Director of Customer Operations
Safety is a priority ingrained in me since I started my career on the railroad. When working in an unforgiving environment surrounded by heavy machinery, you must keep yourself and your co-workers safe.
I learned early on that safety regulations are not always created in response to a specific event or accident, but exist because “things happen.” Trains don’t necessarily derail because an engineer did their job incorrectly; oftentimes, it’s just a result of physics. There are forces at play that no amount of technological advancement can correct for (at least not yet) like gravity, inertia, and even the weather.
That’s when safety clicked for me. It’s about recognizing the forces at play in your environment and doing your absolute best to account and prepare for them. If I communicate clearly, ensure a solid plan is in place, and properly train people, then we have the tools to respond appropriately to reasonably foreseeable risks, ultimately resulting in a safer workplace.
I’ve brought many of the things I’ve learned about safety while working on the railroad to my role at Outrider. Distribution yards have quite a bit in common with railroads: workers have to complete tasks in hazardous conditions surrounded by heavy industrial equipment. That’s one of the reasons Outrider is automating yard operations. While our autonomous system helps do the work in the yard, people can start doing safer, more human-friendly jobs.
As we wrap up National Safety Month, I’d like to share three important tips for keeping safety a priority on the job site – whether you’re working in a distribution yard, on the railroad, or in any potentially hazardous environment.
Approach mistakes with compassion.
It’s imperative to address missteps from a place of compassion. As the head of the safety committee at Outrider, I make a concerted effort to approach people who’ve missed safety protocols with humanity. Never embarrass or chastise someone for making a mistake. Instead, approach them in a constructive way, starting first by making sure they know their safety is my and the company’s #1 priority. And, if you’re on the receiving end, embrace the feedback knowing we have your best interests in mind.
Prioritize safety over productivity.
In the world of business, we’re always trying to get the work done faster. But at Outrider, safety always comes first. We use a safety-forward mindset to build, test, and deploy our autonomous system. Our system includes robust safety mechanisms, such as situational awareness, obstacle detection and avoidance, and geo-fencing. I rest easy knowing our team isn’t cutting corners with safety, and the tech is designed from the ground up to be vigilant and look out for obstacles as it does the work of moving trailers up to 60,000 pounds around the distribution yard.
Have each other’s backs.
Above all, a sense of camaraderie and shared responsibility is absolutely necessary when working in hazardous environments. When we’re at customer sites, we always have our eyes peeled for opportunities to lend a hand – even if we don’t directly work with or know our customer’s employees. For example, we were on a site when a worker carrying a heavy load up a ramp slipped and the load tumbled on top of him. There was nobody else around, so the Outrider team jumped into action to help this stranger.
I’ve seen a lot of safety incidents – from minor to major – in my career, which is why I joined Outrider. As we automate yards, more and more people will move into less dangerous working conditions and hopefully see fewer incidents. That said, safety must be a continuous, concerted, and group effort whether we’re building and deploying our system, training our customers to use the system, or supporting and servicing our system onsite or remotely.
At the end of the day, safety is everyone’s responsibility and transcends your team and your company. I encourage everyone to practice vigilance, maintain a preventative mindset, and have the courage to share safer ways to do things with others.
Mitch Varela, Director of Customer Operations
Mitch Varela is the Director of Customer Operations at Outrider. He’s responsible for the successful deployment of Outrider’s yard automation solution at customer sites for proof-of-concepts, pilots, and production deployments. Mitch also serves the chairperson of Outrider’s Safety Committee. Prior to Outrider, Mitch spent more than 15 years in logistics operations roles at BNSF Railway.