Sep 24, 2007

Jobs are plentiful in Peoria

I spent most of last week at a conference and exposition in Grand Rapids, MI, put on by SME. One of the booths was Caterpillar's - specifically to recruit people for the hundred engineering and technical job openings they have right now. Not only do they want experienced engineers, but they also have jobs for new grads and internships for college students.

Steve Luthy was trying to buttonhole guys and gals and practically make offers there on the show floor. Jim Reeb, Director of Manufacturing, made a presentation and showed how fast Cat's revenues are growing. Although they manufacture in 66 countries, sometimes as a condition for selling into a country, the greatest part of their production is in North America.

Not only do they have a lot of openings, continued pursuit of efficiency and lean operations has made revenue per employee grow robustly.

Cat went through some labor difficulties a few years back, you might recall. Eventually about half the striking employees came back to work. Some had accepted jobs elsewhere during the strike, and others just stayed out. Since then, according to the guys at Cat, things have been going pretty well.

Reeb stressed the company's commitment to safety and integrity. He told a story of a negotiation to buy a company in Italy. He said that when it came time to sign the contract, the selling party started to talk about changes that just sounded fishy to him. He responded that he'd walk away from the deal before agreeing to what they proposed, and they questioned whether he really had the authority to make the final decision on the deal. He said that he knew that Cat's stand on integrity meant that he could count on management's support if he rejected a deal for an operation that they really wanted to acquire.

So if someone you know needs a job in manufacturing, engineering, logistics or a bunch of other areas, he or she should go to the Cat website and take a look. East Peoria, Decatur and Aurora, Illinois are nice midwestern places to bring up kids. Chicago isn't so far away that you can't have a fun weekend now and then.

It's hard for these sorts of stories to break through the gloomy picture the media presents. And remember, in an election year, everyone wants to blame the other side for anything and promise that they'll fix it -- even if it ain't broken.

Sep 12, 2007

Fatal accident costs Cintas $2.78 million - costs worker his life

The U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) today proposed $2.78 million in penalties against Ohio-based Cintas Corp. following an inspection into the March 2007 employee death at the Cintas laundry facility in Tulsa, Okla. The employee was killed when he fell into an operating industrial dryer while clearing a jam of wet laundry on a conveyor that carries the laundry from the washer into the dryer.

The facility in Tulsa has 160 employees."Plant management at the Cintas Tulsa laundry facility ignored safety and health rules that could have prevented the death of this employee," said Assistant Secretary of Labor for OSHA Edwin G. Foulke Jr. Forty-two willful, instance-by-instance citations allege violations of the OSHA lockout/tagout standard for the failures to shut down and to lock out power to the equipment before clearing jams, and to train four employees responsible to clear jams that lockout/tagout applies and how to perform the operations. One repeat citation alleges the failure to protect employees from being struck or pinned by the conveyor.

Three serious citations allege the failures to protect employees from falls, to have a qualified person inspect the lockout/tagout procedures and to certify the procedures as required. In a separate case, OSHA today issued five repeat and two serious citations with penalties totaling $117,500 for violations of the lockout/tagout and machine guarding standards found at the Cintas Columbus, Ohio, facility.

OSHA also has opened investigations in Arkansas and Alabama. Washington, an OSHA State Plan state, has issued four citations with proposed fines totaling $13,650, alleging violations for similar hazards at the Yakima Cintas facility. A willful violation is one committed with intentional disregard of the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act or plain indifference to employee safety or health. A serious violation is one that could cause death or serious physical harm to employees, and the employer knew or should have known of the hazard. Cintas has 15 working days from receipt of the citations to contest the citations and the proposed penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

To add a comment - in a lean facility, not only would employees have been trained, they would be following a safe standard process and the root causes of jams would have been eliminated if at all possible. Safety has to be a high priority in any company wishing to be a lean manufacturer.

And from the Department of Irony...
Scott Farmer, President and CEO of Cintas Corporation accepted the Humanitarian Hall of Fame Award for large corporations for helping the poor.

Cintas has consistently ranked among Fortune's top five Most Admired organizations in its industry sector since 2001, and has topped the diversified outsourcing list for the fourth time.

Cintas ranked among Canada’s best employers in "Report on Business Magazine" attributed to company's culture. (Maybe they do better in Canada.)

