Our June cover photograph features a machine tool operator using a touch probe to measure a recently cut metal part. We received about two dozen letters from readers concerned that the operator wasn't wearing safety glasses. One subscriber was so upset by the photograph that he canceled his subscription.
How do I defend our apparent disregard for safety on the shop floor? I can't. There is no excuse for not wearing appropriate safety equipment when necessary. However, let me explain a few issues about that particular photograph.
First, the tool in use is a touch probe, not a cutting tool. The operator is measuring the part, not cutting it. Therefore, in reality no metal chips are flying through the air to impale our intrepid machine tool operator. The metal chips visible in the photo are in the background, left over from the cutting tool process.
Second, the machine tool should have a protective shield in place while the cutting tool is in use. I can't tell from this photograph whether that's the case. A protective shield offers far more protection to an operator than safety glasses alone. Unfortunately, many manufacturing environments don't have such equipment in place to protect their operators.
Third, the photograph was taken for a magazine cover and doesn't represent real life. Yes, I know we should present a safe work environment in all of our photographs. Instead of portraying an image that communicated the importance of safety, we let art take precedence over safety, which we have the luxury of doing. Obviously, safety should be the No. 1 concern in any manufacturing environment.
This issue brings up an interesting point: Most quality processes focus on saving money, streamlining processes or meeting customer requirements. Of course, everyone knows that quality offers a number of added-value benefits, including reducing workplace injuries. However, these benefits tend to be glossed over in the quality media, the corporate boardroom and even in international standards. The word "safety" doesn't even appear in ISO 9001.
When safety and quality are mentioned in the same sentence, it's usually regarding product safety, not workplace safety. If you think that workplace safety isn't as much quality's responsibility as manufacturing engineering's or environmental health and safety's, think again. Each year, U.S. organizations spend more than $60 billion on workplace injuries and illnesses, according to The Workers' Compensation Monitor. Who pays for your organization's workplace injuries? Ultimately, your customers. Safety's important enough to Chrysler, Ford and General Motors that they made it an integral part of QS-9000.
I'd like to know more about how Quality Digest readers use their quality management systems to reduce workplace injuries. E-mail your success stories and not-so-successful stories to me at email@example.com. I'll try to share some of them in future issues.