Chain of Thought

Industry Owes Respect to Rube Goldberg

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Employers who fail to teach workers their interconnection with the workplace will learn a lesson they may not survive.

I’ll bet you never saw the names Rodney Dangerfield and Rube Goldberg used together in the same sentence—until now. The reason I’m splicing them together in this blog comes down to one word: respect.

Rodney was a funny guy who built a career on one premise: “I don’t get no respect, no respect at all.” Rube Goldberg was a funny guy who made a name for himself in the early part of the 20th century with cartoons depicting deliberately over-engineered systems of devices that together perform a simple task in a complex fashion. Some wise-guy 21st century engineer might call Goldberg one of the first material handling consultants.

No respect.

My linkage of these two men is about as over-engineered as one of Goldberg’s cartoons. But believe it or not, I do have a point to make. Too many young people who get their first job in a warehouse give material handling no respect—no respect at all. The result of that ignorance isn’t funny.

Take the case of the young man whose first day on the job at a Bacardi Bottling Corp. plant in Jacksonville, Fla., was his last.  He was crushed to death by a palletizer.  It happened last August. Apparently he was cleaning glass from under the hoist of the machine when a fellow employee restarted the palletizer.  In an OSHA press release describing the incident—and the penalties Bacardi faces—it’s pointed out that this company “failed to train temporary employees on utilizing locks and tags to prevent the accidental start-up of machines and to ensure its own employees utilized procedures to lock or tag out machines.”

Material handling requires respect or it will kill you. A palletizer is part of a system that includes conveyor, controls and people, and like any Rube Goldberg machine, one action in the system leads to another. The people in these systems must be trained to respect that law, which is the very reason behind lockout/tagout procedures.

OSHA cited Bacardi with 12 alleged safety violations as a result of that kid’s death.  David Michaels, assistant secretary of labor for OSHA, added insult to that injury:

"A worker's first day at work shouldn't be his last day on earth.  Employers are responsible for ensuring the safe conditions of all their employees, including those who are temporary."

That safety comes with training, which Bacardi didn’t deliver. So not only did that kid fail to respect the interconnections of the material handling system he worked beside, so did Bacardi. The kid paid with his life. Bacardi’s penalty is two willful citations “for failing to develop, document and utilize lockout/tagout procedures for the control of potentially hazardous energy and train temporary workers on lockout/tagout procedures.”  A willful violation is one committed with intentional knowledge of or voluntary disregard for the law's requirements or with plain indifference to worker safety and health.

Michaels had something else to say about this.

"We are seeing untrained workers – many of them temporary workers – killed very soon after starting a new job. This must stop. Employers must train all employees, including temporary workers, on the hazards specific to that workplace – before they start working. Had Bacardi done so, this tragic loss of life could have been prevented."

Material handling deserves respect. So do material handlers, even if they’re temps. But let’s face it, we’re all temporary components in this Rube Goldberg contraption called life. We’re all responsible for learning the consequences of our actions.  Respect for this philosophy will help ensure a long service life before we’re replaced.

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