From Cintas's own "Workplace Conditions" statement
New Cintas facilities are bright, air-conditioned and high-tech production centers with a number of innovative features to make them more environmentally friendly. Modern facilities also contribute to improved workplace safety. According to 2003 statistics, Cintas' safety record is 34% better than similar sized facilities in the laundry industry. For older facilities, particularly those added through recent acquisitions, capital improvement plans are in place to methodically update sites with new technologies and improvements.

Sep 11, 2007

Got safety?

I'm on my way to writing an article for AME's Target magazine about safety. Stories of early Japanese-aided lean transformation frequently start with a sensei leading a plant manager on a safety walk. Personnel freed up from a manufacturing process are sent on regular safety walks. Respect for people mandates safe conditions for working, as does flow. Accidents and injuries are the worst examples of waste imaginable.

Seems like everybody knows that accidents cost a company money. Guidelines for plant or office safety are easy to find. So why do unsafe working conditions still exist? I'll never forget reading about an accident in a bumper manufacturing operation where two guys were killed when a large press cycled when it wasn't supposed to. Employees had warned managers that the press had been operating improperly. The two guys were new employees who had received only the smallest amount of training. The process seemed to have involved not only hands-in-die operations, but bodies-in-die. There was evidently no machine guarding. A witness said that one moment two people had stood next to the press, and the next moment there were only four legs standing there. There was nothing left of the upper halves of the people.

In another incident, an explosive steam leak occurred in the Ford Rouge plant powerhouse. A few people were killed, and several others horribly burned. Bill Ford was in a meeting in Ford World Headquarters only a few short miles from the Rouge. He stood up and left the meeting for the accident site, ignoring the pleas of the lawyers. At the site, he immediately promised the families of the injured that Ford would do everything possible to help them, and Ford followed through on the promise as far as I know. The plant was shut down and remediated. Bill Ford earned my immediate respect by his actions, but the point remains - why was the accident not prevented? The cause turned out to be something that should not have been allowed to go wrong.

A safety engineer I met told me a story of a company where he was hired as safety officer. He found the most blatant violations. Electrical lines hanging over an aisle at head level. "People know when to duck," was the response when he found the condition. Wiring was unsafe throughout the plant. Unfortunately, the guy who did the wiring was now the plant manager -- not too receptive to the assertion that it was screwed up. In one instance, the operator of a paper guillotine (the name of the machine alone should have given the operator a clue) had circumvented safe operation of it by disabling one of the two-handed controls. The supervisor just shrugged - the guy was one of the most experienced operators, and nothing bad had happened. The story goes on with the inevitable - the guy was suddenly without fingers on one hand.

The safety engineer (who worked the midnight shift) put a report on the plant manager's desk every morning documenting what he had found the night before. He took the precaution of making copies of the reports, not only filing them, but filing them at his home! You guessed it - when he finally confronted the plant manager, he said "What reports?" There were none - they all had been destroyed. At this point, the engineer quit. As soon as he got out of the plant - before he even got home, he called OSHA. What I couldn't figure out was why he stayed there as long as he did.

Back to my article - I've found some awesome material on OSHA's website, but if I could add first-hand experiences from you, the article would be even better. I don't really need horror stories, but I'd like to hear about companies where steady progress was made on eliminating recordable incidents and the savings in cost and human suffering. So if you could contribute something, I'd appreciate it.

Sep 5, 2007

Report from the field - a visit to the ER

I spent about two hours in the emergency room last night - got there at around 11:30 - after my husband reached into the garbage can to pull up the liner that had slipped below the level of too much trash. He got a big gash in his thumb on some broken glass. (Home safety note to self - nag husband to put hazardous items in a cardboard box before putting them in the trash.)

When I drove up to the ER door, valet parking was closed. That meant I had to drop off my husband and a security guard had to explain how I had to take my car to the valet lot and call security to open the gate for me. That meant that either the guard or the receptionist had to repeat the same set of instructions to each driver to arrive. Keeping the valet service available would have eliminated the resulting interruption, confusion and stress to families.

There were maybe 20 non-urgent cases in the waiting room. There is also a whole warren of treatment rooms that were full - one of the waits was for rooms to open up.

