SBIR Workshop

How to get funded through federal programs is the subject for a workshop on Thursday, December 13, at 7:30 a.m. at the NJEDA Commercialization Center, Route 1 South, North Brunswick. Co-sponsored by the New Jersey Commission on Science & Technology, it covers SBIR/STTR Phase II Proposal Development. The cost: $80 to $155. Call 908-754-3652.

Speakers include Patrick Alio and Anthony Faugno of accounting firm Amper Politzner & Mattia, and Karen Price will tell about how to do research using databases from the State Library with the New Jersey Knowledge Initiative.

The program will be delivered by Gail and Jim Greenwood, who are nationally recognized for their SBIR and STTR training programs and have reviewed hundreds of proposals. “Attendees will be eligible to receive a complimentary proposal critique by the Greenwoods,” says Randy Harmon, technology commercialization consultant for the NJ Small Business Development Centers.

Friday, December 14

Playing It Safe Against OSHA

For Brad Wilmott, it started with a senseless tragedy. On a construction site, where he worked part time while attending Ryerson University in Canada, a close friend lost his life.

Shortly after, Willmott nearly lost both his legs on the same construction site.

That launched the crusade. Willmott began assessing his work environment. “Slowly I realized,” he says “all those dangers we faced, routinely, were not necessary. They were avoidable”

Within four years of graduation, Willmott’s part-time experiences on dangerous work sites led him to a full time career as an instructor with the American Safety Association for OSHA compliance. The Occupational Safety and Health Act demands that every construction site and manufacturing plant have at least “one competent individual on site” to keep the area safely up to OSHA specifications.

As a means of supplying both the necessary skills and certification, the ASA offers a one-day, 10-hour “Train-The-Trainers” course for OSHA compliance. Central Jersey business owners, safety managers, and other company representatives may take this course, led by Willmott, on Friday, December 14, at 8 a.m. at the Hilton Gardens in Edison. Cost: $399. Call 877-872-3012.

The course covers eight potentially hazardous zones: aerial lift equipment, flammable materials, hazard communication, electrical, powered industrial equipment, fall protection, personal protective equipment, and emergency action. Since these topics demand a certain hands-on familiarity, course leaders may quiz applicants over the phone.

Also, as an aid, students may handle segments in tag-team fashion. The business owner or safety manager could perform the in-class evaluation, while a seasoned operator takes over the on-site certification.

“Our certification goes to both the company and the individual,” notes Willmott. “For a larger company, having such personal certification typically means a boost in salary. But in the small, family-held firm, don’t count on it.”

Following each segment, the students are tested; they discuss the the answers. Then they are tested again to ensure a 100-percent grasp of the subject.

As a professional organization, the ASA provides paid, qualified trainers for OSHA compliance and similar workshops. Members may be active or retired compliance inspectors; or, as Willmott, certified in a variety of skills independently. All are authorized by OSHA.

For the young Ryerson University student who lost his friend, administering such courses provides a real sense of contribution.

“I see owners come in, grudging the OSHA rules,” says Willmott, “and by the end of the day they are appalled at the lack of safety in their own plants.”

OSHA hurdles. OSHA does not mandate the ASA’s 10-hour course. Companies can give the 30-question tests on each of the eight hazard areas in-house, and many have opted to do so. The problem comes with OSHA’s zero-tolerance grading system. To qualify as a work site’s competent individual, one must score 100 percent on all the tests. Scoring less leaves owners open not only to fines, but some very serious jail time.

If a driver gets on a fork lift on a hill and it flips, killing the worker, that is a tragic accident. But suppose the job site safety supervisor took the test and got 99 percen, missing only the one part that says forklifts should be parked with the fork facing uphill for balance. If an inspector goes back through those test records (and he will,) and sees this flaw, the owner’s head goes on the block.

OSHA will say that the owner, by seeing this test result and choosing to ignore it, willfully created a safety hazard. Currently, OSHA’s willful negligence hazard fines are going for $70,000 each. And beyond lost money, the owner may be subject to criminal court manslaughter charges based on willful disregard of human life. The owner of the Station Nightclub in Rhode Island, where the 2003 fire during the Great White concert led to the deaths of 109 people, is now spending 25 years in jail for such crimes.

