Investing in Cleanliness

Machine shops are all over the map when it comes to cleanliness: numerous factors contribute to whether one can “eat off the shop floor” or if one is better off looking up so they don’t have to see the grime layer they’re stepping on.  Not every shop can look like a medical clean room, nor should they.  However, the right employees care about the space where they spend 8 or more hours a day, good customers care about the kind of place their parts are made in, and good vendors prefer to spend time in their favored environments.

So, after the ownership and much of the management of the business changed a few years ago, we cleaned up, we organized, and we removed clutter.  It took years to deal with decades of accumulation and with a culture that initially did not value it, either from management or employees.

We thought we had cleaned up a bit, then we upgraded the shop to bright LED lighting, and it looked dirty again, because it was.  Over time, we cleaned and deep-cleaned machines, removed materials we didn’t want to work with, filtered air, fluids and machines like we had never done.  Our COO conducted proper mop-handling training sessions.  We became fanatics of some totally awesome cleaner we probably can’t name, yet eliminated any cleaner that might have been remotely hazardous or environmentally questionable.  We went to every corner of the shop, from the stock room to shipping, and any mezzanine in between.  We took time from the shifts to do this and what a difference it has made: we have been able to attract people who would never have considered working here previously, we have a workforce who mostly “wants to work here” as opposed to “has to work here”.  We have vendors commenting about this and spending more time with us, not selling but helping us solve problems.  When customers visit, they are free to go everywhere, not just the orchestrated tour that previously only allowed them to see the acceptable areas.  We’ve been able to gain customers on that alone – that “care” factor, the one that says we’ll care about their parts since we care about our place, our employees and our equipment.Cleanliness is worth it – it may look like a cost, but it’s really an investment with constant returns.

Safety as a mindset and piece of our culture

Safety is so much more than personal protective equipment: it’s about a work environment, a respectful culture and paying attention to the things that over time become invisible or taken for granted.

Safety is many things: safety glasses, earplugs, steel-toed footwear, lock-out/tag-out processes, evacuation routes, protection from harassment or workplace violence.  Safety is also numerous standards and compliance areas.  Managing safety is hard, expensive and relentless but the alternative can be injury, dismemberment or even death, so it really has to be an organized company-wide effort.

Common sense dictates that everyone must have that “safety first” mindset but of course that’s not true.  A few years back, after the business changed hands, it felt like safety was a box to be checked, and filed away until the next quarterly meeting; safety was also focused on the walk-throughs conducted with experts such the worker’s comp or insurance people, i.e. a lot of “slips, trips, and falls” topics, which, while important, were far from the highest risk areas.  From a business perspective, of course we’re fully insured, but the cost of an accident goes much beyond dollars – it’s about reputation, trust of employees, safeguarding assets, avoiding fines etc…

We had to become the experts.  So we had to open our eyes and make a real effort to take a new look at places we had seen so often that we actually really did not see them anymore.

We also culturally lowered the threshold of “acceptable risk”:  the instances of “just this once, I can take a shortcut”, or “I do it at home, it must be ok here too”, or “ that’s ridiculous, it will take me 10 seconds if I just lean in”, have been eliminated and in some cases have led to disciplinary action.  This is also accompanied by the duty to “say something” or stop operations if someone is taking risks – this is not tattling, will not lead to retaliation.

We spent time on training, have met with local fire and police departments, and take every opportunity to discuss with vendors and inspectors about best practices.  We’ve proceeded with voluntary audits and made substantial changes.

But we’re not done yet: it’s now clear to all that “safety matters”, but we need to keep reminding employees every single day that safety is not just a requirement from management  but about taking care of themselves and their team members on the job.  When it comes to safety, we really are all in this together, and that cultural mindset seed keeps growing every day.