A look back by Warren Morrison
By Warren MorrisonBy Joan Bittel>
When I first was introduced to airline catering in 1981 until I retired in 2001, I witnessed some phenomenal changes within our company that impacted ramp safety. Management went from "my way or the highway" to a more softer manner of managing people, looking for ways to get the best from its people. This new style impacted ramp safety training and development and customers became more aware of how our ramp safety directly impacted their business. Also, the changing labor pool forced ramp training to take a closer look at how people learn.
Historically, operations looked to the past safety record for safety training direction. Management worked under the principle that the best predictor of a future event was a past act. Details were kept on accidents. Training was directed towards preventing those accidents from happening in the future. Most of the ramp audit forms reflected past problems. This type of management produced excellent training films focused on teaching new employees and existing employees how to avoid acts that had been costly to the company.
However, safety people are educated to look for the unsafe acts and unsafe conditions as well paying attention to the past accident rate. It was frustrating for our safety people at Dobbs International (now Gate Gourmet) in the 1980s to continually run into management resistance to allocate financial resources to fix an unsafe condition or unsafe act.
Towards the middle half of the 1980s, Dobbs International adopted a participative type of management style called the quality process, which looked at the cost of non-conformance and began to develop preventative measures to reduce cost. The idea of fixing something before it broke was right out of the safety textbook. This process reduced cost and streamlined many functions. A major change that continues today was the introduction of safety teams, called PRIDE teams (Personal Responsibility In Daily Effort).
Another new management practice was to install computers in the kitchens. Within hours of an incident, all the units would be alerted through the use of e-mail. Worker compensation was tracked as well as aircraft damages. These records were kept by airline and location and any manager could assess that information. Safety teams began to meet in each kitchen to talk about safety. This process encouraged employees to develop professionally to stretch their personal limits, to strive for error-free work. As more computers became available, the first-line supervisor could have direct contact with headquarter's safety. Headquarter's safety was charged with developing the training and producing the training videos. As the Safety Director for Dobbs, the quality process had taught me to think outside the box and to ask operations for their solutions to problems. Most importantly, I learned to shut up and listen. I also learned to seek forgiveness, not permission. The use of this type of autonomy as a management tool sometimes was uncomfortable, but it produced results.
Starts From The Top
One of the changes that occurred during my time in safety was that upper management began to listen. For the first time, the CEO asked what I needed to improve our safety record. One of the answers to that question was partly buried in the way we controlled the purse strings. Bridging ramps is a good example of safety equipment needed in all of the units. These are the ramps that actually act as the bridge between the aircraft and the catering truck. When visiting a unit, I would let them know of the new ramps under testing and they would be interested. The regional comptroller would see a request for ramps. The manager might be challenged by the comptroller about the need for ramps. The argument was, since there had been no bridging ramp accidents at that unit, why buy them or why buy them now? The comptroller's challenge usually made a timid manager stop the ramp order. The more aggressive manager would order them anyway or come up with creative ways to get around the "finance police." Towards the end of my safety time, I saw safety protective items, like bridging ramps, placed on the overall budget of the headquarter's safety department. Now, managers do not have to wait until there is an incident to order safety equipment. When a unit needs a bridging ramp, they simply order one.
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