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Involving Safety In Your Kaizen Events

Jason Van Wyhe Jul 1, 2019

So you've just finished your big continuous improvement event, performed 5S on key workstations, and spent countless hours collecting data and creating standard work.  You're in the process of training everyone and about to do your call out when the safety director comes into your office.  He politely informs you that the wonderful new process improvements you've come up with break 3 different OSHA regulations, the movement is a potential hazard ergonomically, that the shadow board you put up is blocking an electrical disconnect, and that the KPI board is a fire hazard.  This exact scenario actually happened to me on the first Kaizen event I was part of years ago.

Safety is often touted as a company's top priority, but the reality can be very different.  In many organizations safety is simply a function of regulatory or company policy compliance, with little effort given to building culture.  Managers often put safety on the back burner to productivity, until someone gets hurt.  Workers often distrust safety professionals or fear being "written up" for unsafe acts.  Safety professionals sometimes treat the work as a checklist of things to be done rather than relationship building.

A strong safety culture is what makes a workplace safe, not machine guards or JSA's.  You should be building a culture of "doing the right thing, even when no one is looking", and using lean methodology can help you achieve that.  Safety should be an integral part of your continuous improvement and lean activities, and many companies now integrate safety directly into 5S (6S), TPM, and other processes.  Here are some additional benefits:

  • Potential hazards and compliance issues can be caught early on, before you've invested countless hours on your solutions.

  • Having them involved in lean events allows the safety department to understand the process flow and improvements being made, thus they can help create compromise solutions that still meet the events objectives but do so in a safe manner.  Sometimes there may be no work around, but the team will have an understanding of why they cannot go down that path, and the next solution they come up with can avoid the issue entirely.

  • Training your safety department in lean fundamentals pays dividends after the event as well.  They generally spend a great deal of time on the shop floor, and can not only look for waste in safety-related activities, but in all your shop floor processes.

  • Just like the rest of us, the safety department usually has a long list of "want" projects.  Involving them in events allows your team to address some of these while doing events, and they often can become part of the deliverables from your Kaizen event.

  • Involving your safety coordinators in events allows them to build relationships with shop floor employees, which is key to building a strong safety culture.  Right or wrong, safety (and quality for that matter) are often viewed as "shop floor policemen" and can have an adversarial relationship with some of the shop floor workers.  Having to work on the same team, in a shared struggle, often alleviates some of the stress and allows them to develop a good working relationship with their coworkers.

  • Safety coordinators often not been properly trained in problem solving and root cause analysis.  Involving them in 5 why or 8D activities will help greater down the road in near miss or accident investigations, and aid them in finding the true root causes of problems.

  • Develop safety metrics for the shop floor that are meaningful and easily understood.

  • Once safety is on-board with your continuous improvement activities, don't be afraid to leverage this growth and have safety-focused Kaizen events.  The same should be done with quality and maintenance as well.  The techniques used work just as well in those areas as they do improving production efficiency.

So as you can see, including safety in your lean events is key to the growth of your organization, and offers cultural and practical benefits far beyond the safety department.

TAGS :

safety, culture, lean, kaizen, 5s, 6s, operational excellence

Jason Van Wyhe

Jason Van Wyhe has over 22 year management experience in variety of job shop environments ranging from Fortune 500 corporations down to local machine shops. He is a student of continuous improvement and developing innovative ways of eliminating waste.

Want to learn more about implementing lean and continuous improvement in a job shop environment?  You've come to the right place.  Job Shop Lean Manufacturing is dedicated to implementing continuous improvement in a job shop environment... READ ABOUT US

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