Question: Safety training is a good thing, but what real equipment benefits do you realize from the hours an otherwise-productive operator spends in training?
Answer: "Operating safely has become one of the most important things this company does, but my goal as an equipment manager when we started doing task training was to dry up machines—to stop oil leaks. Oil causes dirt to stick and then oil and dirt begin to build up in layers. That traps heat and causes components to wear," says Dick Hicks, general manager of equipment at Callanan Industries. "We've extended life of every component we have because operators are trained now to give us the information we need to stop the leaks and prevent that wear."
About 10 years ago, after Oldcastle acquired Callanan, the Irish parent company launched a huge initiative to reduce lost-time accidents and their accompanying insurance costs. The corporation committed significant resources to an effective training program, a byproduct of which was a dream come true for the fleet manager. Training started with a detailed description of all tasks the company asks its people to perform. It included what operators and mechanics are expected to do for equipment.
Callanan, like all the companies owned by Oldcastle, scheduled spring meetings to bring operators and employees together to talk about safe practices.
"Training focuses on the safety issues they need to know for the daily equipment walk-around and operations—what MSHA requires—but it also goes further, telling them what Callanan expects from them on the care and custody of the machine," Hicks says. "Keeping the windows clean, the cab free of debris, and making sure the back-up alarms and gauges work are all important safety items. We also stress how important it is to tell us about mechanical problems, even if it's just cracked glass or hose leaks. It all goes on the vehicle condition reports (VCRs) that have to be filled out every day.
"We basically told them, 'we want you to treat this machine like you treat your pickup truck.' A lot of these guys have six-year-old pickup trucks that look like they just rolled off the showroom floor. It doesn't make any sense for them to spend all day making their living in a haul truck that's worth $500,000, and then leave it covered in oil and dirt."
Before training commenced in earnest, operators probably didn't understand how much Callanan's performance depended on them. Hicks discovered that some operators didn't know they could call attention to minor mechanical problems such as oil leaks, or didn't believe it would make any difference if they did mention them. Not everybody knew how committed the company's new owners had become to keeping operators equipped with effective machines.
The training program set about clarifying Callanan's renewed commitment to safety and efficiency. Safety teams—made up of workers from each crew—now meet weekly to talk about safety issues and to look for ways to eliminate risks that create near misses and accidents. They meet with the corporate safety department once a month to alert the safety professionals to systemic issues that need to be addressed.
Workforce training is supported with leadership training. Middle managers—foremen, plant supers, some general managers—meet twice a year for a two-day overview of safety performance. They recap each operation's safety record and production record.
It sounds like a lot of meeting, but Hicks says communication pays off. People doing the work need to get together to talk about how to do it safely and productively.
"It took a while for people to buy into the whole program, but we kept after the training and started rewarding crews that have good safety records. They eventually came around," Hicks says. "When they did, there was a significant change in peoples' attitudes, work habits, and our safety record."
Hicks' mechanics integrated information coming from VCRs with maintenance scheduling. Serious mechanical problems are fixed right away, but operator comments calling for less-critical repairs are entered on the machine's service record. When the work order is pulled for the unit's next oil change, mechanics can easily deal with the incidental repairs.
The system, and the training behind it, has directly improved component lives.
"I had done a three-year analysis of costs when we were developing this training program," Hicks says. "And I figured we could save in six-digit numbers just on component rebuilds.
"It's hard to say how component life has changed company-wide because the level of difficulty of work at each operation really affects it. But I manage the budgets. When you're spending less dollars on repairs, you know its working.
"We've been doing this well for four or five years now and we're starting to split hairs on costs," Hicks says. "There are no more 10-percent savings to lop off, so we're just shaving costs a little at a time."