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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Signs, Bad Signs



I see a lot of signs posted on factory walls that make very little sense to me.  Some are clearly useful: exit signs, signs indicating where the fire extinguishers are, labels that tell you what should be stored in a given spot (a section of floor, a rack, or a bin on a shelf).  The signs to which I object are those that seem slightly insulting, admonishing you, but not making it clear what you are expected to do.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility.”
“Quality starts with you.”
“Safety first.”
“A safe factory is a happy factory.” “A clean factory is a safe factory.”
“Keep this area clean.”
Signs such as these are from a paternal the company telling us to be good, in a very general way.  In no case are they telling us what is expected of us.  What do you want me to do?  What do you want me to not do? What precautions do you want me to take?
“No smoking allowed.”  This makes sense.  If I should not smoke here, for whatever reason, I should be told.  This is one way of telling me.
“Hard Hat Area”  “Safety Glasses Required” These let me know and remind me to wear my hard hat and my safety glasses.  Similar signs could apply to shoes and hearing protection.
“Record production data every hour.”  I am being told what is expected of me.  Every hour I should pause and record data about my production. “Measure and record the OD on five pieces every fifteen minutes.  Enter results on the Control Sheet.” This tells me precisely what I need to do, as does, “Go through start-up check list before running machine.”
“Caution – Forklift Traffic.”  “Caution – High Voltage”  “Caution – Very Hot.”  These warn me to take precautions.
Signs that are often missing, but provide useful information to the operators inform them what the operating range should be on gages and digital readouts, and what to do if the indictor is above or below the operating range.
Some of the most insulting signs I have seen have been in factory restrooms that are not cleaned with enough regularity and have toilets and basins that don’t work. “Keep this restroom clean,” makes no sense at all, if it is already a mess.  A sign telling me who to inform if restroom conditions are unsatisfactory is another thing completely, if informing leads to correcting such conditions.
Tell me what you expect me, specifically, to do or not do.
Give me information and concrete instructions for my own and other’s safety. Where do I need to take extra precautions?
Quality and safety do not come from generalized signs.  They come from systems that are led by managers.  The systems may require certain behaviors or precautions to be followed consistently, and signs are one way to let people know this.



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