is to send in more people to retrieve an unconscious person without proper equipment, you only wind up with more victims.  In the United States NO one can order you into a confined space without taking these proper steps or fire you for refusal.

• April 17, 2013.  The Texas fertilizer plant explosion.  PENDING.  The investigation continues but your credibility may be in question when you forget to tell the Department of Homeland Security that you were storing large quantities of a potentially explosive fertilizer, ammonium nitrate.  Not a minor oops when the reporting threshold is 400 pounds and you held 270 tons.  Then, their most recent partial safety inspection of the facility in 2011 led to $5250 in fines.  I don’t see the savings here in cutting corners.

• April 24, 2013.  Fuel Barges Explode On Mobile River, Injuring 3.  PENDING.  The U.S. Coast guard is investigating but stated that the likely cause of the fire was a spark created during cleaning.  The question begs, was proper protocol followed before cleaning began or was someone in a rush and just cut corners?  As above, working a confined space like a fuel barge, you need to make sure it is empty and free of fumes before beginning any work, and double check before using any type of flame or spark producing equipment.

• April 26, 2013.  Worker Killed At Nissan’s Tennessee Plant.  PREVENTABLE.  An employee of a supplier died in a fatal accident at its vehicle assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn. when a large electrical panel fell while it was being moved.  My gut tells me that someone thought this would only take a few minutes and didn’t make sure the equipment was properly secured for moving.  I found that outside contractors are the worst at following safety guidelines and gives your staff a legit complaint of why they have to and outsiders don’t.  The best way to handle this is outside contractors are escorted everywhere by an employee, which costs money or they go through a training course given by the company and after that any violators are banished.

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• March 21, 2013.  $58M verdict in death suit could be New Mexico record.  PREVENTABLE.  Training is so critical to any job.  How the machine operates, how to clock in and out, PPE and how to properly wear it, all the do’s and don’ts.  The jury sent a clear message to the trucking industry, and the oil and gas industry in particular, that those companies who choose not to follow safety rules, and who place profits over human life, will be held accountable for the harm that they cause.

• May 1, 2013.  Worker Dies in blender at meat plant.  PREVENTABLE.  LOTO (Lock Out Tag Out) – This is a loto you want to win.  No piece of equipment should be touched until it is rendered safe by cutting off it power and/or air supply.  No matter how young or agile you think you are you still are not quicker than the machine.  Clearing jams, making adjustments, replacing parts, and for cleaning — LOTO.  Again, in the U.S. NO ONE can order you to work on “live equipment”.  

Safety in the workplace is not a magical process that happens all on it’s own.  It is something that needs to be planned, prepared, communicated and then training, instruction and more training followed by your ever present vigilance.   There is no worse feeling in the world than filling out an accident report and escorting an employee to the emergency room.

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You have every right to leave work at the end of your shift the same way you arrived, in one piece.  If safety is not taken seriously at your workplace you have a few options.  Become a safety advocate and bring issues to your supervisor.  Discuss the issues with your H.R. department and help form safety committees with management and workers resolving potential problems together.  If you belong to a  union bring the issues up to your business manager, what are you paying dues for?  However, if your attempts to bring safety forefront are continually ignored or put down and people are getting hurt, you have an important decision to make.  You either put up with it and hope for the best or you quit and work somewhere else where your life is appreciated as much as your contributions or pick up that phone and call OSHA. There is only one you that can’t be replaced and who wants to be there when the finger pointing begins.

A Guide For Your Own Intelligent Warehouse.


In days of yore, warehouses used to be nothing more than a dumping ground for bodies.  That’s right folks, a company would dump their misfits, malcontents and ne’er-do-well right into the warehouse grind as a “last chance” to demonstrate they could still be productive employees.  If they couldn’t cut it here, they weren’t worth saving.  That’s how unimportant warehouses were perceived back then only to be worked in as punishment like an Australian penal colony.  It was also one of the last bastion for men as a warehouse was a manly place and only real men worked there, horsing around like kids and playing games in their locker rooms.  It was a time when smoking was good and a hard drink was necessary to start the day, seat belts didn’t exist in cars, you didn’t have to be politically correct as ethnic jokes were SOP daily and to work in a warehouse you only needed to rely on your brawn.  You could just check your brain in at the door;  as a manager told me once in the very beginning of my young warehouse career, “I didn’t hire you to think.”  As long as money was made, all was right with the world and so that’s how things operated for years, mindless zombies doing as they were told, losing limbs, losing lives, endless hours on their feet, no PPE of any kind, and your only recourse was to go with the flow and be assimilated.


