OSHA Citations, Lost Production and Getting Lean

In our competitive environment, every manufacturer struggles to do more with less and to find capital fornon-production areas, such as maintenance, safety, training, housekeeping and HR.  If done in a shortsighted fashion, the employer learns through painful experience the sacred law of “unintended consequences.”  Plant Engineering magazine (yes, a lawyer can read such stuff) ran a brief instructive story on harm to production and profits resulting from gradually shifting almost all maintenance functions to production employees.  You’re probably thinking that “I wouldn’t do that,” but many employers have eliminated certain housekeeping workers and relied upon production employees to clean up their area or machine.  One of the contributing factors to the deadly Imperial Sugar combustible dust explosion was accumulation of material in work areas … in part because operators were supposed to clean up after their shift, and did not do so.

In “Autonomous Maintenance: The Perils of Eliminating a Department,” Rick Walker explains:

Companies are still pursuing the dream of autonomous maintenance as taught by Tokutaro Suzuki in his book “TPM for Process Industry.” The theory is that basic tasks such as cleaning, inspecting, tightening, and lubricating can and should be done by equipment operators because they are the equipment owners and are closest to the equipment on a daily basis.

…. our clients have implemented and benefited from this “operator care” concept. This has also helped clients deal with the shortage of maintenance trades through shifting tasks that don’t require years of training and special tools to the appropriate persons and allowing the maintenance professionals to focus on the work that best utilizes their skills

Hard to fault this reasoning.  However, nuance and balance must guide any strategy.  Read further:

…. product demand decreased. The company asked: “How can we trim our workforce to accommodate the new business environment?” The answer was to let them go. The company limped along for the next two years. Maintenance wasn’t being done quite as well or as fast, but they had lots of time and capacity to meet the demand. And things started to get better.

Over time the market demand for the product increased. At the same time, the market price decreased. Now the plant was getting busier making more products, but making less money on each product. Of course, management’s directive was to meet the demand and cut the manufacturing cost. And for a while they did. They still had a little extra time to make the volume, and they deferred and canceled some maintenance tasks. It was all fine—until the plant needed to run at capacity to meet the demand. The years of neglect and poor maintenance were taking their toll on the equipment’s ability to operate as it had when new.

Let me share some of my experiences where the “non-production” functions were neglected:

(Continue Reading).

About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
This entry was posted in combustible dust, employer policies, food processing, hazard assessment, manufacturing, MOC, OSHA and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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