What Can We Learn In Real Life From The “Hot Gun”/”Cold Gun” Debacle On A Film Set?

You've probably read or seen reports about the fatal gun accident on the set of the movie-in-production "Rust." If not, the actor getting ready to rehearse his scene is handed a gun he will use in the scene. The person who handed him the weapon announced it was a "cold gun." The meaning of that announcement was understood by all to indicate the gun was empty and safe.

Unfortunately, it was a "hot gun" with a live round (bullet) in it, the gun fired, and killed a young cinematographer on the set. It was an all-around tragedy for everyone on the set; none more so than the 42 year old professional cinematographer.

However, also unfortunately, safety sense is - in a way - like common sense. Not very common. You would see something like this way too often.

The Machine Shop From Hell

I spent a nice chunk of my career as a top-level manufacturing consultant in the area of process. My work included a ton of plant tours. Imagine this scene: a machine shop whose machines have no safety shields over moving parts to properly protect the workers. I've seen it.

I refused to allow my team to work there and help under those conditions. We walked away from a good amount of cash.  

About a month after we walked away from that job, a worker's hair got caught in one machine's moving parts and it flat ripped off his scalp. He had to be airlifted to the nearest hospital immediately. Lots and lots of heartache in that place.


Breathe In, Breathe Out; Good Luck!

My partner and I were walking with an owner to look over his operation. One part of his plant was a powder coating line. With powder coating, an electrical charge is passed through the metal while - at the same time - a coating material is sprayed onto the part. The charge in the metal attracts the coating to it and bonds it to the finished part.

The spray of coating is basically sprayed near the part. The process relies on the electrical charge to draw the coating onto the metal. But, there is still a fine mist of the coating material in the air all around the metal part and the worker. These are particles small enough to be inhaled by the workers that then adhere to their lungs.

That's why it is standard practice for workers on a powder coating line to wear "closed" respirators that allow them to breath but stop foreign coating particles from entering the lungs. Those particles (as you can imagine) will - ultimately - stop a person from being able to breathe.

Not one worker on this powder coating line was wearing a respirator. I asked the owner about it. He said the workers thought the respirators were uncomfortable and did't like to wear them. "I just can't get them to wear respirators!"

I guarantee you I could get those workers to wear them. This owner was letting down his workers (really, all of them in his employ), their families, his company, and - ultimately - his community and his customers by not exercising positive firm direction and leadership. It was a total abdication of responsibility.

What's wrong with this picture?

I Can't See Here...Can You See?

My partner, Scott, and I were working with a fairly large manufacturer who made containers for various foods to put together a program to smooth out some of their critical processes. As usual, we took a full tour of their very large plant. Our tour was conducted by the director of safety for the location.

There were very predominant signs upon entering any of the plant floor (from any entry point) that mandated safety glasses for safe entry into the facility. We probably easily passed a hundred employees during the tour and a dozen or so greeted the safety director by name.

When we got back to her office in the administrative area, she realized she walked through just about the entire manufacturing facility without wearing safety glasses at all. (Scott and I wore ours.) Not one person in the plant asked her where her safety glasses were. Safety is a team sport and it's every team members' responsibility. This leads into my first point about safety.

Image Courtesy of pngegg.com

Safety Is A Team Sport

Like just about everything after high school or college, safety is a team sport. In the workplace, grading is not on a curve; grading is based on completion! And that means teamwork.

As a long time owner of firearms, I've been to many firing ranges to practice (or rehearse) with my guns. Every professional firing range has a range master. He or she calls the shots. 

The range master calls out to stop firing or initiates sound kind of loud "stop" signal.  that means everybody immediately fully unloads their firearms, checks them for safety - no live round in them anywhere - and smartly and quickly places it on the stand in front of them with hands off. Period. No exceptions. 

Generally, standing back away from any firearms is also a solid practice. 

Subsequently, after a short time frame following some visual inspection of the firing line, the range master announces, "The range is cold," signifying that there are no loaded firearms on the firing line and the area is "safe." You better dang well not have your hand on a gun at that time.

After a suitable intermission, the range master will start to call out a new announcement; often starting with, "Ready on the left?" "Ready on the right?" "Ready on the firing line?" After an appropriate pause to hear any feedback that someone may not be ready, he or she then announces, "The range is hot."

Everybody, acting as one body in teamwork, then is free to direct live fire downrange. If you're a regular shooter with any training at all, you are well aware of this process. Violations are simply not tolerated.

Kinda reminds you of the "cold gun"/"hot gun" process on the film set, doesn't it? The safety process they didn't follow.

Everyone Needs To Know The Safety Rules

Ideally, safety rules should be written down, posted everywhere, spoken about in safety meetings and, randomly, in the workplace over and over.

Everybody needs to know the rules of safety.

This is not the time to be shy about this subject. You don't really want this to be a gotcha exercise - where people flunk the test because they didn't know the answer. It would be worse if you left people thinking there would be no test or that there were no safety standards.

Print the rules out on wallet or pocket cards so every person can have one with them at all times. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.

People Respect What You Inspect.

The photo to the left is showing what is commonly called an "andon light" or "andon signal." It's purpose is to immediately communicate the status of a machine on a production line.

If the green light/signal is green, that means that all is well and everything is running just as it should. green is good.

If the yellow light is lit, that signals that there is some kind of problem with the machine. The operator and, perhaps, the foreman should both inspect the machine and remedy the situation.

When the red light is lit, that means - in all probability - the machine has stopped working and/or is clearly operating out of metrics and immediate remedial action is needed by somebody, anybody, or everybody. Immediate is a key work here.

While I was touring a plant in Florida, I noticed that an andon light looked to be all green without an ability to light a yellow or red signal. Actually, a green plastic cup had been placed over the total apparatus so the only color that could ever be seen at this machine was green.

I asked the operator what the deal was. He told me the foreman's office window looked out on his area and when the red light lit up, he would run out of his office all upset and yell at anybody within his sight. The operator said that now the foreman doesn't get upset anymore because he never sees the red light. Wow.

Let's be clear here: If this machine is in a red zone, there is a possibility that it might even come apart and start throwing off parts or debris that would injure workers. The machine could even melt down and be a total loss. That plastic cup could have really negative safety and production implications.

I went back to that plant two weeks later and talked to the general manager about the green cup. I asked him to walk the plant with me to see if it was still there. It was. I though the GM would sink through the floor.

Somebody has to care enough to pay attention to this kind of thing. In this case, the main culprit in the story is the foreman. Yelling is not managing or helping. The operator, rightly, wanted to avoid getting yelled at. There should have been a study on that machine to understand what caused it to have so many problems.

The point here is; if safety is a priority, you have to go see and inspect wherever safety is is important. Anything that is not inspected regularly will degrade over time. Don't let it happen. Safety protects everybody.

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