As a leader in the field of manufacturing, as soon as you step onto the shop floor you need to pay attention to your environment. This includes safety, 5s and quality with the process underway. Often leaders step out of the office and have an objective to track something down, speak to an operator or get to a meeting. Each time you leave your office, you have an opportunity to see what is happening on the floor, and through practice, this process can be perfected. (The “leaders” I’m referring to here are managers, supervisors and leads who are responsible for meeting the company’s goals and objectives.)
The early-career years I spent working as an airline aircraft mechanic on the flight line taught me to always see my environment. On the tarmac at an airport, mechanic safety is critical at every turn, and inspecting the aircraft before departure requires extreme attention to detail—when looking the aircraft over from top to bottom, missing something is not an option. I am grateful to have been exposed to that environment, as it set the foundation for my career in manufacturing.
When taking the first step on the shop floor, safety must be an immediate area of observation. In 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found a total of 2,607,900 recordable nonfatal injury and illness cases, with 1,062,700 of the cases involving a median number of 12 days away from work. To prevent cases like this from occurring at your company, it is important to be constantly aware of possible safety risks. What safety observations do you make throughout your day, and what role do you play in keeping your employees safe? Each industry is different, but the basics are the same. For example, are the aisleways clear? Are fire extinguishers and breaker boxes accessible? Are employees wearing the required PPE? Are site-specific safety policies being followed?
Often when I walk the floor, I will grab the forklift shift inspection record to verify the requirements have been completed, examine the lifting and slinging gear and observe the condition of the ladders our operators use. These quick stops along my walk don’t take much time at all but could be the difference between someone getting hurt or staying safe. Don't be the leader who expects the safety department to catch everything—it your job to ensure safety on the floor and help others also see the importance of ensuring safety.
Seeing Through 5s
Along with safety, your walks should include 5s observations. Are you adhering to your 5s standards? Are 5s checklists being performed? On my walks, issues I typically notice related to 5s standards include tools missing from the shadow board, equipment borrowed and left in the wrong area of the shop and marked locations on the floor that have the wrong item in place. 5s is not a one-shot deal—it is a journey. While sustaining 5s is always a challenge, a leader who consistently teaches others to see 5s and reinforces the topic daily can bring success in 5s achievement. In the article “Why some 5s programs fail?”, Nelu Dirva points out that one reason why 5s fails is often a lack of employee engagement. To ensure that your 5s program is sustainable, you must ensure that everyone is engaged. Get on the floor and interact with your team!
Being Mindful of Quality
The final thing I observe on my walks is the quality of the product throughout the various stages of manufacturing. Can you recognize when something does not look right? Is the equipment that measures the critical quality of the product acceptable for use? Your job is not to do the task and make the widget, but you need to see and understand the quality of your product. One of my all-time favorite quality quotes is by Edward Deming in his book Out of the Crisis: “Quality control departments have taken the job of quality away from people that can contribute most to quality management—supervisors, managers of purchasing and production workers.” Quality control requires everyone to take a good look at the tools that verify the quality of the product at each step in the process, to look at the product through the customer lens and to ensure that there is compliance with internal processes including paperwork completion. I was recently walking the floor and stopped to look at a product in its final stage of the process—where the product was getting ready to be palletized—and noticed that someone had left footprints on the pallet covering which was going to be shipped to the customer. Just before I could say something, the operator grabbed a brush and removed the footprints. I thanked them for adhering to our core value of “customer commitment” and was glad to see their attention to detail. Walks on the shop floor can include coaching sessions, but they can also include opportunities to thank your employees.
Getting out on the floor regularly will help to remove your tunnel vision and allow you to better observe what is going on around you. Identifying opportunities in safety, sustaining 5s and quality should be part of the daily routine. These observation opportunities can lead to coaching and recognition for your employees, and can help to prevent issues—which in turn will build an engaged culture and a base of satisfied customers.
Kevin Collins has over 28 years of operations and manufacturing experience in the industries of aerospace, military, marine, and nonwoven textiles. His areas of expertise include safety, engineering, quality systems, and production planning/monitoring. Kevin is currently a quality manager at Bouckaert Industrial Textiles where he oversees the quality management system, new product integration, production data collection, and reporting.
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