Problem Solving Step One: Awareness

Aug. 1, 2006
A little consciousness raising goes a long way toward solving problems at both the facility and an industry-wide level.

Once you become aware of something, it's a little freaky how it starts popping up everywhere you go. Not because it's new, what has caught your attention has usually been there all along, but something happens to trigger your awareness.

It could be something important, or very mundane. For example, in our backyard we have an American basswood tree. It's suffering from some disease. All of the leaves are small and stunted. I know it's an American basswood because the guys at the local garden center looked it up for me. Also known as American linden, their book said it's a popular shade tree planted in many urban areas in the eastern United States. Now that I've learned something about this particular type of tree, and can recognize it, I see them all over town. Some have the same anemic leaf growth that our tree has.

My heightened state of tree awareness will eventually wear off. Trees will just be trees again. After all, there's only so much that we can keep top of mind as we go about our daily business. Of course it is some people's job to trigger and maintain our awareness of what's important.

This consciousness raising is the primary calling of the clergy. It's also the fundamental goal for marketing folks, and it's a key part of the job for many people involved in manufacturing and material handling as well, safety managers for example. Good safety managers and safety committees are constantly holding contests and giving out awards to increase employee awareness of workplace hazards and safe work practices.

It's with this type of awareness in mind that one letter writer in this issue (page 2) suggests that Material Handling Management should publish more stories about lift truck accidents, especially those involving bystanders. Like the smashed up cars placed on high school lawns during prom season to promote awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, such stories would remind lift truck operators that they need to follow safe work practices to protect both themselves and the people who work around these machines from injury. Not a bad idea.

On a broader front, industry awareness is the primary tool that the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is using to stop the theft of its plastic pallets. These pallets, which have doubled in price in two years, are slipping out of what's supposed to be a closed loop between the bulk mailers and postal sorting facilities.

Coincidentally, a few days after editing Clyde Witt's cover story on this topic ("Pilfered Pallets," page 18), I was picking up a new desk at a furniture store and noticed a large stack of the black and orange USPS pallets standing next to the shipping door. The employees of the national chain outlet—which will remain nameless—were oblivious to the "US Postal" molded into the side of the pallets. If I hadn't read the story, I wouldn't have recognized that those pallets were not where they were supposed to be either.

Now that you're aware of the problem, take a look around and see if any of these stolen pallets have found their way into your material handling operations.