Then, slowly the winds of change began to pick up speed until they brought in a STORM.  The baby boomers were coming of age and a new consciousness began spreading across the land.  People asked why? It was like the renaissance had begun all over again as it whisked us out of the dark ages.  Why do we treat people differently?  Why do we do it this way?  Just for asking these simple questions people were beaten and called horrible names and were cast out as blasphemers and told: “because that’s the way it is.”  But this time there were many more voices to ask those questions and on top of that, even had the gall to demand answers as well!  Soon Civil rights and then women’s rights were issues as this new awareness of fellow human beings and how they were being treated emerged.  Then workers’ rights were soon to follow and OSHA came along, (1971) and SAFETY was born.   Forklifts were getting smaller and easier to maneuver and maintain and with a wider selection for applications of all kinds.  Then came one of the biggest changes, the desktop computer, (MITS-1974/Tandy-1977).  Things could be tracked and put on a nice spreadsheet.  Expenses, inventory, and transactions could be pinpointed in real-time.  Oh My!

As other changes continued to modify the face of the workplace, the one significant change that occurred was how we looked at whom was working in our warehouses. Brawn was no longer an important requirement as it was before.  We focused on people who could think for themselves and understand that it was just as important for them to work safely and smarter than it was for the company.  We wanted people who could adapt to change and make swift adjustments on the fly without a drop in productivity and quality.   We wanted people who could pick at the speed of light and beyond.  Of course, this brought a whole new problem to the table,  how do we retain those smart safe workers to ensure continued growth for the company and consistency of leadership in the warehouse?  Let’s face it, folks, a leader knows the biggest asset in their company is not the infrastructure, materials, or equipment, but the people.  Yea, the ones hired and trusted to keep up the maintenance, move the materials and operate the equipment.  The ones in the trenches daily, making the company look good while making decisions to keep customers happy, thanks to the trust and backing to do so.  Now the why asked was, how may I help you?

So what are the best ways to find and retain these people?  When you begin the task of recruiting and hiring remember, as Darwin said, I’m paraphrasing here, the selection is everything, so work closely with your HR department and give them all the details of the job that is to be performed and the steps on how it’s expected to be accomplished.  Include what kind of PPE is required to perform the job and what kind(s) of equipment is involved and related training that’ll be given.  The more information you give HR the better the selection process.  Then to begin things right, after the selection is made, laying down a firm foundation with a well-developed, planned, orientation and training for new employees are crucial for their and your success.  I can’t stress how important this is.  I’ve worked for some large companies where their training of new staff began and ended with one sentence, here’s your workstation. Do you want staff to begin producing as soon as possible and not wonder what’s expected of me?  It also encourages them to stay since you’ve demonstrated you care about their success as employees.  There are many ways to put together your orientation and you can read how Michelin handles this, below.  I would also add to make sure you cover all aspics in the warehouse, especially safety, forklifts and other power equipment, security and emergency procedures, location of supervisor and manager, and then set up some time with their new workmates to chat at lunch or walk around the warehouse. “Workforce:  Successful Employees Require a Solid Start.”

Retention is not much different to handle.  Unlike during the DotCom boom, expresso machines and game rooms aren’t as important today as job security and job satisfaction.  The golden rule to help employee retention we learned in kindergarten, treat people as you want to be treated.  Example?  Sure, glad you asked.  You wouldn’t like being chewed out in the middle of the dock floor for everybody to witness, so why do it to them?  When you have to “talk” to an employee do it with respect and be a coach, not a criticizer.   Listen to your workforce.  If they’re complaining about a safety issue don’t you dare blow them off.  The best way to turn off an employee is to NOT LISTEN.  Again, put yourself in their place and remember just because it’s a pebble to you, doesn’t mean it’s not a boulder to them and you want to cultivate their interest in what goes on in the company.  Get employees involved with the workplace through safety committees, quality circles, and continuous improvement projects and maintenance of equipment, (they run it, they know it better than anyone).  Have impromptu discussions right on the work floor, in their office, on improving forklift skills, and safety hazard awareness, and let them be creative.  Once a year I would split the staff into three groups, and send them through the warehouse and office trying to identify safety hazards I had previously set up.  The winning team got recognition and a free hour off.  Listening to them I found time was more precious than food.

Two other ways to help retain employees is to have training programs where they can improve their skills and be eligible for promotions.  One company I worked for offered Spanish and English language classes to improve internal communication.  Can also give classes on inventory control and warehouse terminology.  A good employee should be able to work at least one level down and one level up.  The training could also help refresh their skills to use a fire extinguisher or doing LOTO or how to properly escort a driver to the loading bay and please, get them involved as presenters as well.  In addition, make sure you make every attempt to promote from within.  If you have to keep bringing outsiders in for positions then you need to review your training program as employees will not stay.

