Charlottesville, Va. - I haven't posted since March because my time and energy have focused on work. I applied to replace the retiring supervisor. I didn't get the promotion. But I feel the cover letter and vision statement added value to myself and to the department, and allowed me to blow off steam in a constructive, professional manner. Working my way through college for a 1993 meteorology degree and 20 years as a bricklayer and 14 years as a writer, I might be of greater value working in your department. The best workers are not just hired. They are recruited.
I’m applying for the position of Asbestos Supervisor. I’ve worked in this department for four years. I’ve shown initiative, leadership, and management ability. I’ve had extensive leadership training in the military. I have supervised others in civilian life. I can articulate and communicate abstract technical details as well as the big picture verbally and in writing.
In some ways I’m already the supervisor. I’ve brought innovations. Visitors to the job site approach me thinking I’m the supervisor because I wear the photo ID. I’ve seen how out of control a worker can become if the supervisor doesn’t enforce the limits. It finally got so bad, I brought the complaint to the next level supervisor, documenting in writing the allegation, and receiving threats of violence. The problem worker was transferred to a neighboring department where we see each other everyday. Now I’m respected to a degree because I had the courage to do the right thing.
If hired, I would implement my vision statement to modernize the department. But I would also have to deal with personnel issues, explain and enforce University policies which require federal, state and local regulations be strictly followed. In most businesses, not following your procedures can get you fired. In the asbestos industry you could be sent to prison for skipping steps outlined by OSHA and EPA.
This is the weirdest and most dangerous job I’ve ever had. Inhaling asbestos is the safest part of the job. More immediate dangers are heat exhaustion, dehydration and altered mental state after wrestling with asbestos while wearing a protective suit and respirator sometimes in a confined space at temperatures over a hundred degrees or on a ladder where the work is above your head. Wait a minute! If you’re breathing asbestos, you’ve skipped a step somewhere.
Removing asbestos is negative and destructive. You don’t create anything. It’s like being an industrial janitor in a sauna. You make disappear what someone else created. Also nobody trusts you because of the history of the asbestos industry knowingly poisoning the world and saying asbestos is perfectly safe. And the crew doesn’t trust supervisors and inspectors either when they say a material is safe for the same reason. When a supervisor orders you to do something, you can only do it if you agree it’s legal under the regulations. A stressful part of the job is to resist peer pressure to take shortcuts in the mandated procedure.
The world has known of the danger since ancient Rome when slaves in the asbestos mines were dying off faster than other slaves. Asbestos fibers were mixed with paint to cover a body for cremation, so the ashes of the fire don’t mix with the ashes of the deceased, usually royalty or wealthy. In modern times more than 3,000 products contain asbestos. So when people hear asbestos, they freak out because of the history of the asbestos industry. Occasionally there are still news stories where people are poisoned with asbestos and the owner or contractor goes to prison.
In order to do this job, you must identify sources of negativity and create positives. The accompanying vision statement is a positive creation to offset the negatives. You could say we create a safe environment. Or we build goodwill when people trust we’ve done a good job.
This job has many moving parts, a complex balancing act of blue-collar and white-collar skills. One advantage is I can communicate in writing. When I hire a crewmember, he can read the departmental plan so he knows what he’s getting into. Management, inspectors, OSHA, parents of students or any member of the public reading this vision statement can have a better understanding and confidence the university hires quality people for this weird and dangerous job.
I wrote the vision statement to demonstrate that I’m the most qualified person to step in as Asbestos Supervisor. I have a thorough understanding of the subject matter, the integrity to enforce the rules, and a verifiable set of goals. If hired, I will do my best to implement this system and make it work. I’m happy to answer any questions you might have. Thank you for considering this application.
Vision to Modernize the Asbestos Department: Organize. Lead. Communicate.
