The easiest answer to the toughest questions about religion, business or politics is "Follow the money." You get to sound like you know where the money's going and who's handling it. But in material handling, everything is money, and that's why supply chain jobs are so challenging. So when we sent out our annual salary survey to the professionals who read Material Handling & Logistics and asked them to identify their biggest challenges, guess what topped their list—besides money.
"People" was actually the challenge that gave money a run for its money. The talent challenge is a money issue because if employers can't find enough talented people they end up paying more for the consequences of overwork, poor work, and unnecessary work.
Here are some verbatim responses to our "challenges" question:
• Aging workforce
• Recruiting young employees who are motivated.
• Younger personnel coming into the workforce unskilled.
• Not enough qualified applicants, cost cutting
• Balancing safety vs. efficiency
Dave Blanchard's Salary Survey analysis will help you follow the money implications of these answers, but two other features in this edition of MH&L go further into that last item on the above list. Safety is a key issue for people who purchase, manage and work around racking and dock equipment, but the hurry-up pace in both areas tends to divert attention from it. And combined with the fact that the workforce in these areas is both older and more prone to injuries and younger and more prone to accidents, it made sense to include features on rack safety and dock ergonomics in the same issue that puts money on its cover.
While preparing this issue we spoke to Jim Farnan, loss control manager at Arbella Insurance (www.arbella.com), He's been in the loss control industry working for insurance carriers for 34 years, and he's seen more than his share of cases involving back injuries in warehouses.
"We insure a lot of middle market type businesses and they're not likely to have a lot of automation in terms of conveyors and robotics," he says. "We see a lot of people going up and down aisles, pulling carts and pushing pallet jacks. In every case they need to lift something off a pallet from the floor level and put it back down on another pallet or in a cart. Doing that all day puts a lot of stress on the body and eventually people have a back injury or other muscle related injuries."
This is as much a communication issue as it is an equipment issue. Farnan sees many cases involving people for whom English is a second language at best. This can create problems if the employer isn't sophisticated enough to hire a trainer who is multilingual to get across the company's safety training.
"Many times these people don't understand what they're supposed to do or haven't received training on how to lift, so they put stresses on their body all day long because they're lifting wrong," Farnan explains. He adds, however, that he thinks employers are starting to understand the importance of fitting a job to the worker and they're interested in making changes to minimize lifting and repetitive motion.
Mark Grandusky, product sales manager at Gorbel (www.gorbel.com), makers of lift assist devices, told me it's not the 150-pound lifts that cause the problems, it's the 50-pound ones that start out easy until repetition takes effect.
"Those are the situations where people are tempted to say "I can get this done quicker by lifting it myself instead of using some lift solution," he says. And he understands that way of thinking. "Any assist device you put into an environment will not be as nimble or quick as the human body," he adds. "But an intelligent lifting device can integrate well with human motion, moving with the operator's body. Still, employers have to realize that putting in a lift assist requires time and training to incorporate into the daily work routine."
What does racking have to do with all this? That same attitude that causes people to forget proper lifting procedures also causes them to neglect that loose or absent support they've half-noticed while rushing down an aisle to retrieve an item. They're likely to continue their ignorance until that section of rack fails, causing other sections to fail along with it—right on top of that person.
Yes, this is our money issue. But I'll end this editorial with a question we didn't ask in our salary survey: Your money or your life?