Eventually, hopefully, sooner, our society will finally get to the point where it is realized that all people are the same, and they all bring great points of view to the table, you just have to want to tap that source.  Human beings are precious bundles that drop in for an 80-year or so visit, make their mark by raising people to do and be better than themselves, love who you want, have a good laugh, and live life.

OTHER RELATED ARTICLES:  Those Disposable People.  – Kevin Meyer (Evolving Excellence Mar 2013), The ROI of employee recognition -Jill Jusko (Industry Week Feb 2013), Success tips for middle managers. – Lisa Woods (Managing Americans .com), Change your words, change your life. – Tony Robbins (LinkedIn, Oct 2012)

The Secret Killer In Your Warehouse


There is a killer lurking in your warehouse.  It takes the lives of as many as 85 people each year.  You may know it by one of its aliases, sit downcounterbalance, reach truck or cherry picker, but by any name, it is the power horse of many warehouses, the forklift.  Almost half of the fatalities were due to employees being crushed by the forklift tipping over and another 25% due to people crushed between the forklift and a hard place.  Now add in the nearly 35,000 serious injuries and 62,000 non-serious injuries caused when this tool is misused that creates downtime, lost money and further investigation into your warehouse operation.  So even with all of the latest electronic gadgets and safety devices on forklifts, the odds are still 1 in 10 forklifts will be involved in an accident in the U.S. this year.


WHY?  The biggest issue is human error.  Not paying attention or following the rules of the road.  One glaring example is the number of crushed deaths that could be so easily eliminated if drivers would use their seat belts.  Yes folks, just like in your car, the seat belt keeps you from being thrown from the tipping forklift and winding up underneath the 4-ton vehicle.  Yea.  I’ve heard it all before, it’s a pain in the butt to keep buckling and unbuckling ever time I have to get out.  SO WHAT!  I would rather you suffer that little inconvenience than having to watch your loved ones suffer because you died horribly.  The other issue is horseplay.  Nothing tarnishes a warehouses reputation more than grown men acting stupid with power equipment.  Allowing this behavior to go on, is not professional, it demonstrates to upper management you have no control and if someone was to be seriously injured, in California you could go to jail.  Early in my career, I wound up getting promoted because the previous supervisor wanted to be a nice guy and looked the other way when his favorites engaged in horseplay until the day of the accident and a young employee lost part of his foot.  Something he would have to live with for the rest of his life.  You, Mr. Supervisor, you work too hard to make your Quality Warehouse run as well as it does, don’t allow horseplay or the boys being boys, ruin it.

The testers.  There will be those employees who will test you.  If you are a new supervisor or new at your current warehouse you can set the tone by having a safety meeting and telling them, you take safety seriously and this is how it’s going to be.   Right after I came on board, I had one guy test me by wearing his earplugs and listening to his Ipod while loading trucks.  I explained to him why it wasn’t going to be tolerated and it stopped immediately.  He wanted to see what kind of boss I was by my commitment to safety.  When he saw I was serious he became my most productive and safe employee.


PREACH SAFETY:  Like 5S, discussed in an earlier blog, (All I really need to know about 5S I learned from Grandma) Forklift safety is an important building block to your Quality Warehouse.  Be a disciple and preach it and live it every day by   Make sure all forklift inspections are completed at the beginning of each shift.  — Make sure you read them and respond immediately to any concerns noted.                   — When an employee shows an interest in safety issues, nurture it, don’t ever stifle it.      — Hold monthly safety meetings and try a different topic each month but always take at least a minute to remind about forklift safety.  As simple as, great month guys, no incidents.   — Hold 10-minute safety tailgate meetings on the floor once a week.  One topic you can use goes over the forklift checklist on what to actually look for during the inspection and have an employee demonstrate it to their peers.  They’ll beam with pride.  — Deal with any infractions of forklift use or near misses you, witness, immediately!  Don’t put it off, or feel like you’re cutting someone a break.  The next incident could be fatal and then it’s too late.  Pull them aside and discuss what had happened and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.  It could be as simple as to just slow down.   If there are several incidents pull their forklift privileges for a while and in all cases document, document, document.  Anyone who worked for me that had an accident or near miss had to take the certification process again.  Watch the videos and pass the written test before returning their privileges.



A busy Quality Warehouse should sound like a symphony.  You can close your eyes and listen to the horns as forklifts move in and out of trailers on the dock.  The beeps of the RF guns as the product is checked in and moved.  The whoosh of the coolers automatic doors.  Don’t stop the music or the WarehouseFlow by allowing a killer to run loose in your operation.





