Lean Safety

8th August 2019

Many years ago I was introduced to the concept of continual improvement while I worked for Johnson Controls, who made seats for Toyota.  I was introduced to Kaizen manufacturing, the strategy of continual improvement including all levels of the organization to create efficiencies, and develop the best product possible, through continually identifying opportunities for improvement.  This included safetyas an integrated aspect of the overall objective of building a quality product.

Continual Improvement

As I moved on from Johnson Controls I started getting involved in safety in the workplace, as well as quality and environmental management.  The concept of continual improvement, and principles of Kaizen certainly stuck with me.  As fate would have it I became involved in implementing ISO standards (which are focused on continual improvement via the Plan Do Check Act model) for a number of organizations, and industries with the intent of continual improvement of the organizations.  I also had the opportunity to undertake a week long lean management thinking workshop, which was also valuable.

What I learned, is that continual improvement as an organizational objective, Kaizen, and the engagement of the workforce are both incredibly powerful, but sometimes difficult to sustain practices.  I have seen that when endorsed by management, used effectively, and consistently in the right applications, they can provide great insights, a-ha moments of clarity, build team chemistry, provide efficiency improvements, and demonstrate the value of collaboration.

I’ve tried to use elements of these practices throughout my career, and found them valuable.

Hoshin Kanri

I recently came across another Lean Tool, that is not new, but new to me.  Hoshin Kanri Planning.  In short, it means direction and administration. The concept is how do we manage our direction.  A great question when managing safety.

The challenge for some organizations is that hazard and risk are not truly “assessed”, and there isn’t a clear plan or direction on how to manage them, or maintain them.  There may be a high level assessment, general understanding, or a gut feeling on where hazards and risks are.

This often means hazards aren’t properly assessed, controls aren’t effectively applied, and safety is not formally or effectively managed.

Kaizen and Hoshin Kanri

Over the years, although not necessarily applying the Kaizen or Hoshin Kanri principles in a conscious or structured manner, I have been utilizing elements of both to bring the right people together, and try and use their strengths to implement a sustainable hazard and risk management program with direction and objectives:

  1. Agree on an organizational hazard and risk review, and develop a team to assess tasks and activities
  2. Involve management, supervisors, and the people that do the work to set the scope, and begin the assessments
  3. Break down activities into tasks step by step
  4. Identify task related hazards of immediate concern, and the targets (people, equipment, property) at risk
  5. Look at what controls are in place and how they reduce likelihood and severity
  6. Take a detailed, and methodical look at the elements of likelihood that influence the hazards risk levels
  7. Set tolerance and treatment plans for each hazard/risk, with controls visibly influencing elements of likelihood or severity
  8. Where new controls are required, place them in a corrective actions register and assign them to a team member
  9. Use the safety team/committee to review the hazards, controls, and risk levels each month and cycle through the year
  10. Provide management with an annual summary of successes and challenges in managing the hazards/risks, and set objectives and targets for the following year

It’s critical to review the controls, and determine how they influence risk, and why they influence risk.  Do they limit exposure?   Limit the number of people at risk? Reduce severity?

Team, Leadership, Monitoring

Getting the right people on the team and on board will help ask the right questions, and provide the right answers in order to identify, apply, and maintain effective control of hazards and risk.

Management engagement from the beginning will help set precedent and provide leadership moving forward, helping to keep the team focused on hazard and risk related objectives to maintain a safe work environment.

Using the safety team to review a few hazards each month allows simple monitoring and a consistent review of the workplace hazards, and allows adjustments as required to continually improve controls, and lower risk.

I’m not a lean management expert, and I’m sure there are many more, and newer examples of the value of lean, but in my experience I can see the value of the continual improvement concept, and also in considering the many models, tools, and practices that lean management offers, and applying them to the world of safety.

If you haven’t considered how lean practices can influence your safety take some time to do some research, take a course, or chat to a lean expert.  If you have used lean practices, I’d love to hear of your experiences, and what you have applied and what the outcome was.


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