The events in Boston have dominated the news cycle, but the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas is the greater American tragedy by any measure. It’s important that we don’t forget that fact.
In the coming days and weeks the cause and blame for the horrible disaster in the tiny town of West will be thoroughly aired. Of that we can be sure. Regardless of how it turns out, however, everyone involved in manufacturing should take the terrible event at the factory as a sobering reminder of just how inherently dangerous manufacturing really is.
Manufacturing is all about the application of energy, and energy is a ferocious beast and one not easily tamed. With tremendous power and incredible heat basic materials are shaped and combined in ways nature did not intend them to be. It requires powerful forces to do this.
American factories are the safest in the world, and safer than they have ever been. So safe, in fact, we are too often lulled into a false sense of complacency. It is all too easy to tune out the noise of the stamping, grinding, drilling and cutting machines; to ignore the heat from the molding machines and furnaces; to accept the smell of the chemical processes as routine. But the noise, heat and odors should be warnings. They are telling us that tremendous – potentially lethal - power and energy are being applied around us, and that people’s lives depend on maintaining a high level of respect for the danger it represents.
Safety cannot be taken for granted, and there can be no manufacturing excellence without it. There is no value in manufacturing if the people engaged in it, their families, and the communities that support and co-exist with it are not safe. Safety really has to be Job #1.
I plan to write about the critical and logical nexus of lean manufacturing and safety this week. I am as guilty as anyone of taking it for granted. The entire manufacturing community should mourn for and reach out to the folks in West, Texas who have suffered so deeply. We should be especially thankful for the manufacturing professionals who make our factories as safe as they are, and make events like the fertilizer plant explosion appalling rarities. And we should make sure we keep the safety of our own factories at the top of our priorities.