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CROSSHIRE:

BUSINESS AT ANY COST?

Last month I mentioned how our erstwhile employee, Young Arnold, had re-located and secured employment with one of the larger multiple depot hirers. Well, he rang me the other evening to say he had jacked in his new job! He was continually asked to bend rules and turn a blind eye to certain situations he had been trained to recognise as bad practice or, even worse, dangerous. His employer had shedloads of manuals and regulations covering every process, doubtless costing a fortune, but pressure on staff to get kit out meant they might just as well have put The Beano on the shelf.

Young Arnold claimed his manager routinely authorised the issue of equipment that was not properly serviced or had essential components either missing or replaced with unsuitable substitutes. Amazingly, the company’s biggest competitive threat was perceived as coming not from any switched-on local independent, but from the two nearest branches of its own organisation! Colleagues boasted of stealing business from other depots, even though this would doubtless cost their employer more.

Arnold had been sent to deliver tools to jobs that were much closer to other depots, just to keep his manager’s figures looking good. Sod the environment when you can send your poorly serviced, smoke belching truck an unnecessary 30 miles just to keep performance on budget. They also told him to list machines that were ready for hire as being ‘under repair’ on the computer system, so that depots looking for stock transfer could not get them. Arnold had had enough.

The following morning I was on a site and noticed a skip-loading dumper from the local branch of another large national, being used with its folding ROPS frame in the lowered position. I expressed unease about these frames when they were introduced, but they are here to stay, and vigilance is needed to prevent incorrect use. I thought I was doing the site owner a favour by pointing out the error, but was told that our competitor had not supplied any pins to secure the frame in the operating position.

Incredulous, I rang the depot concerned, in the interests of safety and of helping a fellow hirer to be aware of a nasty situation. I assumed they would confirm that pins had been supplied with the machine and that the customer had lost them - a scenario I have encountered myself. But not on your life: the manager stated he had issued the dumper without the locking pins. His excuse was that he was not allowed to purchase any until the following month, but as his figures were poor, he had chanced sending the dumper out anyway. Words like corporate manslaughter passed through my mind, but as he sounded off at me for poking my nose into his business I told him he was a pillock and left it at that.

For my former employee to walk away after one week shows that things must have been bad. It is a damning reflection on how it is ‘business at any cost’ for some, a fact confirmed by my encounter with the dumper hirer. In fairness, I know that many large hire organisations have made great efforts in trying to ensure good standards. Nevertheless, it appears that, to safeguard bonuses or achieve targets, some depot staff are trashing the message preached by their safety and quality guys.

What happens on the ground does not always reflect corporate aspirations. Most independents have a proprietor or partner close enough to the action to prevent staff taking chances. In my own case, personnel do not get paid extra for doing their job properly, but do stand more than a fair chance of reprisals if they ever send out machines not fit for purpose or unsafe. Perhaps large hire groups could copy retail chains, where a main board director tramps the stores as a ‘mystery shopper’, to assess how the grand visions conceived in corporate planning meetings are actually interpreted at the coalface.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesNovember 2006Crosshire › Business at any cost?

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