Volume 91: Safety and the Challenge of Prevention

There have been lots of global health scares over the past bunch of years: Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, SARS, and more. But none have had the impact on people all over the globe the way COVID-19 has these past few weeks, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.

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Businesses all over the country and world have been shut down. All non-essential work has been grinded to a halt in parts of the country. CEOs from companies I’m not sure I’ve ever bought things from have sent me emails explaining… something? I think most of us have never been as thankful for the people that stock our grocery stores as we are now. (Though, toilet paper? Really, people? Toilet paper?)

I’m fortunate to be in a position that I can tell my employees to stay home and be safe, and that they can still be productive contacting the industry from the comfort of their homes. Two weeks in, we’re all going a little bit crazy, but I’m finally getting my arms around the technology required to work from home.

But you’ve all heard enough about COVID-19, so I’m going to use it as a way to pivot and talk about a more industry-related topic:

Safety

Every facility, every company, talks about the fact that safety is the #1 priority. I think we all know that it’s just talk in most of those companies.

As a visitor to many, many facilities over the years, you can tell pretty quickly which facilities take safety seriously. If you see an operator leaning over a machine with a giant gold chain hanging from his neck, faded safety lines on the floor, and guys all over the floor on their phones, you know that the facility you’re in doesn’t value safety. It’s time to politely excuse yourself from the premises.

Facilities that are well lit, where you see the locks on the machine if there are people inside and proper PPE being worn around the building? I’ll tour those places all day and feel totally comfortable.

Now, it’s important to note that not every facility out there has the budget to implement as many of the safety programs and install as much of it as some of the major integrateds do. That doesn’t mean that these facilities aren’t safe, it just means they have to be more proactive in how they act to do things safely. I like to think that this becomes less technology-based safety, and more human and system-based safety in those facilities.

At the end of the day, the thing I’ve found is a good way to judge whether a facility values safety is how often they talk about it. Not to me or potential new hires, but to the people within the facility. Facilities that value safety tend to begin and end every meeting with a note on ways the guys can be safer today and get home to their families in one piece.

Tying it back to Current Events:

The absolutely best-case scenario is that 10 years from now, hell, 10 months from now, we all look back at this time and think “wow, what an overreaction.” I’m told that that if that’s the message, it means the preventative measures worked and kept this virus under control.

In the same vein, if a good safety program is in place, and is being adhered to by all members of the staff, most of the pieces involved seem unnecessary as you’re doing them. With any luck, people forget what it’s like to see a coworker lose a finger, an arm, a leg, or maybe even their life at work.

Go long enough without a safety catastrophe, and lock-out tag-out begins to seem like a waste of time. All of the certifications on the forklifts and all of the other equipment seem like a joke.

Until the time someone cuts corners, and suddenly no one is laughing.

Maybe you get away with it the first time you cut safety corners. You get lucky, nothing happens, and you go about your day. Maybe you keep doing it, because it worked out that one time. And it might keep working out.

Until it doesn’t.

It’s the same thing as these Gen-Zers out at Spring Break, ignoring orders and guidelines to social distance. They think they’re invulnerable. And it’s all fun and games until someone around them comes down with a deadly disease that could have been avoided. It’s all a big joke until they get their parents, grandparents, or themselves very, very sick with a disease they could have avoided.

Safety is the exact same thing: it’s not always you that will be hurt if you ignore the guidelines. Your carelessness could cause someone else to get the disease, or someone else at work to get hurt in an avoidable accident.

As much as most of us like to take pride in our work and do the best we can, none of the people reading this have a job that is worth dying over. Neither recruiting, nor making boxes, are worth your life.

So, stay safe, and Stay Strong.

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