Lean Safety: It's About More Than Compliance

A 'lean' approach to safety builds a culture that engages the entire workforce in proactively seeking out and removing injury risks.

Too often, manufacturers think of safety only in terms of compliance.

Its easy to understand why. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires companies to observe a wealth of rules and regulations designed to keep workers safe and healthy in their workplaces. Fines can be hefty if the federal agency catches a manufacturing company not complying with those regulations, and severe consequences are assured -- to both the manufacturer and employee -- if failure to comply with the regulations leads to grievous injuries or even death.

Nevertheless, safety should not be only about compliance, says lean consultant Robert B. Hafey, president of RBH Consulting and author of Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Culture with Lean Management. His expertise comes from some 40 years working in manufacturing at companies that include U.S. Steel and Flexco, where he spent part of his tenure as director of lean operations.

Hafey says safety should also be about building a culture that engages the entire workforce in improving workplace safety. However, too often the safety role is put in the hands of one person (human resources manager or EHS director, for example) to push down to the employees.

You have to have compliance, but you can also have a continuous improvement component, Hafey says.

Safety: A great place to start lean

Thats where lean comes in. Lean safety is about using lean thinking and lean tools to drive world-class safety programs, Hafey says. And for manufacturers who are trying to introduce lean into their operations and anchor it into their cultures, the consultant suggests that safety is a great way to start.

Everyone will rally around safety, he says.

To share the impact lean tools can make on safety, Hafey points to a safety kaizen he facilitated. The goal of the safety kaizen was to reduce the risk of injury, primarily ergonomic-related injury that can result from such actions as repetitive motions, excessive straining or moving of weights, and out-of-neutral body positions.

The three-day safety kaizen event took place at a host manufacturing plant. The 10-person kaizen team included members from the host facility, other area facilities and a few additional individuals. As part of the event, the kaizen team observed an employee performing her duties as a packer. Unlike with some kaizen events, no stop watch was employed to time the womans speed in performing her tasks and no one documented each step. The sole focus of the event was to improve safety, Hafey emphasized.

After observing the woman performing her tasks, the kaizen team developed a list of about 50 potential improvements related to reducing injury risk. For the second two days of the three-day kaizen event, the team spent its time making changes to improve the safety of the employees job. Among the processes implemented were one-piece flow to reduce the repetitive motions associated with batch work she had performed and changes that reduced the amount of bending required to perform the job.

Hafey said ultimately the employee felt physically better as a result of the task modifications, and the work grew easier to perform. The changes even ultimately sped up how quickly she could perform her tasks, despite the clear objective of the kaizen event to improve safety.

By applying lean to safety, [employees] can see what is in it for them, Hafey says.

The use of lean tools is not limited to kaizen events. Hafey notes that many lean tools, such as 5S, root-cause analysis and A3 reports, for example, can easily be applied to driving world-class safety.

Believes in broad-based safety committees

The Lean Safety author also emphasizes the need to involve the entire workforce in driving safety throughout the workplace. The more people you engage in safety, the more cultural safety can be, he says. Thats why Hafey believes in having broad-based safety committees that includes plant-floor members with management facilitation.

Ultimately, a safer workplace delivers on two of the goals of lean: less waste and improved customer focus. Injuries are waste, Hafey says. They lead to employees being at home recovering rather than at work being productive -- and they consume enormous amounts of resources.

On the other hand, engaging the workforce in creating a safer workplace helps deliver on the promise of supporting customers, Hafey says. But only if you think of safety as continuous improvement rather than only compliance and a cost.

See Also: Sustainable Safety Cultures

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