Boeing Frontiers
June 2003
Volume 02, Issue 02
Top Stories Inside Quick Takes Site Tools
Commercial Airplanes

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Teamwork critical, whether building jumbo jets or handling 'Jumbo'


Luke Koester with Cinda the elephantWhen Luke Koester goes to work every day, he gives little thought to the fact that he will spend most of his day inches away from an 8,000-pound elephant. He knows he must follow a set of procedures and rules that other elephant handlers follow. He is also keenly aware that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration classifies his job as an elephant handler as one of the most dangerous professions in the world.

Nearby, in another part of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan., Karen Graham, curator of the amphibians, reptiles and fishes exhibits, prepares her checklist to make sure zookeepers know the procedures for handling poisonous creatures. It's an especially dangerous time as spring turns into summer. Hot weather turns reptiles, like the Russian cobra, also known as the Central Asian cobra, into extra-dangerous creatures. The three-foot-long cobra eats only once a week, and zookeepers must be aware how quickly it can strike when they bring in a dead rodent to feed the snake.

Because the Russian cobra is a venomous snake, Graham makes sure antivenin is available in case the snake accidentally bites a zookeeper. The zoo imports antivenin from Iran and refrigerates it for use in case of an emergency.

About 50 employees from the Strut, Nacelle and Composites Responsibility Center, at Boeing Commercial Airplanes' Wichita Division, recently scrutinized all of the procedures, checklists and precautions for dealing with life-and-death situations at the Sedgwick County Zoo.

The study is part of a plan to compare the aircraft industry to a different type of enterprise and see how critical teamwork is to people on the job. It's also part of a team-building activity to open up communication between management and employees to make sure all issues, including employee safety, are addressed.

"Teamwork is key because a lot of processes here at the zoo involve life and death," said Barbara Butler, a manufacturing operations analyst for the Boeing Wichita Struts and Composite Responsibility Center, and organizer of the visit to the zoo. "We know, too, that if the quality of Boeing products is not up to standards, it could result in a life-threatening situation.

Ron Price cleaning a 747 strut"In that way, dealing with zoo animals and building a safe and reliable airplane are the same. Processes and procedures have to be followed, and safety is always an issue in anything we do at either location."

Jim Kemp, Boeing methods process analyst, noticed a lot of similarities as well.

"At the zoo, employees have to be concerned about safety as it relates to animals," Kemp said. "At Boeing, we have to be concerned about safety as it relates to tools and equipment. No matter whether you worry about the animals or the tools, you have to have rules and procedures so that you can minimize injuries."

As part of the activity, Butler said, employees gave feedback to managers without using their names. This was to encourage employees to be honest with their comments and not feel intimidated.

In their remarks to managers, employees said they gained a number of benefits from participating in the study, including a reinforcement of the importance of quality at every stage of the build process and how important it is to have the right tools in the right place at the right time.

Other employees' observations included, "When it comes down to it, all jobs and occupations have stress, and people must find ways to deal with it; even a job considered fun has to be done in a sequence for it to be successful; and no matter the task, it never hurts to have good people working with and around you."


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