Organizing principles: (a) so you can see everything at the same time, (b) so you can access everything without moving other stuff, (c) nothing on the floor unless it has wheels or legs, (d) one in use, one in reserve, (e) centralize the inventory if possible. In this case two locations: office climate-controlled and storage garages. Then you can take a picture of the inventory. So when you’re in the office ordering supplies and not sure if you need an item, you can look at the picture. You can print the picture and circle the item if you send someone to get it. Everything becomes easier and quicker when you’re organized. If supplies are kept in multiple locations, you can see where it is. Nobody can remember everything. Inspectors, managers, crew, anyone seeing your space trusts you and the university more because you’re organized. Organization is a form of leadership.
(1) Personal safety supplies always on hand. Half-face respirators and filters, full-face respirators with batteries in good condition, variety of protective suits for various work conditions and skin sensitivities, safety glasses, variety of gloves, reflective vest, hearing protection, hard hat, rubber boots, harness. Some items are used quicker than others like protective suits. One box of half-face respirators open, one in reserve. When the last box is opened, write this item on the list to order, which is on the bulletin board, where everyone can see it and add items.
(2) General safety equipment. 4-gas air monitor required for confined spaces. The “one in use, one in reserve” works here so the reserve is also a backup if the primary fails or allows two crews to operate. This monitor is the most important piece of group safety equipment. UVA gives an 8-hour class to stress the danger of going into a confined space and how people have died when an air monitor would have prevented their deaths. Other equipment includes Lock Out / Tag Out, orange traffic cones, heat blanket to put over a hot pipe to protect crew from burns.
(3) Equipment for abatement. Sorted by function and similarity. The storage garages would be divided into sections. (A) Supplies to remove pipe insulation: HEPA vacuum, vacuum bags, variety of glove bags, high temperature bags, disposal bags, rolls of plastic, water spray tank, soap. The water tank might be 2 in use with spare parts, nozzle, pump cylinder. The tanks are indestructible. But the nozzle and pump corrode and wear out fast. (B) Removing vinyl floor tiles and mastic. Hand tools, protective gloves, putty knives, various razor scrapers, scrubbies, towels, burlap bags, tile bar, various buckets of chemical mastic remover. All the chemicals would be in the same section at the entrance to a unit. (C) Containment equipment, showers on wheels, shower pump, waste water filters, hot water heater on wheels, decon unit frame and accessories, buffer and buffer block, buckets of mastic remover, bales of absorbent (shredded newspaper). (D) Negative air machines are big metal boxes on wheels and they all look alike. The air handlers should be labeled so the crew can document the service history of the big-ticket item. Accessories like correct air ducts and filters should be located with the air machines. If there is an emergency where the air needs to be cleaned, crew can respond quickly and know which machine they deployed. Usually you look at the inventory to see what’s getting low. Sometimes an item does not get low as it should, which may indicate a step is being skipped such as installing a new filter after each job. The storage units would have at least two more sections. (E) A place for items no longer functional, like vacuums that haven’t worked for decades. These items are cluttering up the space and are to be recycled or disposed of within regulations. (F) A place where crew can just throw a bunch of stuff, maybe a heavy-duty table with guard rails. This feature works with human nature and allows some disorganization. After work slows down, crew can clean up the storage units. (G) Large items like ladders, scaffold on wheels, rip-r-strippers, airless sprayer.
(4) Various hand and power tools. This could be its own section. The list is long from razor knives to drills to specialized saws. The power tools might stay in the office for greater security and access to battery charging station. When the organization actually takes place, there will be a master list of the entire inventory and catalog numbers so the crew can order supplies if supervisor is out.
(5) Work van. Schedule maintenance and repairs. Cargo section sealed off from passenger section. Need a rail along one side so supplies come off the floor, line up for inspection, and be accessed one at a time. Items along the side include rolls of disposal bags, glove bags, plastic, burlap bags, water tanks. The HEPA vacuum has wheels so it can sit on the cargo floor. Generally only waste items should rest on the cargo floor. The crew section of the van always needs organizing. Tools under and behind the seat, boxes of protective suits, hard hats, respirators, First Aid kit, change of clothes if uniform becomes soaked with sweat, eye and ear protection, other things, and paperwork like the work order, description of work, and MSDS for chemicals on board, map of the campus, extra maps for people asking for directions.
