UPS: Disrespect for People?

by Dan Markovitz

I took this picture of a UPS truck recently in NYC. (The orange signs say “SAFETY.”) At first I thought, “Great! UPS management cares about safety for its drivers. Terrific!”

But then I looked at the signs a bit longer and wondered just what exactly they’re supposed to mean. Is it an exhortation to the drivers to be safe when they’re on deliveries — in other words, this is just a reminder? Or is it directed to drivers of nearby cars, warning them to be careful when passing the UPS truck? Or is it both?

Mark has written often about the prevalence of signs encouraging hand washing in hospitals, and about the very low level of adherence to this policy. As he points out, signs and admonishment just don’t work, which has led to discussions about “error-proofing” hand washing.

It would be far better for UPS to provide traffic cones or some other control device to create a safe zone next to the truck. The cones would ensure that the driver has room to operate, rather than simply hoping that people will read — and respond — to a simple slogan like “Safety.”

And, in fact, UPS does provide each truck with two cones. So why aren’t they out there? I went to the gemba to find out. (In other words, I talked to a few drivers.)

It turns out that drivers love the cones. They were introduced a couple of years ago, after a UPS driver had his leg crushed against the back of the truck by a car and needed to have it reattached surgically. But they’ve run into two problems. First, some people steal the cones. Second, cars (in NYC, at least) don’t give the cones a wide-enough berth: they run over them and drag them away.

Getting UPS headquarters to replace the cones is a long, slow, bureaucratic process filled with numerous forms and delays. It’s a constant source of frustration for drivers. But since they’re paid to make deliveries, they do they best they can with the orange “SAFETY” signs — even if it’s not as safe as it could be. So much for respect for people.

It seems to me that UPS has a fantastic “kaizen” opportunity here. They can either streamline the cone replacement process, or employ their thousands of drivers to figure out a solution to the root cause of the problem. Surely someone can come up with a way to keep the cones from disappearing — and to keep the drivers safe.


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Dan Markovitz

Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

11 Comments on "UPS: Disrespect for People?"

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Why don't they attach the cones to the truck?

    Cones are the best error proofing (to protect the driver) if people can just drive over them.

    Either way, sounds like UPS is more willing to pay out some workers comp settlements instead of really fixing the problem or engaging with the drivers. Sad.

  2. Anonymous says:

    A good part of the lack of respect for people is the stealing of the cones and running right over them. I'm sure some people are just bad drivers, but how bad??? How about spikes at the bottom of the cones that puncture the tires of the offenders and/or create significant interference with the bottom of their cars as they drive away? (I know this would never fly with the DOT, etc., but don't you think the root cause is more those drivers and thieves who driver over or steal the cones? Not UPS and their supposed red tape for replacing the cones? Instead of blaming UPS for their lack of respect – it appears they have been making efforts on this – perhaps some accountability needs to be applied to those disrespecting the cones.

  3. Mark Graban says:

    I'd look at it this way – what does UPS have control over?

    Can they control people in the general public being jerks? NO

    They can control the process for getting new cones. They can control coming up with a more creative solution (something that can't be stolen).

    Whether their failure to do is a lack of "respect for people" is a value judgment for each person to make.

  4. frustrated in NY says:

    UPS has no respect for people–drivers or the rest of us. Why do the delivery trucks have to stop in a traffic lane to make deliveries or pick-ups? How is that respecting the rest of us trying to use the street? Why don't they go around back to the alley and use the DELIVERY ENTRANCE? Because they are in a hurry, that's why and to hell with everyone else just trying to get from point A to point B.

  5. Mark Welch says:

    Hmmmmmmmm… One things seems for sure. Lack of respect abounds in this situation… Ala Rodney King, "Can't we all just get along?!?!

    Bill Waddell had an interesting post with many comments on the Ethical Core of Lean the other day. Respect for people entered the discussion. Some of you might find this interesting… http://www.evolvingexcellence.com/blog/2009/10/the-ethical-core-of-lean.html

  6. Ankit Patel says:

    I had friends that worked at UPS and I think bureaucratic is an understatement. I would sit with them many times and try to offer them solutions and methodologies but all I got back were excuses.

    I'm not trying to knock my friends or UPS but that type of mindset is common in many places. The "why we can't do it mentality." Getting UPS (or any company) to change and adapt quicker is real trick.

  7. Tim McMahon says:

    This demonstrated the importance of asking 5 why's to get to the root cause instead of assuming why the sign is used. It is more effective to ask 5 whys and 1 how. UPS needs to empower there workforce to solve problems or they could have another safety incident. Safety should always be at the for front of everything we done.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hey I work for UPS and it's great. Basically I get paid for wearing shorts.

  9. curiouscat says:

    I consistently see UPS and FedEx park in traffic lanes, in front of of fire hydrant, in no parking zones meant to provide pedestrians view of the traffic to cross the street safely… when there are available parking spaces less than 20 feet away (and actual loading zones not much further away).

    It would seem they must do this hours every day (based on the level of abuse I see). I often see the illegally parked vehicle, park legally, get done what I need to do, and drive away and the illegally parked vehicle is still there.

    It is obvious that UPS and FedEx systemically violate traffic laws and make the roads more dangerous. The extent of the abuse make it obvious to me they design their work process with full knowledge that they endanger and inconvenience others for their convenience. I am not sure why such consistent intentional systemic dis-rearguard for laws is allowed to continue but obviously it is.

    Maybe in Manhattan parking in traffic lanes is the way things work but not here. Only UPS and FedEx chose to systemic endanger inconvenience others for their convenience here.

  10. Bryan says:

    The tone I hear in this post and comments is that UPS is consciously NOT respecting their people. I would argue that it is more sub-conscious as they are not relentlessly pursuing the complete elimination of safety hazards, but at least they are trying, and this lack of relentless pursuit does send a powerful message.

    Chaining a cone with spike strips to a van that could be stressed, broken, dragged and flung from a passing vehicle at 25 miles per hour may not be the best idea, but sure would be entertaining to watch.

    I'm glad to hear that UPS is trying another approach and is willing to take the risk of making a mistake. This is something we can't forget as leansters. Hopefully they will learn the lesson that cloth safety signs will not jump out at drivers and motivate them to be safe. We will see.

    One concept of lean is to make problems, or even potential problems, visible. We try to do this through visual controls.

    What actually does motivate drivers to be safe? School buses! UPS, paint your trucks yellow. Put a big red fold out stop sign on the side with flashing lights. Yes, people will get a little annoyed at first when they find out it is UPS, but they WILL slow down and use caution. And someday, they will say, "Geez, those folks at UPS are so smart and look out for the health and safety of their people AND the community. They are so smart!"

    "What can Yellow do for you?"

  11. Henry says:

    A friend of mine, not to long ago left his car in a fire zone to mail a card. When returning, an officer was writing him a citation. I have never in all my years seen a UPS truck getting a citation for doing the same thing. Do they have special permits? ( Not to mention the police vehicles responding to major criminals like shop lifters) I had the silly idea that laws were made for all of us not just the everyday person. It’s nice to know that some people can park where ever they ___ well please.

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