We all fear most having something happen to us or one of our team members that doesn’t allow them to return home safely from work. We all have different safety protocols in place to eliminate or lessen risks at the workplace. Some risks are unavoidable, but regular inspections are a proven way to reduce unplanned equipment failures which result in an overwhelming majority of OSHA recordable incidents.
Meet Sandra. Sandra works on the second shift production crew at an air product manufacturer just outside Chicago. She is hard working, diligent, respectful, and has a great sense of humor which her children love around the dinner table. One thing she doesn’t take lightly is her responsibility to inspect her production line before and after every shift to ensure everything is in the proper working condition.
Now here’s Jay. Jay is Sandra’s boss and occupies the role of second shift production manager. He can’t speak highly enough of Sandra, but one thing that gets on his nerves is reviewing all the paperwork not only from Sandra, but from all his other direct reports every shift, then manually entering each issue onto the spreadsheet. From there he plans out the maintenance and enters the work orders that are supposed to be completed overnight between the second and first shift.
Jay loves to take weekend trips with his wife Teresa to a cabin on Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin where he meets his son Wes to fish. Jay is an engineer by trade, and loves working on new improvements at the plant. To him, all the maintenance gets in the way of what he really wants to do—help design the new production line that will improve their output by three times. Maybe then there won’t be as much demand for a second shift, and he can move back to first shift and have more time for dinners in the evening with Teresa and weekends for fishing with Wes.
That’s a dream scenario compared to what they’ve been dealing with recently. For the last year, any time there’s a problem, both Sandra and Jay end up working all weekend to fix the issue before first shift kicks back off on Monday morning. Usually, the failures that cause these challenges are the unplanned failures of the equipment that stems from poor preventative maintenance. These unplanned outages are what really steals away from both the things Sandra and Jay love, but they know it comes with the job. Neither one of them are happy about it, but the overtime pay assuages their frustration in the short term. But both of them know it doesn’t need to be like this.
Due to the increase in these unplanned types of failures, Jay’s boss John (the plant manager) is starting to apply a little heat to the production teams. A few more questions, a few more meetings, all in the attempt to hold the team more accountable. Jay wants to find additional tools that could help them catch preventable failures. These improvements would hopefully appeal to John and the company and also minimize the number of weekends he and Sandra have to stay on the clock.
Jay investigates a whole bunch of tools. Vibration monitors, IR cameras… all with software and hardware, and all extremely sophisticated. He’s interested, but the price tags of some of these items are outside what he knows will fly company wide.
Then he comes across an inspection tool solution that helps you simply gather all the data from your paper forms digitally and reports back only the relevant action items. He believes this could be the right first step in their reliability journey. The good news is, it’s a simple product with a low cost, something he can approve for his team.
He asks John if he can give it a shot on a trial basis. John gives the green light, and Jay sets up a time to go around with Sandra and set up the inspection forms.
He sets up each inspection form to mirrors exactly what they are doing today.
Then he configures the logic to allow him to receive an email every time an item is flagged during an inspection .
Lastly, he lets Sandra explain how it works to her co-workers and says for the next 5 days, they will do their inspection on the tablet instead of the paper forms. They are skeptical but open to giving it try on a short-term basis.
Here goes nothin’.
Within the first week, Jay gets on average one email alert a day with an item that Sandra or one of his team members flags. He immediately walks past that workstation, verifies the issue, then goes back to his desk and writes of the work order—with high priority—to get that item repaired overnight.
Nothing groundbreaking, but it seems to keep things organized, and best of yet—Jay doesn’t have to read every single form from all 8 of his team members. He just waits for the email alert to come to his phone. This saves him 40 minutes at the beginning of each shift.
There are a few challenges. One of the forms was missing a drop down they needed. One of the fields needed to be marked mandatory for completion and was not. But by day five they seemed be capturing everything they had previously been on paper, but this time with alerts, flags, photos, and comments.
And good thing.
Because today was the day. Sandra got to work after dropping her kids off at the babysitters and performed her inspection on the tablet. She noticed some extra wear on the one cylinder that was not there yesterday. She took a picture, flagged it, and gave a comment. She submitted her inspection.
Immediately Jay got the email and came over to Sandra’s workstation and looked at the wear. She was right, there was no way that should have happened in one day. That wear means that one of the ballasts was off balance and could have caused a much larger issue. If a ballast goes bad while in production, the whole machine could fail violently. Only Jay has seen that happen before. One of his technicians eight years ago was paralyzed from the event from the waist down. It was a sad situation.
Immediately he halts production through that line and re-routes it through the other streams. He and Sandra write up the work order and actually help repair the machine during that same shift. By the end of the shift, they are done repairing it, and both head home. On time.
No crisis. No damage, No safety violations, No OSHA recordables. No interruption to work or their daily lives. There was dinner that night with the family. There was fishing that weekend with Wes.
It was at that moment Jay realized this could be the solution to the challenges his team was battling. And better yet, this could unlock what he and Sandra really wanted. Less repair work. More time at home. Maybe first shift after all. Maybe working on things to improve the plant, not just keep it running.
It was the hope that lives could improve.