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Supercell Thunderstorm on the Great Plains Tornado Alley USA

Three Tips for Countering Human Error When Weather Shuts Your Facility Down

January 04, 2017

Alexander Pope began his most famous saying with “to err is only human.” But when inclement weather looms and a shutdown is imminent, those kinds of miscues play a significant role in how a production stoppage impacts business. The effects are even more widespread for manufacturing plants and companies along the supply chain.

If a business has never been through something similar, management and employees might not believe it until they see it or think it couldn’t be as bad as it actually turned out. And even if they think it’s possible, a lack of experience means they won’t know what will happen or how or when to proceed. A lack of forethought plus complacency, carelessness, and inattention during emergency situations can yield thoughtless mistakes.

What’s worse, poor information only compounds those faults. Inaccurate or conflicting weather reports can worsen matters, and too many readings can confuse management into blindly picking an option without the ability to formulate a second thought.

Manufacturing managers can avoid these pitfalls through one practice: preparation. Armed with the right information and a practiced team, a leader can initiate a plan and mitigate the risk of breakdowns that can sometimes prove too costly to recover from.

Bad Reads Lead to Reduced Revenue

Timing a shutdown just right in extreme weather is a precise balancing act. Wait too long, and you won’t cut a potential mistake off at the pass. Act too soon, and you may have to shoulder the losses of an unnecessary shutdown.

Likewise, misinterpreting the weather data could be another costly lapse of judgement. If you don’t have enough data — or it’s inaccurate, not timely, or not specific enough — you can misread the situation and mistime your shutdown or evacuation.

The fallout, of course, relies on context. For instance, a daylong shutdown of a paper plant leads to a $1 million loss. For an automobile assembly factory, that loss rings in at $1.25 million per hour. Plus, things like liability, injury or death, and decreased customer retention due to downtime can lead to a reduction in long-term revenue.

Reducing human error minimizes many of these costs. Implement a well-thought-out, persistently practiced plan, and those errors work themselves out by the time a weather disaster strikes.

Do Your Part When Bad Weather Presents Itself

Accurate information is the crux of preparation, so consult a private weather service to kickstart your plan. A private weather company removes much of the subjectivity when interpreting weather data while providing accurate, location-specific guidance customized for one facility or a network of locations around the globe. If you’ve tried to do it yourself, you know trying to keep up with the weather for a single site can become a full-time job, but add in more facilities, more regions, and more exposure to inclement weather the task can easily become overwhelming.

Having this guidance also takes some of the liability and stress off the shoulders of operations managers. These individuals — who are not meteorologists, by the way — are usually tasked with making these million-dollar decisions that often must be based on — at least, in part — an accurate weather forecast. But once you have the information, you must apply it sensibly. Prepare your manufacturing business for harmful weather with these three moves:

  1. Think of everything: When X, Y, or Z happens, what will you do and why? Envision the big picture by considering what needs to be done and how far out you should plan. How will you execute this strategy, and who will carry out each task? How often should staff practice the plan? A regular run-through uncovers questions or issues you might not have considered during the initial planning process. Practice drills are designed to reveal weaknesses, while seasoned managers design drills to purposefully stress the response team and “break” the system. Your private weather service can even insert realistic weather data into your drill for added realism.

  2. Coach your team: Be transparent by cluing facility managers into the repercussions of the decisions they make. Additionally, educate employees to help them understand the personal and professional risks they’re undertaking and support them in their time of need. Providing peace of mind and the feeling that the company has their back encourages employees to push through in order to keep the business running.

  3. Take great notes: In both planning and acting, you need to base decisions on solid information. A private weather service will trigger reports that match your specific response plan. An expert can also provide answers to site-specific impact questions and walk you through solutions you might not have considered.

Pope closed out that oft-uttered quotation by saying, “To forgive is divine.” Unfortunately, extreme weather rarely makes that concession to human error, so protect your business from such letdowns. Work with experts, mentor managers, and employees, and use top-notch weather information to create and perfect an extreme weather shutdown plan.