Volume 58: Safe Environments People Get to Go Home From

RoyIf I had a dime for every time I heard an HR person or Plant Manager tell me that Safety was their number one priority, I could probably stop coming into work.

It’s on bulletin boards everywhere, and it’s the biggest thing that these facilities advertise: Safety is #1!

And then I go on a plant tour where the person giving us the tour casually throws into conversation that the machine we’re standing next to decapitated a guy last year. The employee was on his phone on the floor, dropped his phone into the machine, and leaned in to get it

The horror of this story, and the fact that such an innocuous looking piece of machinery could have so recently killed someone, was only outweighed by the flippant way it was mentioned to me. Safety was obviously not a big priority, and needless to say, that was enough for me to find an excuse to get out of there quickly.

In our last newsletter, I talked about the base of our Hierarchy of Needs pyramid: Compensation. The answers I got were mostly along the lines of, “well, duh, of course you have to pay your people.” And this is fair, as it should be a pretty simple concept.

I would hope the next section in our Hierarchy of Needs pyramid would be met with a similar “duh” sound: Work Environment.

This section of the pyramid responds to a handful of complaints that I hear on a daily basis:

  • “We’re so understaffed, I’m on call 24/7. I had to go back to the plant in the middle of my kid’s birthday party!”
  • “I’m working 80 hours per week. I love the OT, but I also love my wife and kids that I never get to see.”
  • “I don’t mind putting in the extra time when there’s an outage or something hits the fan, but they expect us to work 16 hour days every day. They work us like dogs.”
  • “This place is a deathtrap. I don’t think anyone here actually understands what the word ‘safety’ means.”

And this is what the second section of our Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid comes down to: Employees need a work environment that they get to go home from, both in that it is safe enough that they aren’t dying on the job, and that they are allowed to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Now, we’ve discussed many times before in this newsletter that a healthy work-life balance is different for everyone. Some guys either don’t have anyone at home, or don’t want to be at home with their spouses, and love living at the facility. Some need to get home to their kids.

So, how do you, as an employer, make sure that everyone is going to get what they need from a facility, and won’t call me desperate to get out?

I’d say it starts at the hiring process. If you expect an employee to be at the facility for tons of overtime, you need to be up front about that in the interview process. It’s going to turn some candidates away, but it will also save you hiring people, just for them to turn around and leave because they can’t handle being on call all day and all night.

If you don’t expect them to have to be there that much, except for when something goes wrong, you can express that. And then, and this is the big one, communicate with your team when things go wrong. Let them know what to expect.

Then, we get to safety.

Obviously, the company I mentioned earlier was not a major integrated facility. Each of those companies has pretty strict standards and regulations when it comes to safety, and they tend to have absolutely no tolerance for things that violate these rules all the way up to the corporate level. A beheading would not have been so flippantly mentioned as part of a tour. And the supervisor and manager overseeing that employee would probably not have jobs anymore.

That employee went to work that morning like any other day, and because safety was not something that was harped or trained fully on, (and I can be confident in this assessment based on the rest of the facility) he didn’t go home.

I’ve been doing this a long time, and I can say very few things with 100 percent certainty, but this is one: there is not a single job in a box plant worth losing your life or limb over. And, let’s be clear, that is what is on the line if safety being the top priority is just lip service and not executed action.

So, I would recommend each of you managers out there take a look at your hiring practices. Are you as honest as you could be with potential employees? Do you make sure they know what will be expected from them from a time perspective? And do you have the safety programs in place to ensure they get home to their families each evening or each morning?

If the answer to any of these is no, then you have a pretty good idea on where to start with your staffing problems.

And speaking of Clear Expectations, that is the next section in our Needs Pyramid. Guess I know what we’ll be talking about in April.

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