All I Really Need To Know About 5S I Learned From Grandma

“A place for everything and everything in its place”, that’s the mantra Grandma drilled into me daily during the summers I spent with her and Grandpa.  All the cooking utensils and hand operated machines in the kitchen were her tools and like any gifted artisan, she created masterpieces with them.  She also taught me, in order to be creative, inspired and efficient in the kitchen, you needed to respect your work area and the tools!   Everything had to be stored in its proper assigned place, kept clean, sharp and ready for use in an instant.  They were from the old country and this is how they were brought up.  Even the small barn in the back of the house where Grandpa’s workshop was located was spotless, organized and free of clutter.  I looked forward at the end of the day, to help Grandpa matching up the tool with it’s corresponding drawn figure on the pegged wall.  They both were in constant motion from dawn until bedtime but it gave them purpose and they were very proud of their property.  What Grandma didn’t know at the time was she was training me on her own version of a 5S program which is a key building block of any Quality Warehouse.

What is 5S exactly?  Briefly,  It’s a concept developed in Japan that is a way to keep one organized and ensure good housekeeping in the workplace.  5S offers organization and standardization, improves safety, working efficiency, improved productivity and helps motivation and instills pride.  The 5S are:    Seiri – Clearing up.  Seiton – Organizing.  Seiso – Cleaning.  Seiketsu – standardizing.  Shitsuke – self-discipline.  There are also variations of 5S like 6S (Sort, Straighten, Sweep, Standardize, Self-Discipline, Safety).  Either way, don’t let the terminology intimidate you.  You can call it by any name you want, I refer to it as using common sense, but you do need a vehicle to help keep your warehouse neat, organized, clean and ready for whatever challenges the work day brings.  A great reference I found for 5S questions is 5S Supply.  I recommend signing up for their blog.   http://blog.5ssupply.com/author/5ssupplycom/

Grandma also taught me, it is a concept that can also be used at home just as well to keep things so you know where to find them when you need them.  Just think, when your home is clean and organized any project you tackle is so much easier to do.  Think about your hobby room?  How difficult is it to scrapbook when everything is organized and easy to get too?  Apply this concept to your pantry at home.  How many times have you bought something you thought you needed because you couldn’t find it but only to find it buried underneath a bag walnuts a few days later?  When the pantry is organized:  baking goods, oils, canned goods, grains, snacks it’s easy to take a quick look-see and know what you need to buy at the store.  Same applies to the company tool room or supply store.  When you know what parts are on hand and when you need to reorder you’re not wasting valuable time searching for something you think you have.

Whatever 5S program you decide to put in place, it sets the tone for your team at the warehouse.  Employees are more productive, like beautiful flowers in a well lighted, enriched environment free of trip hazards as opposed to being like mushrooms in a dark, dirty place.  O.K.  You are now a step closer to a Quality Warehouse.  More tips to complete this journey coming.  Any thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.

The Paper Chase

I am a baby boomer and like other generations, I have developed strong relationships with specific technologies that I was raised with, and have over the years cultivated my daily routines around.  Like my father, I enjoy having my morning cup of coffee while holding a crisp, fresh newspaper in my hand.  Even though I have embraced newer technologies to help keep current, like twitter and other online entities, there is still something comforting to me holding a newspaper in my hands, listening to the noises it makes when folded while reading the front page and the sports green section.  My Dad began every morning with the N.Y.Daily news and ended each day with the N.Y. Post even though Huntley and Brinkley brought the world to him in black and white.  If he wanted there was also the Daily Mirror, Herald Tribune and the Times available.  However, since the commercial use of radio, newspaper readership has steadily declined as each generation gobbles up the latest in new technology from television to smart phones to Ipads to get their news.   Getting the news out there is so much faster today along with high quality color photos, you can tell the world a breaking story in seconds.

So currently I’m sitting here wondering, without a newspaper in my hand,  how it is possible in this day and age, that it is so difficult to deliver a newspaper?  How is it possible that some companies, including the U.S. Post Office are looking into same day delivery of goods to your door step, but the daily newspaper can’t be delivered daily, consistently?  I live in a small town/city with a population of 117,000 that is 35 miles northeast of San Francisco, California and unfortunately this is not about only one newspaper but two and the similar issues they share.  Lack of quality customer service.

I’ve been a subscriber of the Chronicle for over 20 years and the service from the beginning was excellent.  It was consistant, it was dry and it was in my driveway.  Then something changed about five years ago.  The quality of service began to deteriorate as we began playing a new game called, where’s the paper?  It wasn’t making it onto the driveway like it used too, which by the way is a much wider and longer area than the lawn I have next to it.  The newspaper must have wanted a change of venue and now enjoyed laying on the dew soaked lawn without plastic protection, not to mention the mornings it would get soaked when the sprinkler was scheduled to run.  To make the game even more interesting, sometimes it was under a shrub, on the sidewalk, or half in the gutter and half on the curb.  Some days it wouldn’t show up at all and to keep me on my toes, sometimes they delivered another newspaper all together.  I would call customer service and ask for the paper to please go back to the driveway.  “Oh yea, we see that request on the screen” and they would apologize, give me some credit and that they’d alert the manager.  I don’t believe they alerted anyone or the manager just couldn’t care less because the problem continued, and there were never follow up calls, not even an apology from the manager himself.  No calls later on to get feedback if service has improved.  Most of the time I did get a redelivery but there were times I did not.

