Before I started this blog, I started a safety blog. If you’ve ever been by there, you know how I feel about safety and the choices people make to be safe or to take risk. And if you’ve ever read my stuff there, it would come as no surprise to you that in interviewing candidates for manufacturing roles, I spend some time poking at their views on personal accountability.
Ralph worked on an assembly line, on a feeder line he told me. A feeder line is sub-assembly point where components are built up and fed to the main assembly line. In this case, the main line was building refrigerators, and his feeder line assembled compressor units. He worked with two other guys in this area, and his specialty involved soldering of pipe joints into the compressor.
“Assembly line work can be tough, can’t it?” I was curious about his impressions. I had interviewed dozens of candidates who worked at this particular factory.
“Nah,” he replied. “Me, Tony, and Joe got a system. We gotta provide 15 units an hour, ’cause that’s all the line can handle. We figured out how to get that done in half the time, so we get four hours done in two, and then we can kick back until lunch. It’s pretty easy actually.”
Much had been written and publicized about our our teamwork and flow-to-work approach. I was beginning to think he didn’t read the paper much.
“Kick back? Didn’t they assign you somewhere else? Could you take the time to learn something else?” I was giving him an opening here.
“No, they aren’t set up that way. The supervisor was usually coming by to tell us to slow down. He was worried about the burns. Said our rushing things was creating a hazard.”
“Burns? What kind of hazard was that, were there burns on the units?” I was really interested in where this was going.
Ralph rolled up the sleeve covering his right forearm. He proudly showed me at least 6 scars about the size of a dime. Assuming he hadn’t burned the same spot twice.
“Sometimes when I turn the unit on my bench I get burned by the pipes. That’s why they don’t want us to rush.”
I started to think about how to get him to understand how we view safety, and I suddenly realized something. He’s not my problem, and I have no intention of making him my problem.
I went on to the last few questions, thanked him for his time, and let him know we would follow up with him one way or the other.
Scott Geller, a prominent thinker in safety management, said it best.
The improvement of others results from acting people into thinking differently rather
than targeting internal awareness or attitudes so as to think people into acting differently.
Ralph’s thinking was about minimizing effort, which isn’t all that bad. To be willing to sacrifice injury to achieve that, however, would have doomed him in our environment.
How many interviews had you had that were over well before the last question?