(6) Schedule. Basically wall calendars and bulletin boards so the crew can see and be informed, see mistakes and give feedback. Two main calendars, one for the Past (what happened that day, work order, hours worked, disposal bags into covered dumpster, linear feet or square footage of work completed), one for the Future (upcoming jobs and work orders, scheduled days off, safety meetings, supervisor meetings, classes, events). The idea is so you can see everything at once. The crew and management can be informed. Sometimes jobs are scheduled months in advance and won’t fit on the calendar. So you have to write those dates where everyone can see them. If supervisor is sick or on vacation, the crew can easily see what’s going on. This system is duplicated on the university project software. This written communication does not replace talking to people.
(7) Office. The office would be opened up and divided into stations. (A) Calendar and bulletin board. (B) Library of asbestos reference books, UVA employee manual, phone books, dictionary, notebooks. (C) Battery charging station. (D) Supplies in drawers or storage boxes or cabinets. (E) Computer. Take one of the two monitors and connect it to a keyboard and mouse so my crew can use it during breaks or for training, entering time, checking company email, and so on. (F) Printer needs to be a 3-in-1 copier, scanner, printer. (G) Refrigerator. (H) Microwave. (I) Personal lockers. (J) Key cabinet where all keys return at end of day. (K) Archives. This job generates a great deal of paper. to be safeguarded for future personnel to reference just as we look at old records to see if a location has been abated or surveyed. Records of daily time cards, scheduled physicals, fit tests for respirators, training and certificates, uniforms, company policies, emails, and more.
(8) Workday. How to use the time within the day. Stick to your routines for break and lunch. Don’t do a removal on an empty stomach. Stick to your calendar because some jobs can only be done at the scheduled time. Briefcase toolbox with hand tools and handy items like pen and paper, wires to jab into the water spray tank nozzle when it clogs up, knives, etc. Enough tools so every crewmember can work simultaneously. Supervisor should be at work when crew arrives so he can supervise crew coming to work on time, give a briefing for the day, show job to crew, location of bathroom and water, give crew copy of work order, check tools and supplies needed. The supervisor has already looked at the job. Every job takes longer than expected. Hurry-up-and-wait is the policy of every company. It’s not wait-til-the-last-minute-and-hurry-up. Sometimes there’s a lot of waiting for the inspector to check your preparations, pipes to cool to safe temperature, another crew must finish first, etc. Take tools and PPE with you at end of day in case you’re called to a different situation the next day. You can haul away sealed disposal bags another day. When the bags go into cargo van, they must go directly to the covered dumpster so you can complete the task at hand and use the cargo space.
(9) Training. Post on the bulletin board a schedule of classes and opportunities to increase your skills to move on to a less physical job. Write checklists of procedures. Copy of the regulations in the office library. Training is ongoing, not just one day a year. Training is a conversation about the details of the work. Here’s an example: Supervisors are often labeled yes-men for accepting work they’re paid to do. When is it appropriate to say no? If someone tells you to go into a confined space without an air monitor, you must say no. Otherwise you’re violating company policy and endangering your life. If someone wants you to remove non-asbestos without your PPE because people might think it’s asbestos work being done in secret and freak out, you should say no. There is no requirement that you breathe non-asbestos particles like fiberglass and dust from the floor. The solution is to schedule the work when the area is unoccupied. If anybody asks, tell the truth. We are called to non-asbestos jobs because we have the equipment to clean up the mess, clean the air and protect ourselves from contacting or inhaling anything but clean air. This is an example of training that builds confidence in crew’s ability to make decisions based on clearly stated policies.