Then like a miracle, about a year and a half ago things were perfect again.  This person delivering was excellent and understood that people want to read their paper and not play games finding it or wringing it out.  It was in the middle of my drive way every morning in pristine condition.  Life was good.  Then, unfortunately after a year of great service, this guy must have found a better job, (he actually demonstrated great customer service) and left because the deliveries went back to the way they were.  On the lawn, soaking wet, the wrong paper or not at all.  The straw that finally broke the camels back was when I called, a week in advance and placed a vacation hold.  The paper was still delivered for a few more days past the hold date but luckily my neighbor noticed the pile and picked them up.  If you’re wondering, no the paper didn’t resume on the date it was suppose too.  So out of total frustration, I cancelled the paper.  What surprised me the most was the overwhelming silence that followed.   I heard nothing.  No sorry for the problem, no can we keep you as a customer with a free week.  Nothing. Nada. Zilch.  Not even from the distributor, sorry to lose you and what can we do to make your experience better?  They demonstrated apathy at it’s very best!

So, then I made the mistake of subscribing to the local paper, Vallejo Times Herald.  I figured local paper, they would want to get the paper to me so I could keep up on the local goings on.  But what I found is that as a small town paper they are just as good at being incompetent as the big city paper, the SF Chronicle was in getting the paper delivered.  The Times Herald can’t seem to remember to deliver the paper.  I got it for a few days and then Sunday’s paper didn’t come.  After two calls to their hot line it still never arrived.  Then it began coming again that Tuesday, (they only publish printed edition Tue-Sun) and lasted a week and then didn’t show Wednesday or Thursday.   Even the customer service clerk wasn’t sure whether I was on or off to get the paper.

So what’s The issue?  Is it “you get what you pay for” as far as quality of delivery staff?  Do they really care when they’re told a paper didn’t get delivered.  Where’s the communication between delivery and customer service?  Or is it they don’t want to keep delivering the paper?  For the Chronicle to get to my house,  27% of the subscription price of $86.00 for 8 weeks is due to transportation costs.  it adds up for the customer and I’m sure costs them much more as well.  Printed paper is a dying business and they would rather you read it all on line at a reduced price than keep delivering the paper.  I believe that’s what’s behind their poor service issues, they are deliberate and carefully calculated to scare customers from delivery of their printed editions to the more cost efficient for them, on line feeds?  They are killing the reading of the printed paper faster than our latest technologies can.  I can’t think of another explanation for such poor quality service, but with service like this, they’ll be extinct before you can say Dodo Bird.

Do you have similar issues?  I would like to hear back.


Walls are Great For Supporting Roofs, Lousy For Teamwork



Walls are great for supporting roofs.  They also offer an excellent place to put windows and they can hold pictures, paintings and holiday decorations with the greatest of ease.  They have been made of mud, twigs, stones, logs, dry wall, stucco and wood.  They protect us from the elements.  But invisible walls between departments within your organization can kill any continuous improvement program  let alone stifle any communication.

I was interviewed by three different teams of two individuals per team consisting of an outside consultant, a H.R. rep and other various management staff from the company.  They all had their long lists of questions probing my views, experiences and existence.  They all expressed the need for “changing the culture” and were looking for the “right people” to fit in and hope you “enjoy working lots of hours”.  The company was ready to move to the next level and they were looking for the horses to help get them there.  My interview marathon was followed by a few weeks of silence and then, I along with one other candidate were chosen to be their next Warehouse Superintendents and so our odyssey began.

What should have been a clue for me about this company at first went right by me.  I was busy trying to learn my way around the facility along with everybody’s name, when it soon hit me.  Why did they go through all that preparation and effort hiring us, but were totally unprepared to give us the proper training?  There wasn’t any written procedures or guidelines and always an excuse to have to stop training and leave us to on our own.  Just watch what’s going on and we’ll be back soon.  There always seemed to be fires to be put out or a meeting they needed to attend and then, one day, like a mother bird pushing her chick out of the nest to learn to fly, we were told to flap our wings and put onto our new shifts.  “We know you’re not ready, but we have no choice and we really need you guys on shift and you’ll learn faster this way.”

