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Tools of the Trade

Tools of the Trade

Safety and productivity are achieved by using the right tool for the job, says David Ayling.

If you’re looking for the right lifting, material handling, safety or load monitoring product for the task at hand, can help. But that’s not the point.

Too often, the simplest requirement to use the appropriate tool for a particular job is overlooked. In nearly each of those cases such oversight costs the user productivity or, more alarmingly, safety. We’ll come to the reasons why the wrong tool might be used but, first, let’s dispel the myth that it doesn’t matter how a job gets done as long as it gets done. What concerns me about that mindset is what about all the times that job has been done slower, more dangerously, or been incomplete because of a safety incident?

There are many places where our attitudes to tools are tested. Think about the extent to which we protect our hands when we remove a hot tray from the cooker, or bang a nail into a plank of wood. Do we use a glove or hammer that are designed for those respective purposes or do we reach for a paper towel or any heavy object that’s close to hand? Of course, it takes on a whole new degree of severity when weighing a flare stack for an oil rig and an inaccurate measurement is taken because someone didn’t see the value in utilizing a state-of-the-art, calibrated dynamometer.


In each of these scenarios, the productivity and safety gains are obvious, as they are in most instances where the wrong tool is chosen in our personal, professional or leisure lives. In these moments, human error can be attributed to the problem: someone in a kitchen reaches for the closest item; a carpenter picks up a large off-cut rather than walking over to his or her toolbox; and the rusty dynamometer from the yard is chosen rather than sourcing the best force measurement device. But we must acknowledge that there are different reasons for these poor choices. Otherwise, we can’t ensure that they are reduced or eliminated.

Human error might not be deliberate, for example. Gross stupidity is one thing, but we must consider that laziness, genuine ignorance, and frugalness all have their own nuances and causes. Why does stupidity reign with such supremacy in so many parts of life? Why do people become lazy? Why don’t people want to pay a little to gain a lot? I don’t want to branch off into the world of sociology, but my point is that we have to be cautious about badging behaviors as one thing or another without looking at the reasoning behind them. Best practices still exist in the kitchen and one-person workshop; where we position tools and products helps us to make better decisions. The time we allow ourselves to complete a task has an impact too.

Of greater relevance to this store’s community though is the product that is sourced for use in the workplace or onsite and the best (and worst) practices that surround that activity. This is an environment where fingers aren’t burnt and blood drawn from knuckles, but millions of dollars-worth of loads are dropped and / or people are crushed. Tell it like it is, I say. The biggest human error of all is knowingly putting the wrong tool to work, closely followed by hoping that the tool someone has grabbed just happens to be the right one or it’ll get the job done just as efficiently.

This apathy is even less excusable today given how readily available information is. Google or YouTube anything (yes, they’ve grown into verbs) and a whole series of guides and checklists will appear about a product’s set-up, installation, use, storage, maintenance, etc. Ok, we have to be careful of the sources of such information (don’t search your symptoms, they say) but even then it’s possible to do a background check on the publisher of that text or video. If it’s a guy or gal in their basement advising on hoist inspection but also making fireworks, maybe steer clear, but if the person is a representative of a reputable manufacturer that’s a member of an audited trade authority, it’s probably sound. Their comments can be checked against legislation, standards and guidance too.

I reference company culture a lot in my articles and it’s relevant to sourcing the right tool for the task for two main reasons: one, because a hallmark of good culture is often constant training and education of staff; and, two, companies with great culture encourage people to put their hands up and ask for help when they’re unsure about something. Further, asking for such support is never seen as an admission of defeat and nobody points the finger of ridicule. Ever. Be very suspicious of a supervisor or business owner that looks at training and education as a cost. Remember, we’re talking about safety and productivity here so even to a finance professional driven by the bottom line, it makes sense that the right tool is always applied to the application.

(As an aside, this is why I’m a big supporter of the much maligned periodic appraisal process within companies, because these meetings serve as checkpoints for staff, supervisors and owners alike. A blog for another day, perhaps.)

A manufacturer’s perspective

As the former 17-year owner of a load monitoring equipment company (Straightpoint was bought by The Crosby Group in January 2019), I have a manufacturer’s perspective on this subject. I’ve seen dynamometers rigged without shackles where slings have been put straight through the monitoring device, and people applying a poor quality or even broken load cell to an important measurement operation. I’ve witnessed readings that are 10 times out and heard countless other horror stories from the field. From the same manufacturer’s vantage point, I’ve also gained a good impression of how product innovation is driven and how numerous technologies and tools are that are designed for specific applications at the point of use. In other words, there is a tool for everything these days, so find—and use—it.

Generally, that innovation is driven by the two pillars of this blog: safety and productivity. If it doesn’t tick one or both of those boxes, there’s probably no point in launching it. The problem with going to market with a product just for the fun (or profit) of it, is that is breeds natural cynicism within the marketplace that a manufacturer is only out for their money rather than being a stakeholder that wants to drive continued improvement of best practices and happens to make money along the way. Straightpoint’s journey with wireless technology is a good example of a series of innovations that put the rigger at a safer distance from the load, to the point where they can now be positioned hundreds of feet away from the hook and still monitor the lift in real time.

To ensure dealer and end user value at Straightpoint, we adopted a whiteboard strategy where we’d write down every possible product enhancement or shortcoming of an existing tool, until we had enough to justify creating a new solution or an enhanced model. Changing screen dimensions or putting something in a nice new color isn’t enough; that won’t grow confidence among customers that a manufacturer is passionate about safety, productivity and, in turn, the best tool being used. Straightpoint’s Handheld plus device is another case study, whereby we were aware of lots of incremental improvements we could make but rolled out a new version with a backlight, overload alarm, and so on, that led to tangible gains onsite.

Manufacturers can help themselves gain credibility by supplementing launches with education and training. They must go beyond printing a new brochure and focus on how a product adds to… you’ve guessed it: safety and productivity. The tone and language used is important. We had some fantastic software engineers at Straightpoint but I wouldn’t necessarily get them to write a user guide. We conducted an interesting test once where we sent a product and a manual home with someone to see if their partner, who wasn’t of this industry, could operate it based on the instructions. The fact that they could was a big tick in the box.

It’s no coincidence, therefore, that is partnering with companies such as The Crosby Group, Straightpoint, Caldwell, OZ Lifting, Lift-It Manufacturing, P&I Supply, and SpaceGuard. The store offers breadth of product but every item is provided by premium suppliers with stock held in the U.S. for quick delivery direct from the manufacturer. We’re not importing from the Far East. We wanted to have a broad offering with premium, well recognized manufacturers in the states, that’s available for quick delivery and ready to use, out of the box.

All you’ve got to do is choose the right tool for your task.

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