A situation in one of my previous career stops illustrates the importance of having a defined list of “work that is performed.”
The company I worked for had a three-roll mill, also called a paint mill. The mill was used to grind solid materials into fine particulate materials (usually suspended in a resinous mix).
In the past, I had written an operating procedure on the paint mill. The procedure included all of the basic elements of a procedure designed to facilitate learning. The procedure was put in place and employees were trained to its performance standards.
Several years later, an employee was cleaning the paint mill, and suffered a laceration when he contacted the edge of the mill’s “doctor blade.” (A doctor blade scrapes material off of the last roll, allowing it to be collected for storage.) An investigation took place, as would be expected when the organization declares “Safety is the core of all we do.” The investigation recommended a cover be built to cover the blade during cleaning, to prevent inadvertent contact. Good idea. So a cover was built, and it was placed onto the mill.
All was good and well until I was approached to “write a procedure describing the cover and the new cleaning method.” I knew I had written a procedure on the mill, and I was certain that the procedure must have included a section on cleaning. It did include a section on cleaning, but of course the blade cover was not mentioned (since it did not exist when I first wrote the procedure).
Had I gone forward and written the requested cleaning procedure, the following would have resulted: there would be two descriptions of how to clean the paint mill. One would describe the use of the cover and one would not. In other words, the procedures would contradict one another. And in terms of the site’s Quality Management System, both procedures would have been correct. But one procedure would have left workers exposed to a hazard.
The solution, of course, was to revise the existing procedure to include the new cleaning procedure (remove the old method and include the new). So the procedure was revised from beginning to end (it turned out the mill had been modified and no one thought to update the procedure, so several new features were described), and the new procedure was issued followed by training.
Could I have simply followed directions to write a procedure on the cleaning method? Sure; in fact it would have taken less time. But my mission was not to crank out procedures. It may have been part of my job description, but my mission was to enable the best possible performance (which included making sure the very best way to do something was the only way it was documented).
The establishment of–and adherence to–a definitive list of activities to be written as procedures is essential to ensuring only the relevant aspects of work are described, and described just once.
Until next post, take care, Tim