Valuing your human ‘cogs’ and keeping them safe

We don't think of our plant employees as just another piece of manufacturing equipment. Perhaps it's time we should. After all, when things are running well, don't you go into the corner office and tell your CFO that the floor “is running like a well-oiled machine?” Don't you suggest in the staff meeting that productivity gains are due to your staff “working like cogs in a gia...
By Bob Vavra, Editor October 15, 2007

We don’t think of our plant employees as just another piece of manufacturing equipment. Perhaps it’s time we should.

After all, when things are running well, don’t you go into the corner office and tell your CFO that the floor “is running like a well-oiled machine?” Don’t you suggest in the staff meeting that productivity gains are due to your staff “working like cogs in a giant machine?”

Our employees are not machines, of course. Our employees send their kids to college and face the mortgage crisis and celebrate birthdays and experience moments of faith and joy and challenge %%MDASSML%% things that don’t happen to your average stamping machine.

But your average stamping machine has a personalized program of scheduled maintenance. It gets regular attention to keep it running smoothly, it gets special attention when something breaks and it receives regular software upgrades to keep it current with the latest innovations. The result is a machine that runs efficiently and safely and, as a result, provides value for your organization.

Do you have the same program for your employees? Do you make sure they are trained? Do you provide them with the attention to sense when things are wrong and to offer them incentives when they succeed? Above all, do you make sure they are safe on and off the job?

Unsafe manufacturing is a pet peeve of mine. There’s simply no excuse for an unsafe workplace. When workers are treated as commodities rather than those valued cogs %%MDASSML%% or worse, when you believe they can be replaced with the same ease as any cog %%MDASSML%% then you have a recipe for tragedy. A disaster is when things are broken. A tragedy is when people are broken. It’s important to understand the difference.

Workplaces in the U.S. are generally safer today than ever before. From a global manufacturing perspective, we have a long way to go. China’s factories and mines are unsafe at any speed, and they’re hardly alone in the world.

We have yet to conquer the global issues of too-long work days, inadequate training and slipshod equipment maintenance. Until we do, the issue of wages will be offset by the challenges of workplace injuries and fatalities. When taken in that context, the total cost of manufacturing still favors the American worker. It’s a message overlooked in many quarters, yet a number of Labor Day studies touted American workers as among the world’s most productive. Norway was first and the U.S. was second. That’s easily explained. Norway doesn’t have fantasy football leagues.

If you want to make a case for American manufacturing, start with safety. That’s a point we make in this month’s cover story. If you are willing to make the same commitment to your people as you are to your equipment and to the finished product, the finished product will reflect that commitment to people.