A house a couple of doors down and one street over from my house caught on fire last summer. It didn't burn down, which would have made it easier for the city to justify signing off on a demolition order. Instead, it has stood — forlorn and ugly and empty — for a year.
Honestly, I've become so accustomed to seeing that house from my back windows and from my backyard, that I barely notice it anymore. I long ago stopped nagging my cash-strapped city to tear it down, and while other homes in the neighborhood have been demolished or rehabbed, it remains standing — a testament to urban blight.
Today, the sun was shining and the temperature hovered around 80 for only the second time since last September, so I went home for lunch. As I was holding my back door open to let my dogs out, I happened to glance over at the house. And what I saw was this: a hugely fat raccoon waddling across the home's garage roof and hoisting itself into an open window on the second story.
Upon closer inspection, I realized that Mother Nature slowly is reclaiming the home. Vines are growing uncontrolled over broken windows and into the house, birds and bats are roosting up near the roof and obviously, some four-footed friends have turned it into a co-op for critters.
When did the house go from being an irritating eyesore to this?
I realized that I look at that house several times a day. I've looked at it so many times over the past year that I no longer “see” it. This made me think about the other things I don't “see,” even though I'm looking right at them. I realized my desk was a perfect example of this phenomenon: piles of papers and magazines that are in danger of toppling over, rings from my coffee mug, pens and paperclips hidden under piles of junk… I spent most of the afternoon today clearing it off and cleaning it up.
When you look around your facility, what aren't you seeing? Are you seeing oily or wet spots on the floor or uneven flooring? Are you noticing burned out light bulbs or inadequate task lighting? What about dirty machinery, cracked windows, overflowing trash cans, cluttered tabletops or desks, snaking electrical cords, blocked aisles or rutted driveways? Does your facility need a spring cleaning?
It's not always easy to see what's right in front of us. One very clever safety manager tried something new this year. He decided to “swap out” workers for a couple of hours. Front office workers donned safety glasses and hearing protection and headed out into the facility, while workers from the floor investigated the offices. What they found, he admits, surprised him.
“Office workers really thought some areas of the production facility were dirty, while I thought they were relatively clean,” he says. “They started pointing out paper towels that had been tossed toward — but did not quite made it into — the trash cans. They tisked-tisked at industrial trucks left hanging a few inches into an aisle. They noticed small scrap pieces of product that were not swept up. They said the facility seemed ‘dark.’”
The employees who headed into the offices from the production areas noticed the mess around the kitchen, the overloaded desks and boxes of papers shoved under tables and left in aisles between cubicles. They wondered about all the electrical cords — and, despite company policy, extension cords — in the office area and thought they were trip and fire hazards.
“I think the office workers thought they'd get off easy,” says the safety manager, “but they didn't.”
After the spring-cleaning exercise, everyone at the facility got together over lunch to talk about what they'd found and possible corrective actions. The plan, says the safety manager, is to do it twice a year.
“We might even throw in some prizes next time, for the employees offering the most helpful clean-up suggestions for the offices and the production floor,” he says, adding, “Our facility is cleaner and safer because employees opened their eyes and took a good look around.”
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