(10) Organize the organizing. It would take a week or two just to organize the inventory. Schedule appointments with EHS to survey defunct equipment and chemicals, and advise how to properly recycle or dispose. The supervisor and crew are not expected to know everything and must establish a good relationship with inspectors by fostering two-way communication. Supplies needed: Several heavy-duty storage shelving units, small bulletin board for each storage area, bungee cords, ratchet straps, storage boxes, stationery like permanent markers, note cards, folders, pushpins, clipboards. Organizing is dynamic, not a one-time-only activity. It evolves. There can be exceptions to the system. The goal is to find things easily and quickly so you can focus on doing a good job.
A good supervisor works with human nature, not against it. It’s human nature to want a routine, predictability, to have expectations. It’s also human nature to test the limits, to see what you can get away with. Everybody likes to have limits so they test to reassure themselves the limit is still there. This testing is called a power struggle in the workplace and takes many forms.
(I) Power Struggle: You’re not the boss of me. Technically that’s true. No one can order you to violate a law or regulation. Here every asbestos worker is supervisor-certified. So they supervise themselves. As a sports analogy, they are free agents working as a team. The 40-hour supervisor course and annual re-certification is the contract we sign, the rules we agree to. The inspectors are the referees. UVA owns the franchise.
(II) Calm Energy. When I get a new hire, much of my time is spent to calm down the worker so he can have calm, positive, constructive energy. Identify sources of negativity, which subtract from the work. The negative energy manifests itself in unpredictable ways. For example, the worker has an expectation to be off work this weekend and over-time is added. Not meeting expectations is a negative. The negativity reappears when the worker is grumpy and perceives the supervisor has started a power struggle. Supervisor is exceeding his limits of power by not adhering to scheduling policy. So the worker responds with “You’re not the boss of me” and “I don’t have to do a good job.” Now there are three sources of negativity: poor scheduling, poor performance, poor quality work. Inspector tells supervisor the work was sub-par. Supervisor blames worker. Worker blames supervisor. You can see how a single negativity ripples out and causes seemingly unrelated problems. What’s the solution?
(III) Honesty is the best policy. The supervisor should admit he made a mistake in scheduling and ask workers if they can help out. You should respect the workers’ time off. But sometimes a negative is disguised as a different negative. The supervisor calls the over-time an “emergency.” But it’s not a bona fide emergency. Now the supervisor has set in motion two negatives (poor scheduling, cover story). Integrity is when there’s only one version of events; image equals reality. The negatives add up, cause the worker to be uneasy, lose the calm energy, and turn a small job into a big job where a crew must return instead of doing a good job the first time. Sometimes the negativity comes from inside the person who struggles against any set of rules.
(IV) Serious problems. No supervisor wants to write up anybody. It’s extra work and it’s negative. But if you don’t do it, the problem gets worse as worker moves on to test the next limit and the coworkers become resentful. The road to workplace violence has four stages: (1) Worker talks about violence, wishes violence toward others as a form of justice. (2) Worker is violent against inanimate objects, slams things around, breaks equipment, becomes unpredictable, makes others nervous with dramatic physical movements. (3) Worker horse-plays or play-fights a coworker as intimidation. (4) Worker claims the violence was an accident or the victim threw the first punch after a lengthy provocation. Here’s a clear limit – You should be fired if you say something like this: “If you tell anyone I’m not following the procedures, I’ll kick your ass!” In a dispute, who will the supervisor believe? The person who follows the most rules, who is the most cooperative, consistent and positive. The worker needing discipline is in a complex power struggle. “You’re not the boss of me. I don’t have to follow the rules. You can’t make me. And I can resort to violence.” When this situation occurs, the supervisor must consult management and other resources.
