Category Archives: safety

5 Signs that you may need a new shift schedule

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Shift schedules rarely fail overnight.  Typically, there are plenty of warning signs; signs that tell you to take action before it’s too late.  Here are the 5 biggest warning signs.

#1: You have idle equipment while still not producing enough to meet customer demands.  There can be a lot of reasons for this; nearly all of which point to a schedule that does not have the right people in the right place at the right time.  Product flow, staffing, maintenance and production order variability can all be addressed with the right shiftwork structure.

#2: Maintenance is blaming equipment availability for a downward trend in equipment up-time.  You can’t fix something while it’s running.  The result is often and solution like “We’ll wait until the weekend to fix it.”  This is fine until you find that leaving too much to the weekend ends up with an overly fatigued maintenance group with not enough hours on the weekend to fix everything.  Scheduling equipment, like scheduling people, can improve maintenance accomplishment while still getting the production hours you need.

#3: Absenteeism is going up as overtime starts to wear down your workforce.  As overtime goes up, two things will happen.  First of all, your workforce will start to get tired.  Secondly, they will notice that they are now making a lot of money and can afford to take time off.  This is a “death spiral”  situation in that it is self-perpetuating and will only get worse.  Staffing will impact overtime but to do so effectively, you must have a shiftwork structure to support the newly resized workforce.

#4: Local competition for labor is causing problems with recruitment and retention.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard something like “Amazon just opened a mega-facility down the street and is hiring all of our employees away from us.”  The right schedule, one that is a good fit for your workforce as well as your business can help with this.  If wages are a concern, look for ways to get overtime to that 20% of your workforce that wants all they can get.  Overtime costs your company about the same as fully loaded straight time.  This means when you pay overtime, your employees make 50% more but your cost per hour is virtually unaffected.  Don’t lose your workforce because of wage pressures or quality of life issues.  The right shiftwork structure can help.

#5: Productivity metrics are dropping as equipment runtime-hours are on the rise.  If you are running more an more hours with the same old schedule, then you are probably seeing an increase in overtime.  While overtime is not a bad idea in many instances, it can eventually lead to worker fatigue.  This is especially true if you spread it evenly across all shifts.  Remember, not all employees want the same amount of overtime.  As fatigue goes up, so will accidents, quality issues and absenteeism.  You make find, for example, that running 6 days a week yields more output than running 5 days.  However, if you didn’t change schedules, a 20% increase in runtime will yield significantly less than a 20% increase in output.

In summary, don’t underestimate the impact of having the right shiftwork structure.  Fixing this issue is often the most expeditious and cost effective way of improving your overall operations.

For more information, call me, Jim Dillingham, at (415) 265-1621 or drop me a line at Jim@shift-work.com

Shift Schedules for the Food Manufacturing Industry

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Shift work – The more you learn about it, the more you find out how much you didn’t know.

I have friends that know very little about what I do for a living.  When I say “I evaluate, design and implement shift schedules,” they will respond with “Aren’t all shift schedules basically the same?”

I will respond with something neutral like “sometimes” and leave it at that.  They are laymen who are not involved in the business of running a business that needs to cover something other than Monday through Friday, day shift.

However, if you are in that business, the business using shift work, then you know what I’m saying when I tell you, “There is far more to shift work than schedules.”

To this end, I have decided to write a series of blogs that talk about how shift work varies from one industry to the other.

I will start with the Food Manufacturing Industry.

The one thing that sets the Food Manufacturing Industry apart from all others is the need to sanitize.  Depending on the nature of their product and process, this can mean shutting down weekly or even daily for several hours to clean.

Most companies over-clean.  They do this because their shift schedule makes them do it.

Over-cleaning creates overtime.  It increases costs and eats into valuable capacity (it’s not unusual for a food production line to cost well over $10 million.)

How does the schedule make them do this?

Following a typical growth pattern for most industries, they handled expansion through a combination of capital acquisition and the addition of afternoon and night shifts.  They plan for 5-day operations and base their capacity on that.

Now, let’s take a 3 typical sanitation requirements and see how a schedule affects them.

  1. You must clean when you shut down.  This requirement has nothing to do with periodicity.  So, if you shut down every day, then you must clean every day.  If you shut down once a week, then you must clean once a week.  If you never shut down, then you must never clean due to this requirement alone.
  2. You must clean when you change products, especially if allergens are part of the equation.  If you are running, for example, 5 lines Monday through Friday and you need to convert one of the lines over to peanut-free, then you must shut down that line and clean it.  This takes that expensive line out of the production mode which means (assuming you need the production) either weekend work or the need to buy more capital.  If you had an idle line, you could simply set up that line and then shift to it when needed.  A better schedule can make this happen.
  3. You must shut down based on a biological emergence rate.  Bacteria become a hazard in a very predictable time frame based on conditions.  The same is true for a number of other pests. The schedule being worked has no impact on this.

Let’s suppose that in you operation, you are running 7 lines for 5 days.  This means you are using 35 line-days a week.

Suppose you went to running 5 lines for 7 days a week.  This still gives you 35 line-days a week.  However, this also addresses the first two issues above.  Running 24/7 on a line means you no longer have to clean a line weekly just because you are shutting down weekly.  It also frees up other lines so you can switch from one line to the other without experiencing lost production time.

So, just looking at sanitation alone, we can see that just changing from 5 day operation to 7 day operation can save capacity and eliminate over-sanitation.

Freeing up extra lines also allows maintenance to work on equipment without having to wait until the weekend (where they now try to do a week’s work in 2 days.)

Freeing up extra line also allows you to do setups on one line while the other line is running.  You can then shift to the newly set up line without losing production.

