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How to Get Buy-In for Industrial Cleaning Equipment

Posted on July 8, 2019

A previous version of this article was published in Occupational Heath & Safety.

In many industries, the budgets that plant managers have at their disposal for new equipment are shrinking.

In this situation, it can be difficult for EHS personnel to get buy-in for new cleaning equipment, like industrial vacuums, floorcare machines, and high pressure washers. This article provides three strategies for getting decision-makers to loosen the purse strings for industrial cleaning equipment.

1. Show them the money

Often, the main objection to purchasing new cleaning equipment is the cost. Budgets are tight, and it’s difficult to justify any investment that doesn’t track directly to revenue.

But as any company that has ever had a major incident knows — there’s no price too high for safety. 

Consider the $8.8 million fine OSHA handed Imperial Sugar after the 2008 combustible dust incident that left many workers dead or wounded. The company received more than 100 citations for willful violations of the combustible dust hazard, “including the failure to clean up dust and not using appropriate equipment or safeguards where combustible dust is present.

The average OSHA fine isn’t quite that steep, but citations for violating the cleaning-related standards can easily run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Between October 2017 through September 2018, the agency issued nearly $2 million in citations for its Walking-Working Surfaces standard alone. In June 2016, the agency fined a foundry more than $62K for violations including overexposing three workers to silica.

And that’s just the OSHA fines — costs associated with worker injuries and facility damages are added on top. Compared to that, a few thousand dollars for industrial cleaning equipment is a bargain!

2. Identify the risks of non-compliance with standards

Cleaning a manufacturing plant isn’t just a good idea. In many cases, it’s required by law.

Here are a few examples:

  • OSHA’s silica dust standard requires employers to limit workers’ exposure to respirable crystalline silica. This includes housekeeping practices that keep dust particles under control. Silica dust citations are generally categorized as “serious.”
  • OSHA doesn’t have a combustible dust standard, but it can penalize companies under its Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program and under the General Duty Clause.
  • The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) aims to be essentially a zero tolerance policy for contamination. Facilities that fail to comply are at risk of being shut down. 
  • The FDA can shut down pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities for GMP non-compliance.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) issues standards for all manufacturing facilities. Failure to comply is a finable OSHA offense.
  • State and local authorities can take action, including shutting a business down, for failure to comply with safety requirements.

Again, faced with such extreme potential consequences, a proactive approach will always be the best one.

3. Focus on safety as a broader issue

Your goal shouldn’t be to convince the plant manager to buy a particular piece of equipment. Your goal should be to convince them to buy into safety as an important issue.

In their Harvard Business Review article, Susan J. Ashford and James R. Detert identify seven tactics of successful “issue selling”:

  • Tailor your pitch. This means speak to your audience. Is your plant manager most concerned with efficiency? Demonstrate how safety boosts efficiency. Is productivity their focus? Show how safety supports that goal as well.
  • Frame the issue. Show how the issue of safety fits into the larger picture of business objectives. For example, companies with strong safety programs not only benefit from lower costs related to injuries and illnesses, but also have a healthier bottom line.
  • Manage emotions on both sides. The idea here is to keep your emotions in check. If you allow negative emotions to sneak in, you run the risk of being perceived as a complainer.
  • Get the timing right. Purchasing cleaning equipment is always a good idea. But if your plant manager is currently dealing with other difficult issues, you might want to wait to propose it. Ashford and Detart suggest keeping your ear to the ground to “notice when more and more people are beginning to care about a larger topic or trend that’s related to [your] issue”…and then “positioning [your] idea to ‘catch the wave.’”
  • Involve others. Don’t try to go it alone. Reach out to others — particularly experts or other people your plant manager trusts — to help build credibility for your case.
  • Adhere to norms. By this, Ashford and Detart mean the norms related to organizational decisions. For example, what kind of data does your plant manager like to have before making a decision? Is it better to approach the topic in a casual conversation or a formal presentation?
  • Suggest solutions. This one should be obvious, but offer specific solutions to problems. Visit these pages for industry- and application-specific cleaning solutions:

Getting buy-in for industrial cleaning equipment doesn’t need to be difficult. The key is to place the investment in the larger context of safety and risk prevention. For help finding the right solutions to your industrial cleaning problems, contact a Nilfisk expert.