(V) It’s not my way or the highway. Supervisor comes to work and tells crew we have 1-2-3 things to do. Crew becomes grumpy and starts slamming tools around. Where’s that negativity coming from? Crew sees an easier way but don’t say anything because past supervisors are negative and discourage feedback. Supervisors are not perfect and make mistakes. Nobody wants to waste time doing something if there’s a better way. At the end of a briefing, the supervisor should ask if the plan makes sense, ask if there’s a better way. Once you have a good relationship, the crew will automatically question and give feedback. Encouraging communication is a positive.
(VI) Soap makes water wetter. This is a required step in the removal process. If all the supplies are available and the crew is skipping this step, that indicates more training is needed or disciplinary action is called for. OSHA calls soap a surfactant because it breaks down the surface tension of water so soapy water spreads out and captures more asbestos fibers. Plain water beads into drops while soapy water has air bubbles. It’s easy to see the difference. Training in the details of the procedures builds confidence of the crew that they truly are doing a good job.
(VII) Conflict resolution. Supervisor sends one 2-man crew to do a job. Supervisor arrives at site and discovers there are two 1-man crews. Each guy is working independently of the other and not communicating at all. It is the supervisor’s duty to figure out the problem and find a solution. Often you have a good worker and a bad worker teamed up. The lead-man has the responsibility but no authority. The follow-man wins the power struggle when the lead-man gives in to get along. This negative causes good workers to become depressed, lose their calm energy, not care anymore, and eventually move on. The supervisor’s primary duty is to have a functioning crew.
(VIII) Excessive overtime. When people say they want overtime, they mean one or two half-Saturdays per month. They don’t mean 7 days a week for week after week after week. When you work people like this, they begin to have a nervous breakdown, cannot control their emotions, fly into a rage over nothing or start crying or drive aggressively or lose self-confidence. These symptoms occur 24 hours a day, not only at work. When the overtime is excessive, the entire crew starts bickering and fighting with diminishing returns for productivity.
(IX) Day off or day of leave? If you’re working almost every Saturday, why don’t you change your schedule to Tuesday through Saturday? People need a routine to have a day of rest. So you get paychecks with 100 hours worked and 8 hours leave taken. How can you work so much overtime and still use leave? Because the time system is set up for Monday through Friday. If you work Saturday and Sunday, you forfeit your days off.
(X) Leave home at home. Leave work at work. When your family asks what you did today, you should be able to say you helped remove 50 feet of pipe insulation or 50 square feet of floor tile and you can talk about how you did it. Whatever emotional negativity is bothering you, you must leave it at work. Write it down and post it to the bulletin board. Be respectful and professional. Don’t take it home with you. That way the department can address the frustration or negativity head-on. You spend so much time at work, your coworkers are like a second family. Everybody gets mad at everybody from time to time. You must be able to forgive and move on.
Here’s the big picture. The system is set up for communication and collaboration. The supervisor creates tools and policies based on feedback from the crew. The briefcase toolbox addresses the problem of not being able to find hand tools in the morning. But you need the rule “tools back in toolbox into work van at the end of the day.” A system can work only if you use the system. The system includes feedback from the inspectors, management, customers, vendors, passersby. The system improves over time and gets easier to use.
There’s information useful to the crew such as which key opens the job site, where’s the water source for spray tank, where’s the bathroom. Supervisor likely has already been to the site so he can write that information down to save time and frustration for the crew, build confidence with the customer because you have a paper checklist, a written system of information to speak for you when you can’t be there. But no one can anticipate everything.
Filling out daily time sheets becomes easy when the hours are written down somewhere. University policy is to enter the time at the end of the shift unless there’s a special circumstance. But crew would also be able to see the schedule for weeks and months into the future. That makes it easier for crew to plan time off around the work schedule.
If sincerely implemented, the system makes any department more efficient and more productive and more enjoyable. You shouldn’t need to work so much overtime. The job posting says 40-hour workweek with alternative schedule. If the crew is over-worked or overwhelmed by negativity, they won’t follow any system and there will be constant problems.
Vision Statement to Modernize the Asbestos Department
May 27, 2014.