Have you thought lately about the safety and well-being of your employees lately – those people who make your business and your standard of living possible? I am not talking about the rote, everyday, “everybody knows safety is important” stuff.

Are your people trained to perform the tasks of their jobs to an excellent degree? Do you have an audit or sampling process in place to ensure that specific needs can be identified? Are you following up on the identified needs with the applicable training to keep the people safe and the equipment reliability high?

I recently accomplished a two-week trip to southeast Alaska, paddling a 17-foot kayak. My initial kayaking experience was very limited, so I talked to some knowledgeable folks, read quite a bit about the handling characteristics of a kayak of the kind we (we, as in a partner I trusted) would be using, listened to the suggestions and followed the recommended training regimen for the size kayak we would be using. We attended competency classes and safety classes to familiarize ourselves with the handling of the kayak and the emergency and rescue procedures (including the Eskimo Roll to recover an overturned kayak without exiting the craft), practicing both in smooth water and in the surf off the coast of South Carolina. A note of recognition: The swells and the surf of the Atlantic on the South Carolina coast is mild and warm compared to the swells and the surf of the North Pacific on the coast of Southeast Alaska. Therefore, we asked questions of knowledgeable people and took appropriate measures for safety and survival equipment, based on their experience.

Are your experienced people brought into play when developing job plans for complicated and technically intricate repairs? Is the knowledge shared among the people who actually will be in harm’s way? Job plans developed by experienced people, in a partnership of information and knowledge exchange, help increase reliability and safety. Reliable equipment is functionally safer than equipment that is not properly maintained and operated. In a reliability-centered organization, operators identify potential and developing malfunctions before potentially catastrophic and production-losing failure. A good operator knows his or her machine and can readily determine an abnormality. Is there a method for effectively reporting this abnormality and handling it in a timely, effective, efficient and safe manner? To allow equipment to knowingly deteriorate isn’t putting safety and the health and welfare of the employee in the forefront. A production line that is capable of producing different products with a minimum of change and setup will have different parameters of failure, based on the difference in the product output.

My Necky Looksha 17-foot kayak was the same in the gentle surf and swell of the South Carolina Atlantic as it was in the North Pacific of Alaska with 12- to 15-foot swells and surf crashing over the rocks. The operating parameters and handling characteristics were slightly different, requiring a different set of techniques for passage. This is comparable to the process line that produces several different products on the same line. There are different sets of techniques for each product of the line – some techniques very similar and some decidedly different. Where are you going to train your people and how are you going to ensure the timely and effective communication of the equipment needs? Recognition of those needs (except in a highly automated process) depends on the awareness, attention and skill of the people involved and their willingness to share information and knowledge.

People will be the key to your success. People will use some methodology to achieve the success you and they desire. Are there external influences that can affect the safety of your people and the reliability of your equipment? What are the processes, and training techniques and leadership requirements, necessary for success? With just a little research into the proposed paddling route – i.e. starting point, finishing point and approximate mileage – we determined that we would be camping on the shores of waterways that washed against the land that has the highest per capita population of brown and black bears in the world. This created an additional need for awareness and preparation for safety and welfare. We had to research bear behavior, food storage and protective devices. Situational awareness was essential, especially since during the first three days of our journey we saw more bears than people.

Are your people encouraged to look for the unusual? Do you support their thinking “out of the box”? How do you respond to suggestions? Do you encourage people to have situational awareness? Remember, the best suggestions usually come from those closest to the action!

Encourage your people to look, suggest, analyze, review, try and evaluate existing and new paths and processes. Knowing that the bears are there should allow for the creation, training and practice of methodology to remain healthy and safe.

So, give some thought to your work environment:

  • Where are your bears? What procedural training is needed for your people to be safe?
  • What kayak is best for the environment? Do you have the people with the needed aptitude in the correct place?
  • Have you mastered the “Eskimo Roll” to recover when things get topsy-turvy? Do your people train often enough to retain the ability to master the challenge?
  • Is your PFD (personal flotation device) sized correctly and does it fit? Are your people supplied with the appropriate tools and equipment, trained with the tools and equipment, practiced with the tools and equipment in different environments, and comfortable with the challenge?
  • What is the immediate response if someone encounters a sea lion? A sea lion can suddenly appear beside the kayak, and they are very territorial. So, what do you encourage your people to do when faced with a safety surprise?

The end result of your thoughtful planning should be the health and welfare of every person.

About the author:
Al Emeneker, a subject matter expert at Life Cycle Engineering, has more than 30 years experience in the maintenance repair and maintenance reliability fields with companies including Union Camp Paper Company, Fluor, the U.S. Air Force and South Carolina Electric and Gas. You can reach Al at aemeneker@LCE.com. For more information on LCE, visit www.LCE.com.