Many years ago, when I was head of a regional IT support team for a very large corporation, I was asked to swap out a router card in one of our larger warehouses. Normally this would not have been a problem. We kept spare cards for all the routers and it was easy to schedule a 30-minute downtime while the work was done. However, this warehouse was different. For some reason, long before I took over support, the network center was installed in a box that hung from the ceiling, 30 feet up. To make physical changes, a tech had to stand in a cage while a forklift raised the cage to the top of the highest shelf. Once there the tech would step out of the cage and straddle an open area about three feet wide.
Fear versus Phobia
Some people refer to a fear of heights as a phobia. I think that is just wrong. Phobias are baseless fears. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure falling from a 30-foot high rack to a concrete floor would have an adverse affect on my ability to keep the few brain cells I have left trapped in my head, not to mention what it would do to my limbs, neck, and spine. I really did not want to change that card so I asked if any other team members were willing and got a volunteer right away. That might sound like problem solved, but the volunteer had a head, limbs, neck and spine as well, and even if he wasn’t worried about them, I was. I had no sleep the night before the scheduled change.
Research your Risks
The card change went off without a hitch and everyone laughed at me for being such a wimp, but I was not happy. As a team leader I felt like my first responsibility was to make sure that no one on the team was killed in the line of duty. I know that sounds like an easy task, since we were in a suburban office building and fighting computer viruses instead of the Taliban, but when a regional manager demands people travel by fork lift, it becomes a problem. I needed to do some research.
Put Safety First
I found that, like all large companies, we had a corporate safety policy and we were not following it. I was able to arrange for special training in working in high places and safety gear. We still had to go up in the cage, but the cage was chained securely to the fork lift first. Also we got safety straps and hooks to secure us to the racks before we stepped out of the cage. It made things a great deal safer.
What I learned from that experience is being prepared for potential danger and protecting your team is just as important for an IT manager as it is for beat cop. It may not come up as often but when it does you want to be ready. That’s true about everything in management. Few managers are prepared the first time an employee must be fired or when large numbers of assets are discovered missing. We never forget a lesson we learn the hard way, but sometimes it’s better to learn from the experience of others. Mike Sisco has that experience and offers it to us in The Practical IT Manager Gold Series, 10 books can get an IT manager though any crisis. I highly recommend it to any and all IT managers. I also think it’s a great investment for the IT tech who would like to manage. IT’s never too early to learn to think like a pro and learn to lead a team practically.
What’s your danger zone?
Have you or members of your team had to deal with dangerous situations while trying to provide IT support? Post a comment below and tell us what you think about workplace dangers for IT professionals. Are your people at risk?