Back in 2007 I had the privilege of visiting Prague and touring the city – experiencing everything from the fun tram rides to the Prague Castle to the Communist Museum. I thought I truly saw everything there was to see in this city. But I was wrong. This trip has opened my eyes to a completely different aspect of this city – the business & manufacturing sector - and deepened my understanding of the culture here. I now have a stronger appreciation for how different the Czech Republic is from the U.S.
One site visit in particular left a lasting impression on me. On Tuesday we went to visit Brisk, a manufacturer of spark plugs. Coming into the visit I had a strong understanding of manufacturing, having spent years walking the floor of GE’s steam turbine and gas turbine manufacturing plant. In 2008 I had a role on the Environmental, Health & Safety team and paid close attention to what GE calls PPE – personal protective equipment. The company is very strict when it comes to wearing safety goggles, steel toed boots, staying inside the yellow lines, wearing gloves, and monitoring air quality. At Brisk there was no PPE to be found! I did not see one person wearing safety goggles, nor were we (the tourists) required to wear them. Workers were wearing sandals, and it was readily apparent that the air quality was low inside the factory. I also observed ergonomic issues. Having the appropriate posture, seating arrangement and hand position is imperative when conducting repetitive movements, as on a manufacturing line. At Brisk ergonomic red flags were everywhere!
GE also pride’s itself on the extremely low number of accidents that occur on the shop floor. One key reason for this is our “lockout, tagout” procedure. There are strict steps one must take when repairing a machine. It must be properly shut down and locked down before an employee can service the machine or part. At Brisk, I do not believe lockout – tagout exists. I observed one woman continually placing a piece of equipment on “pause” and sticking a screwdriver in the gears to correct a problem. She even stuck her fingers in the gears to move around the parts. I was so nervous watching this, I held my breath! To me, what she was doing was so incredibly dangerous, and it was sad to think that this behavior occurs every day at Brisk.
I actually asked one employee why we do not see the workers wearing safety glasses etc. and he said that they offer them to the employees but they choose not to wear them. The Czech Republic does no mandate the use of PPE. I was shocked! This experience gave me a newfound appreciation for and understanding of manufacturing outside of the U.S. I can only imagine how grave the conditions are in undeveloped countries or vast manufacturing centers such as China. I am thankful for my experience at GE because it enabled me to draw a comparison to manufacturing in another country.
Tomorrow we head to a crystal manufacturer. I fear working conditions will not be up to “GE standards” there either. But I will be thankful for the exposure. A humbling experience!