This company, a good sized manufacturer, “Dis-function, Inc.” was set up like most.  Production – they made the product.  Packaging – they packaged the finished product.   Warehouse – they palletize, stored and shipped the product.  Maintenance.  Seems so simple and should flow without any problems except walking through the doors everyday was like entering an episode of the Game of Thrones.  The three main departments were run like kingdoms and instead of each one working together, they were constantly at war with one another.  They all erected large walls with moats and draw bridges as they worked in their own universe and the only goals were their goals and not the company’s.  Packaging couldn’t care less if maintenance couldn’t fix a section of conveyors in the warehouse, they needed to move product out of their area on time to make their goal.  What I wasn’t prepared for and was my second clue, were the frequent loud finger pointing arguments between the packaging and warehouse managers right on the floor in front of us supervisors and the staff.  I also found that the managers, instead of addressing  issues within their own departments, were busy in the  after hours spying on one another’s department and would even stop and questioned employees as to why they were doing things a certain way.  Then would offer their findings and suggestions to upper management on how to improve the production flow in that department to score points, which would lead to more fights, to the point, one day we were told by our manager that if the packaging manager entered our realm at any point when he wasn’t there, the packaging manager was to be shown the door, “I don’t care how you stop him.”  Our weekly meetings with our manager didn’t focus on improvements or maintenance issues as much as they did on gossip and revenge.  What had I gotten myself into?

While all these walls between departments were being maintained, the same couldn’t be said for all the equipment and machinery.  Things weren’t getting repaired in a timely manner and they had backed up over time greatly impacting production.  Lines were always down, motors burning out, gears not lubed and the ASRS had a jam every hour.  To make it worse the warehouse was always last on the list as production and packaging were higher priorities.  It didn’t make any sense to me and this was yet another clue.  If the warehouse couldn’t keep moving on a continuous basis packaging and production were always going to back up due to our maintenance breakdowns but no one wanted to hear that.  There were nights that it got so bad with all the breakdowns one particular packaging supervisor told us how stupid we were because we couldn’t run our department and how much that impacted them.  The sad thing was that upper management could have stopped this at any time and demonstrated some leadership but they appeared happy with things as they were.  This dysfunction had gone on so long it WAS the company culture and you can’t change the culture you were hired to change when no one else wants too.  The warehouse supervisors that had been there much longer than us new hires had long ago began mailing it in and just didn’t care.  They would tell me to lower my expectations and that nothing was ever going to change.

So what do you do?  Well as I see it, you can quit and find another job, like the ones you read about in the trade magazines where there’s great collaboration among staff and real continuous improvement programs.  You can stay and become part of the problem by just developing tunnel vision by not caring and going through the motions on a daily basis and slowly lose your mind.  You can stay and use everything you have learned over the years and stand up and become part of the solution.  I’ve always been turned on by challenges and when things got tough was never a quitter as my peer who was hired along with me had done.  I decided I was going to be part of the solution and drew a line in the sand even if it meant I could wind up getting fired for daring to change the culture and disturbing the status quo.  I was going with my conscience and on my terms.

I’m not going to lie to you, this decision was the biggest challenge of my life and it was not easy.  But were to start?  Well, begin with taking care of what I could within my department.  We could improve how we did some things and started with our biggest problem, maintenance issues.  I began by tracking all the continuous maintenance issues listing them by time of occurrence, how long we were down, why, and resolution.  I organized the information collected from all three shift’s reports and recorded it on a spreadsheet, but in a universal language upper management would understand, $money.  In black and white for all to see, how much down time due to lack of maintenance was actually costing the company and gave the info to my boss every day.  We were able to demonstrate  a cause and effect and my manager had the ammunition he needed to do battle and it helped us to finally get the ear of upper management.  They began to look deeply into how maintenance issues were addressed in the warehouse and we were able to hire two additional maintenance people.  I did the same thing with safety issues by turning out work orders daily after teaching myself how to use our WO system since no one wanted to take the minute to help me.  Started writing departmental procedures so we were all on the same page and helped develop maintenance protocol.   I knew I was making an impact, since this place used silence to hope you would go away and it was quiet, but soon the word was out, that Phil is not going away and holding people accountable.

That’s one reason I wanted to point out Lisa Woods great article, “Success tips for Middle Managers.”  You should read it especially if you’re in a similar situation or beginning your career because they were many of the ways I handled my situation. http://www.managingamericans.com/blogFeIMG_0885ed/Success-Tips-For-Middle-Managers.htm?goback=%2Egde_2260307_member_175838406.


I am not going to kid you, doing all the extra work while completing daily tasks wasn’t easy and I went through a lot of hell for trying to do what needed to be done.  I didn’t have a trumpet to bring the walls down and the long hours and constant battle  finally took it’s toll and I finally left after three years, but I have never been sorry but actually grateful I had this experience.  It made me a much better manager and a stronger person while I got to witness holes I put into those walls and actually got a conversation going between departments.   At work and in life you should always stick to your beliefs and go with your gut otherwise you’ll never know what kind of impact you can have in the long run.