Does this mean that you should be running your operation 24/7?

It’s never that easy.  Food Manufacturing has a lot of moving parts, schedule-wise.  Sanitation aside there is also seasonality, new product introduction etc.

The best schedule is one that carefully considers everything from both a business and an employee perspective.  Every industry is unique.  Every company is unique.  Every facility is unique.

It should not come as a surprise that every shift work solution is unique as well.

My name is Jim Dillingham.  If you have any questions, please call me at (415) 265-1621 or send me an email at Jim@shift-work.com.

What is the Worst Shift to Work? Night Shift? Afternoon Shift?

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In my last post I talked about shift workers’ preferred shift, which is day shift, and the implications of that preference on worker satisfaction levels.  An obvious follow-on question to the preferred shift assignment is to understand shiftworkers’ least-preferred shift.
Over the last 23 years working with shift work operations, I have observed that there is often one least preferred shift at a site, and it is either the night shift (also known as 3rd, graveyard, or sometimes the hoot-owl or hoot shift) or the afternoon shift (2nd or swing shift).  Which shift is least preferred at a particular site is typically driven by the demographics of the work group and the work environment.

Here are the overall results from our database of survey responses to the question “What is your least-preferred 8-hour shift?” : Least preferred 8-hour shift.

 

From a sleep management perspective, most shiftworkers have more trouble getting enough good-quality sleep on the night shift.  This makes it less desirable for facilitating high alertness.  On the other hand, it allows the people on night shift to meet other obligations in their lives like managing child care, going to school, working a second job, and spending time with their families.

Afternoon shift allows many shift workers to manage their sleep patterns better (second shift workers get more sleep than either day shift or afternoon shift) so they often feel better on this schedule than on a night shift schedule.  The main downside to the second shift is that it requires work during the “prime-time” evening hours when family and friends are available.  For parents, this can be a deal-breaker since it may mean that they almost never see their families during the workweek.

This difference of opinion on the least desired shift is an opportunity when it comes to staffing your shift schedule.  On an 8-hour schedule, it is often possible to give an overwhelming majority of folks either their first or second choice of shift assignments and avoid the least desirable shift.  All it takes is some flexibility in the shift-bid system and sufficient cross-training of the workforce to meet the skill requirements on all shifts.

If you have questions about shift-workers’ shift schedule preferences or shift staffing issues, please call us at (415) 763-5005.  Or you can email me, Dan Capshaw, directly at dan@shift-work.com.

Safety Footnotes

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At Shiftwork Solutions, safety concerns are definitely something we have to pay attention to.  We keep abreast of safety research as it applies to shiftwork and bring that knowledge to the table when working with companies.

Over the years, there are a few standard issues that come up.  I’d like to cover those now.  I also would like to bring up a few safety practices that I have seen at other sites which lent themselves well to the establishment of a strong safety program.

As they occur to me…

  1. As you age, your ability to get enough sleep in one session diminishes.  You main sleep period will shorten and you will find the need to nap during the day goes up.
  2. Shift length plays a very small role in how much sleep you get in a day.  A person on an 8-hour shift may get a few more minutes of sleep when compared to a person on a 12-hour shift.  However, we get a great deal more sleep on days that we don’t come in to work; about 60 to 90 minutes more.  So, its better to work a shift with more days off.  This usually means longer shifts.
  3. The older you get, the harder it is to work more days in a row.  It is also harder to adjust to different shifts – a problem that is growing smaller as more and more companies get away from rotating shifts.
  4. You need about 8-hours of sleep a day.
  5. When people become sleepy, they care less about doing a good job.  This will start to show up in small ways as people begin to take short-cuts in their work.  Short-cuts can lead to quality, production and safety problems if left unchecked.
  6. Naps are a great investment.  A short, 10-15 minute nap can make you alert for the next several hours.  The problem with napping at work is that we don’t fall asleep instantly and, we need to deal with sleep inertia – the grogginess we feel after waking.
  7. A workforce that starts its day shift at 7:00 am will get about 20 more minutes per night than a workforce that starts its day shift at 6:00 am.
  8. People learn by (1) doing the task or (2) reading about the task or (3) watching the task being done or (4) conceptually imagining how the task might be done.  Apply this to safety at your site.  Don’t just rely on one method of making people “safety aware.”
  9. At one site I worked at, every time a group of people got together for a meeting, the first thing they did was ask “Who wants to tell us about a task they have coming up?”  The volunteer might say, “I am going to the warehouse to pick up some spare parts.”  Next, every single member would have to point out a safety item dealing with that task.  For example: “Make sure to wear your safety belt on the drive over” or “When you get there, make sure you wear the proper protective equipment” or “Check the pressure on your tires before the drive.”  As you can see, no issue is too small and there are lots of issues.  This exercise forces everyone to “think” for a moment.  I really like this idea.
  10. At another site, you never said “good-bye” or “I’ll see you around.”  The parting comment was always, “Work Safe.”
  11. I was at a mine where there were nearly 100 huge trucks moving around the site at any one time.  One thing we did was track accidents by time of the week.  Every week we could see which hour had the most safety incidences.  When that hour came up the following week, we would go out on the general communication system and say, “You are now entering the most dangerous hour of the week.”  That hour nearly always became one of the safest hours of that week.
  12. When I go to a site, I sometimes leave off my safety glasses or ear plugs and see how the workforce responds.  When I get stopped right away by an hourly guy telling me to put on glasses, I know I am at a well run plant.  A plant that has a strong safety program is typically strong at a lot of other things as well.

Work safe.

Jim