Morale seemed fine. People were courteous and competent.

Check-in time wasn't bad. It was about 15-20 minutes before two triage nurses administered a tetanus shot and replaced the hand-held dishtowel (really - it was clean!) with a proper dressing. The second nurse happened to be going through the triage area and the first asked him to throw on a bandage while he went to get the tetanus shot. They teamed up nicely.

Then a long wait. There was a minimum frequency of patient complaints (patients were getting impatient) to the receptionist, however. Maybe the furnishing of the room had an influence, or the generally courteous treatment. As I mentioned, it seemed like the bottleneck was finding treatment rooms. Or changeover time from the release of one patient until the room was ready for the next. Or someone to see the people warehoused in the treatment rooms.

Other causes of congestion in the waiting room:

No standard process for assigning cases to rooms as they opened. The receptionist had her own system that didn't seem to suit a new person coming on shift who was going to escort patients to rooms.

Waiting for transport of expectant moms to the labor and delivery section of the hospital.

Waiting for patients who were visiting the restroom or standing outside when their names came up.

There was a person assigned to help family coming in to find a patient, but that station was at the back of the waiting room. The receptionist had to direct people there.

A long, long walk to the treatment room. If turnover had been faster, fewer rooms would have been needed.

The main bottleneck was likely a shortage of doctors. After we were in a room, we still had to wait about 20 minutes for her to come in, agree that there was a gash in Mike's hand, and assign the sewing to a physician's assistant.

Short waits then followed:

PA had to get to room. PA had to go get suture cart. PA had to go get saline to loosen the bandage that had stuck to wound. PA had to rummage through the cart to find the tools and materials she needed. PA had to set up.

Value added time, finally. PA disinfected wound, numb it up, and place four stitches - she did a nice job. Then she gave instructions for wound care and following up with a family doctor to have stitches removed.

Another wait for "paperwork."

Throughout, there were several apologies for the wait - "It was a really busy night." Along the way, someone let slip that it was always a "busy night." Clearly they know more about demand rate than they claim, and probably have resources geared to something lower, and possibly could have been trained to be more flexible. Can a nurse or PA be certified to treat simple wounds, perhaps? Of course, there's a shortage of those folks too.

All in all, I'd say the hospital gets B or B+ for last night. Wonder if they'd like to know.

Sep 4, 2007

The "multitasking" delusion

As companies cut tens of thousands of jobs, they always say they’ll cut out a similar amount of work. But tell me – do you have more work now than you did five years ago? Can you concentrate on one or two major commitments, or are you on more teams than ever? Does loyalty or ambition make you volunteer for more than you can handle? Reportedly, 45% of us think we’re being asked to work on too many things at once.

I’ve always felt juggling a lot of projects was not a problem – as long as I had someone to hand them off to. Truth be told, it was probably adult ADD and a short attention span that made me much better at starting something up than carrying it out. But that didn’t help the poor people I burdened with the projects I thought should go forward.

What’s the answer? Multitasking, of course. “Multitasking” is a word that originated with computer systems that seemed to be able to get more than one thing done at one time. If you were running accounts receivables, it was a help to be able to produce sales reports as well, and the old computers couldn’t serve more than one client. Then they could. But the dirty little secret is that computers still do only one thing at a time. They’re just really good at switching without forgetting where they were when they go back to the job that was interrupted.

Studies at University of Michigan, MIT, UC Irvine, and NASA, however, have shown that humans are pretty lousy at making rapid shifts in attention, especially when thinking is required. A white paper published this year by Herman Miller says that multitasking isn’t getting more work done – it’s actually been shown to reduce the amount of productive work a person can do. And it’s being blames for stress-related illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, depression and anxiety, further reducing our ability to get stuff done.

Social effects are noticeable too. New Ford boss Alan Mulally forbids even top execs to bring Blackberrys to meetings. Watching somebody texting away while you’re trying to carry on a discussion can be pretty annoying. Interestingly enough, the multitasker thinks he or she is doing something important, while others in the room think the multitasker is rude. Until they get a text message THEY think is important, that is.

Take a look at the report for yourself – it’s worth it. The next time you get asked to do more with less, brandish it about and see if it does you any good. Delusions are hard to break, though.

See “The siren song of multitasking” at

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Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm