Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Plant Tour: A Tool for Improving Performance

Magazine article Occupational Hazards

The Plant Tour: A Tool for Improving Performance

Article excerpt

The plant or facility tour plays a central role in helping the safety and health professional understand business activity and its associated risks and hazards. It is through these tours that we learn about management and its organization, the manufacturing processes, the operating culture and, ultimately, the interrelationships between facilities hardware (buildings, manufacturing equipment, data processing, vehicles, etc.) and the software (culture, informal networks, training programs, etc.). One of the primary reasons for any business professional to take a plant tour is to assist in enhancing performance at the facility being visited or to generate learning to improve performance at another facility.

Whether it is the first or 100th visit, what can we do to leverage the value of our visit for the organization? A recent Harvard Business Review article, "Why (and How) to Take a Plant Tour,"(1) provides valuable insight for health and safety professionals. In this column, we presume health and safety professionals represent a unique niche of professionals who have traveled through manufacturing plants, buildings and a wide variety of workplaces. If these professionals were to expand their tour beyond H&S management systems and include business systems, we believe they could achieve significant leverage and integration.

Preparing for a Facility Tour

To achieve the maximum value from a facility tour, preparation is essential. Before arriving at the facility, establish tour objectives and a fundamental understanding of the plant's business strategy and management systems. This can be accomplished by answering the following questions:

* Why we are taking the tour? What kind of tour are we taking - learning, assessment or teaching?

* What does the facility do?

* What do we want to achieve during the tour?

* What facility staff do we want to have on the tour to optimize its value?

* What is the strategic objective of the facility to be visited?

* What are the facility's or firm's core values? * Does the facility have a health, safety and environmental policy? If so, what criteria are used to evaluate policy compliance?

* What measures of environmental, health and safety, financial and quality performance are in use? (Try to review performance before arriving.)

* What is the strategy for improving performance, and how is it communicated?

* What systems are in place to manage the facility (including health and safety)?

The visitor's objectives should be communicated to the site representative before the tour begins to assure that the correct facility people will be available, the areas of primary interest are visited and necessary background records are available. Types of tours include:

Learning Tours: Learning tours are conducted to develop an understanding of the operations so that professionals can better integrate their professional skills into the business or apply what is learned elsewhere. When taking these tours, focus on practices rather than numbers. Try to get a deep understanding of how work is done and the unique practices used, i.e., learn how employees interact with operations. Are they caretakers who feel obligated to tend to the process, or are they crafts-people who take pride in their work and are always looking for ways to improve the process? …

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