The following account is based on a story told to me by a friend who is a millwright. I thought I’d share his story:
It’s been a day.
The company I now work for does maintenance at several different companies, one of them being a mid-sized tool & dye manufacturer that supplies the auto and aerospace industry. Due to the recent cuts in wages for new auto workers, the owners of this tool company (or company of tools) have lowered wages for new hires. They make $12 an hour for heavy work. We’re talking metal grinding, welding, machining, assembling, casting, woodworking, the works. But that’s sort of an aside.
Along with cutting wages, the company has decided to cut even more corners to feed the bottom line. This affects every facet of operations, from the sourcing of materials, to safety training, to frequency of maintenance, to hours worked. If you can make it worse, it’s happened at this company. It’s likely happened at every other manufacturer, laws of the almighty market and all, but the severity of the situation makes itself felt more keenly the closer you are to the source.
A lot of this deterioration is pretty inconspicuous, especially if, like most workers, you come in day in day out expecting to have a safe working experience and quality materials to work with. It could be something as simple as a drill bit being used a few inches past its recommended life span, or a few steps being shaved off the usual inspection routine to save a couple of minutes per part.
Mostly, the drills keep drilling and the parts pass muster. Oh, there are a couple of close calls here and there, probably more than the older workers remember seeing, but well within “accepted limits”. Maybe a frayed grinder disc accidentally catches and chips off the sharp edge of a tool, narrowly avoiding giving someone a lobotomy. Or maybe the forklift engine catches fire while transporting a load of compressed gas, because the company “forgot” to conduct routine maintenance (it costing money and all). These are both recorded incidents at this factory, occurring within the past two years.
Sometimes, those extra centimetres or seconds that make all the difference between mishap and tragedy decide not to show up to work. Today was that kind of day.
Today a tool assembly worker had his hand crushed underneath 700 pounds of aluminum, as he lifted a large tool with an overhead crane. One of the four hooks affixed to the corners of the object was structurally compromised and gave way just three feet off the ground, dumping the load onto the worker’s hand, who had been steadying it.
This man lost his right hand today. The owners are vacationing in the Maldives.
Was it preventable? Sure. The crane hadn’t received routine maintenance in several months, although the manual clearly specified (in bold type) that quarterly inspections were necessary. Other workers in that section reported having barely an hour of training with the equipment, which comes with an array of hooks and hoists and which is used to transport objects of varying sizes and shapes. On one of my trips to the factory, I saw that same crane swinging what looked to be a 1 ton piece of aluminum in a wider arc than is safe (no arcs are safe, the crane’s gotta be perpendicular to the ground).
Other workers told me today that they had asked for more training with the crane, preferably with the material handling company that installed it. They were told that the hour they had with the in-house lead hand was all they needed, and it would be a waste of time and company money to do otherwise.
At the time of the accident, another worker who was polishing metal nearby instinctively dropped the small pencil grinder he was using in a futile, but brave, attempt to somehow prevent the accident. The grinder, which was still on, tore through his jumpsuit and left a nasty gash on his thigh.
The sad, horrible irony of it all is this: Due to the accident, our maintenance company had to take apart and inspect the crane from top to bottom. It turns out that due to negligence, some of the ball bearings in the hoist had deteriorated to such an extent that another accident was not only possible, but likely, and within the next few months at that.
It took a horrible accident to prevent one of even more tragic proportions. I’m not privy to how this will all play out in the legal arena, but I do know that one man is in hospital and another scarred, for what are, for the owners at least, peanuts.