Willmott notes that the ASA course goes over each subject until all members score a safe, and legally non-liable 100 percent.

Record protection. Keeping the right records, also part of ASA’s instruction, can be the employer’s strongest shield against the OSHA invasion. As a matter of form, after each accident, inspectors pull out all plant records, including training tests for safety supervisors. Imagine the response if the company owner in our forklift tragedy sheepishly admitted he had lost his safety manager’s test records when they computerized several years ago.

Further, the inspections may actually be incurred, or warded off, depending on reporting. Originally, every accident in the workplace, no matter how minuscule, demanded a report to OSHA. In short order the Department of Labor Statistics was swamped. Fortunately, in 2001 the directives were revised to exclude first-aid-treated accidents. This means a small cut treated out of the nurse’s kit need not be reported. This not only meant a great savings in time and paperwork for businesses, but it kept them under the OSHA radar as well.

Willmott warns against over reporting of accidents because their very number sends up a red flag that might inspire the inspector to come knocking.

Inspection avoidance. No part of the ASA course so motivates registration of company owners as this less-inspection feature.

“What most people do not realize is that OSHA is not some army of storm troopers that can legally enter your premises at will,” says Willmott. There are only five warranted reasons that give an OSHA inspector the right to come onto one’s business property: a reported violation, known imminent danger to workers, if the plant is rated as a high-hazard industry, if it is return inspection, or a plant exceeds the number of acceptable accidents allowed annually.

In short, an inspector cannot just drop by because he was in the neighborhood. He must present his warrant (verbally), to the plant’s safety manager. And his warrant must be very specific. If not, the safety manager has the right to ask him to leave. This process leaves those in the construction industry exceptionally unsheltered.

“Because they are working in areas without walls, construction crews are a favorite target of inspectors who sit in their cars, watching with spy glasses,” says Willmott. “When they see a man on an aerial lift without a harness, they run in claiming imminent danger and inspect the whole site.”

— Bart Jackson

Tuesday, December 18

Finding the Leaders

It seems that leadership is a topic on nearly everyone’s mind. Anyone strolling through the business section of any big bookstore will encounter a glut of books with titles like “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning;” “Results-Based Leadership;” and “The Harvard Business Review on Breakthrough Leadership.” But when it comes down to the practical aspects of business leadership — like actually looking for leaders — the silence can be almost deafening.

“There is a lot of leadership literature out there that concerns itself with definitions of what leadership is and how someone can be a leader,” says Dave Piltz, the director of training services at The Learning Key in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania (E-mail: dpiltz@thelearningkey.com or www.thelearningkey.com 800-465-7005). “But I think the concept of trying to bring out the leaders that are already in your organization is something that too often gets left on the back burner in the day-to-day workplace concerns.”

Piltz will facilitate a seminar sponsored by the Mercer Chamber Business Institute, in partnership with the College of New Jersey Small Business Development Center, entitled “Growing Leaders from Within: The Challenge of Employee Development” on Tuesday, December 18, at 8 a.m. at the chamber’s conference room, 1A Quakerbridge Plaza Drive, Suite 2. The fee is $30. To register, call 609-493-9641, or visit www.MercerChamber.org.

Leadership, according to Piltz, is not a quality reserved for generals, vice presidents, or corporate executives and company managers. “I define leadership in a really broad way as being influential within your sphere of influence,” he says. “A person can be a leader in a company no matter what his or her position may be. Every employee can do things to help grow leaders from within and it may actually be yourself as a leader that you are helping create. For example, there may be a situation where you are working with a co-worker on a project and your skill set is different from their skill set. The question becomes how can you help one another grow to be better than you were before.”

While not exactly ignored, fostering leadership within a company is one of those things that tends to be brushed aside in the hubbub of daily work activities. “We have our tasks, our goals, our crises that pop up,” says Piltz. “In dealing with all of those we may forget that, really, the successful business is about how we are growing each person, our co-workers, ourselves, our customers, the workforce that we work with, how we grow each other to be better leaders.”

Of course, developing leadership — or being a leader — in business is not a static concept and there are a variety of models, from for-profit to not-for-profit leadership to volunteer organizational leadership. But Piltz says that what they have in common is that inevitably leaders find that they are in the position where they either have to hold the hard discussion or make the hard decision.