Vermin Time Of Year

It’s all most winter.  It’s cold outside, there’s snow in some parts of the country and we’ve had some good rain in northern California.  It makes you just want to find a nice cozy part of the house to cuddle up, maybe even in front of a roaring fire.  Guess what, there’s vermin out there also looking for a nice spot to crash, in your warehouse!  When the weather changes and the rains begin there are critters looking for a nice spot to spend the winter and maybe raise a family.   So why extend them any kind of invitation?  To you that pile of cardboard may not look like a luxury bed but an infestation of mice will turn it into a rodent hotel.  The overflow of trash may not look like a cafeteria to you, but to a rodent it’s a score!

The good news is there are several things you can do to deter that invasion, and most of them you probably already have in place.  It’s a good time to step up your visual checks around the warehouse.  The tin cats will give you a great indication of any increased activity.  Also visual checks for rodent droppings and other signs of activity such as gnawed open bags of dried products and shreds of cardboard or paper.

Did you know that a rat only needs a whole the size of a quarter to get into your warehouse and a mouse as little as 2 cm?  Again, check for and seal all the holes in the external walls, doors and floors around your warehouse which will help strengthen your defense preventing critters getting in.  In addition to making sure the tin cats are in place and not damaged, verify that the poison feeders outside, around the warehouse are filled and ready.   Don’t offer any camoflouge for the vermin and have all grass along the perimeter cut down and shrubs trimmed.  Keep dock doors closed when not in use.

The most important step is to keep your warehouse clean and organized and free of temptation.  The cardboard and plastic you bundle for recycling keep it turning over often and store the bales off the floor especially when there are going to be long periods of inactivity in the warehouse.  Make sure you have a policy that any food product cases that are damaged or leaking are removed immediatley.  Keep the yard area in front of the docks free and clear of trash by sweeping on a regular basis and be sure to clean the area under the dock levelers. Don’t let incoming trucks sweep out their trailers onto the grounds.  Empty the trash cans from the caferteria or lunchroom at the end of each workday.  Make sure the trash bin outside can be closed and it is also free of holes.  Hopefully these tips will help you avoid unwanted guest for the holidays.

Stop. Look. Listen.

When I was young there was a campaign for reducing traffic accidents with children pedestrians called “Stop, Look and Listen”, before using the crosswalk.  That simple philosophy can work just as well in today’s warehouse or manufacturing floor.  With that in mind I think you’ll agree a great operator is one who keeps their machine clean, organized and knows when their machine is at the point of some tuning or it’s ready for an overhaul just by the feel and listening to it.  Think of yourself as that operator behind the wheel of the warehouse, and who else should have a better feel for the flow.

STOP and go for a walkabout.  It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emails, committees, budget concerns and productivity reports but you need to get away from it and the walk can help give you a new perspective on problems and issues you’re working.  Setting time limits on yourself for computer work, projects, committee reports and walkabout is a great way to budget your time.  Use whatever venue you are comfortable with to guide your time use.  I personally use Kanbanflow since it also allows me to track time spent on projects and to do lists but you can also use an alarm clock as well.  I’m also a big believer in making checklist for myself especially when I’m new to a job or trying to incorporate new routines.  It takes about 21 days to create a new habit and the checklist will help keep you on track to achieve that goal.  Most important, if you are having a bad day due to being blown up in an email, pressure from above, don’t bring it with you to the floor.  The staff doesn’t need your bagage.

LOOK and see what’s going on, what are people doing and are they doing it safely?  Are there any back-ups on the floor, and if there is what’s causing it.  Is everybody engaged in activity or standing around, are forklifts properly parked in the warehouse, code dates on packaging lines correct, are pick locations clear and organized, people wearing proper PPE.?  Walk around with your eyes wide open and make sure to catch staff doing things properly or beyond and personally thank them on your walkabout.  In addition to this you can also recognize staff based on your observations in other means.  I would hand out certificates for a free lunch at a local deli to staff I found wearing all their PPE or cleaning up a spill on the floor they had found.

LISTEN to the sounds of activity going on around you and more importantly what employees are telling you.  You begin to build employees trust when you ask them to show you the ropes and how they do their job.  Your interest in their performance has to be genuine or you will lose all of their support.  I was one of two new superintendents hired and were assigned to train with a foreperson.  My colleague would just wonder off on his own but I always stayed with the foreperson and listened to every gem he offered as we crawled under lines and over belts and cleared jams.  I learned a lot about maintenance issues first hand, why employees were so soft on safety and his views on working closer with production to improve palletizing times in the warehouse.  I was able to use that information to spearhead improvement projects, removed a few walls while earning employee goodwill since someone was listening to them.  My collegue could never say that and never understood why. We trust our employees to operate extremely expensive equipment the most efficient way possible so why not listen to their suggestions and ideas on how to work smarter?  Between the two of you who knows what improvements can be made.