“I believe that compassion is always the best way,” he says. “There are many types of people and there are those who find that compassion does not come easily to them. But effective leaders are those who understand their followers. If I have a set of followers who thrive with the compassionate approach, then I have got to be compassionate. But if I am not a compassionate person, that is a challenge for me.”

Keeping the big picture in mind — what ultimately is best for the business — is an essential attribute in leaders of all stripes. “The real question, if I am a leader, is how do I create an environment around me that allows us to be successful as an organization,” says Piltz. “If my workforce does not have the skills, am I creating a learning and supportive system to help gain the skills or am I part of the problem?”

Born and raised in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Piltz earned his undergraduate degree in aerospace engineering at St. Louis University. While he has not yet earned a master;s degree, he has “tons” of graduate courses in administration, leadership, and counseling from Concordia University, in industrial engineering from University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, and in workforce education and development from Penn State University. He also has earned certificates in the Myers-Briggs type indicator program and in game design.

A specialist in instructional design and in developing interactive learning tools, Piltz worked as a director of residence life for a liberal arts college, a graphic illustrator and technical trainer and writer for a large manufacturing company, and an organizational development training specialist for Penn State. He has been creating and delivering training programs in leadership, organizational and educational change, communication, teamwork, customer service, and personal and professional effectiveness since the early 1990s, coming to the Learning Key in 2006.

Developing leaders and leadership within a business can pay dividends that can lead to the ultimate success of the business. Piltz offers these tips for those looking to make the leap.

Look for unused skills. Most businesses emphasize customer service, innovation, creativity, strategic planning, and decision making as vital keys to success, but Piltz adds that good employee development can give a business that important added advantage necessary to compete in a competitive market.

“Many people have skills in the workplace that are way above and beyond what they are being asked to do on the job,” he says. “It’s great to have those skills, but it doesn’t mean that is what they are being paid to do. When you are growing leaders from within, what you are actually doing is being strategic in asking what are the needs of the company and how do we grow within to meet those needs.”

Look for the teachable moment. Employee training is something at which many businesses make a token effort, but Piltz believes that the opportunities for effective employee training exist not just at the occasional formal training seminar, but on a day-to-day basis. “Sure you can hold seminars and they can be important, but you can also read a book or hold an in-depth discussion around an ethical conflict that the company may face,” he says. “There are many such instances in every workday.”

Search for helpful tools. “Discovering what these tools are can take some effort and they will vary for every situation,” says Piltz. “Maybe what you need is a staff retreat. Maybe it is taking a half-day off to make a trip up into the city. Maybe the tool is acquiring a magazine subscription for a publication that is about the business that you are in. Look and take action.”

The smart businessperson knows that leadership — even in the dog-eat-dog market — can be egalitarian. In the long run, successful business leadership does not come solely from the executive suite or the boardroom, but just as importantly from the stock room, the office cubicle, or the receptionist desk. Consumer advocate Ralph Nader had it right when he wrote, “I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers.”

— Jack Florek

Mistake Proofing

Everyone makes mistakes. The trick is finding them before they turn into wasted time and lost money.

The fundamentals of mistake-proofing, also known as poka-yoke, will be presented in a teleconference presented by Bruce Hamilton of Lorman Education Services on Tuesday, December 18, at 1 p.m. Cost: $199. Contact Lorman at 866-352-9540 for further information, or to register, call 866-352-9539, or E-mail customerservice@lorman.com.

Poka-yoke originally was developed at Toyota to combat waste on the production floor. Despite its blue-collar beginnings, poka-yoke’s principles of identifying and correcting mistakes has reached the sciences, medicine, aerospace, and service industries. According to Hamilton, “anywhere where human judgment is involved, there are huge opportunities to reduce delays and human error.”

Hamilton says that most defects arising from mistakes are never reported. Many supervisors are known to penalize employees for mistakes and admonish employees to be more careful, which has the unfortunate effect of driving problems underground. Poka-yoke, he says, does not merely teach how to find problems, but how to effectively manage them.

The teleconference, he says, is for professionals who understand that the only quality level acceptable to customers is zero defects.

Unlimited listeners per connection are allowed, but only the registered attendee will receive a continuing education credit.

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