My Dad had a friend Donnie, whom he met in the Navy.  He was a mechanic and was the only person allowed to tinker with the family car because he had a special talent.  He could listen to any car engine and diagnose the problem on the spot.  He had developed an amazing keen sense of diagnostic hearing beyond any science but unfortunately Donnie wasn’t as safe as he was a great mechanic.  He was missing two fingers on his right hand, which I always thought was from the war but was actually from a run-in with a car fan blade.  He also had only half of a thumb on the left hand and the story was always vague.  He would also tell me that gasoline was the best solvent there was and he used it on a regular basis to clean up including his arms and hands which could be a problem if you’re a chain smoker.  And as it turned out, one day Donnie became a human candle.  I still to this day remember the white bandages wrapped around his arms up to his elbows and a cigarette dangling from his mouth.  My purpose of this story is to remind you that employees intentions are in the right place, and they have great ideas or amazing talents like Donnie.  They just need you to keep them safe while coaching and nurturing to help develop those talents.  So Stop, Look and Listen and see what hidden treasures you discover.

Safety Is Never Having To Say You’re Sorry.

This blog is dedicated to the front line employees out there who work hard every day and follow the rules to make their bosses look good and sustain their company’s success.

If someone in management tells you to do something that is unsafe, you should and can legally refuse to do it.  No supervisor, manager, boss or company owner can force you do something unsafe.  I know, sometimes management can be its own worst enemy.  I had a Boss, who right after a company safety meeting ordered an employee to elevate another employee with his forklift to the top rack while they stood on a wood pallet to retrieve something the Boss needed because he didn’t want to wait to get the cage and do it properly.  (Actually for the record, this was a continual problem that they could never find the cage, as important a piece of safety equipment it was, since they never kept track of its location.  Lesson to be learned here, keep track of the cage and other safety equipment.)  The employee did the right thing and politely refused then reminded the Boss it was a safety infraction and didn’t want the Boss to get in trouble.  It was a great line!  After the smoke cleared from Boss’ ears he realized he was wrong and backed off.

Never let anyone bully you into unsafe work practices either with words and terms like:                            You’re not a team player.   – Another term for this is would be Co-defendant.                                                           It’ll take longer if I get the right equipment  = life time of disability.                                                          – Tom’s crew doesn’t have to do it that way = Your welcome for me saving your life.                                     Remember that sticks, stones and heavy machinery break bones but words will never harm you.

What is the condition of the equipment you operate on a daily basis.  Are all the safety guards and covers in place?  Are all the safety switches, emergency overrides and shutoffs properly functioning?  Do you see exposed and frayed wires or puddles of fluid?  Does your company use a checklist so you can see if there were equipment issues on the previous shift?  Before you operate any piece of equipment you should do an inspection whether you have a checklist or not to make sure you can work safely and efficiently.   When you do find and need to report a safety issue immediately lock out and tag out the equipment so no one else can inadvertently use it and report it to your supervisor.   If you do LOTO a piece of machinery due to safety issues don’t go for any lines from management that it’s fine to drive or use this time as long as you go slow.  Don’t use it!  I’d put money on the fact that if you did continue to operate as instructed and you got injured the company would throw you under the bus in a nano second.  Think about it, If they are that unscrupulous to let you work under those dangerous conditions why do you think they would go to bat for you if you got hurt?

Don’t believe me?  A female employee at one company was operating a high speed conveyor belt that had no emergency shut off available in her area and the drive chain was exposed because the maintenance crew that did repairs that night left the job of putting the guard back on to the next shift.  It was a chilly morning and she had on a co-workers wind breaker that was a large on her but it kept her warm while she worked.  Unfortunately the sleeve from her windbreaker got caught in the exposed chains and pulled her into the conveyor severely injuring her arm to the point that she is permanently disabled.  It was only her screams for help heard by the palletizing operator, who stopped the conveyor.  Her supervisor and the maintenance department had no repercussions from this incident but she was reprimanded for wearing the loose fitting windbreaker.

No matter what signs, posters or catchy slogans your company devises to increase safety awareness, YOU are the person who has control over your safety in the workplace.  Always ask for the proper  PPE to perform a job, always check your equipment before use and become an advocate to ensure everyone goes home as they arrived to work….in one piece!  Your efforts can help form safety committees, discuss the issues, and develop safe SOPs.  Safety should be never having to say you’re sorry.