How can Lean affect safety?

Most people are familiar with the term lean manufacturing and how it is used to focus on waste reduction and overall process improvement. While lean concepts have been a proven way to benefit just about any facility, it is also a great option for companies that want to improve workplace safety. Lean and safety really go together very well. In fact, one of the most popular lean methods, 5S, is commonly being ‘upgraded’ to 6S, with the additional S being for safety.

Taking the time to understand that a safe workplace is going to be a more efficient workplace is very important. In addition to being an obvious benefit to employees and others who are going to be able to avoid accidents and injuries, the company itself will also have many advantages. To learn more about how lean manufacturing should affect the safety of your facility, read through this page.

Hazards are a Form of Waste

Since lean is primarily focused on improving efficiency and eliminating waste, it is important to understand that hazards should be considered a form of waste. This is because any type of safety related event is going to cause a disruption in the flow of work (which is wasteful) and could cause a variety of other issues as well. Some brief explanations of the ways that safety problems represent waste are as follows:

  • Work Stoppage – Anytime an accident or injury occurs, it is going to be necessary to stop work to get it addressed. Serious accidents will also need a full investigation done. This will obviously result in a lot of downtime for the facility, which is a major form of waste.
  • Damage to Machinery – Some accidents involve machinery, which can be damaged during the event. Many machines are extremely expensive to fix or replace and may not be operational until the maintenance team arrives.
  • Damage to Inventory – Depending on where an accident occurs, you may have damaged inventory that now needs to be fixed, replaced, or scrapped, which is very wasteful.
  • Risk of Lawsuits – If someone is hurt at your facility due to a known safety concern, they may end up filing a lawsuit against your company, which can be very costly.
  • Risk of Regulatory Fines – If OSHA or another regulatory agency finds that there is a hazard in your facility, they may issue you a fine. They could also shut you down until the danger is properly addressed.
  • Workmen’s Compensation – When an employee is injured at work they are often entitled to workmen’s compensation benefits. This could cause your costs associated with this to go up.
  • Employee Turnover – Employees who work in a dangerous work environment are much more likely to quit to find another job that takes their safety seriously. This will result in a less productive workforce, training costs, and other types of waste.

There are, of course, many other types of waste that are directly related to an unsafe work environment. The more dangerous a facility is, the more waste can be found. No matter how much effort a company has put into safety improvements in the past, it will always be worth it to look for ways to keep everyone even safer.

Incorporating Safety into Lean Efforts

When most companies begin following lean manufacturing strategies they look at a variety of different concepts to help them improve efficiency and eliminate waste. For example, many companies today are using just-in-time methods of production, which allow a company to reduce the amount of inventory and other supplies that they keep on hand at any time.

One of the best ways to add safety to your lean efforts is to simply begin looking for hazards within your facility. Having management go on Gemba walks with the goal of identifying some type of safety concern is a great place to start. By spending time around the machinery and with the people who are doing the day-to-day work, members of management will often be able to find ways to cut back on waste by improving safety.

In addition to having management team members looking for places where safety can be improved, you can also work directly with the employees. Encouraging employees to report any type of near miss event is a great way to pinpoint where dangers exist. Every report of this type of situation should be taken seriously so that you can find what is causing the near misses and address the hazard before anyone actually gets hurt.

The bottom line is that you can improve safety in your facility by following normal lean manufacturing processes. Just keeping in mind that safety problems are also efficiency problems will help you to always make it a priority.

Using a Safety Audit in Lean Manufacturing

There are many different types of lean concepts that companies follow. One that is often not included in an overall lean manufacturing strategy is a safety audit. While safety audits can be performed outside of lean as well, brining it under the lean umbrella really makes a lot of sense. Since lean is focused on continuous improvements, it will ensure that safety audits and other related activities never get put on the back burner.

Safety audits can be performed as often as needed in a given facility. Many companies will require a safety audit at least once a year. Others will want one performed any time there is an accident or injury within the facility. Still others will perform safety audits separately for each department, which would allow them to set their own schedule for this type of activity.

No matter how often you have a safety audit done in your company, it is important to ensure that you are tracking the results correctly. Looking at what areas your facility is improving on over time, and seeing what is being done properly. On the opposite side of things, if your facility has any areas that are performing worse when it comes to safety, it is important to look closely at what is going wrong.

As with just about anything else in the manufacturing world, gathering accurate information about the current safety situation for your facility is going to be very important. This information can give you actionable details that will allow you to take proactive steps to help keep everyone safer, which will also help to ensure your company is operating as efficiently as possible.

Linking Lean Concepts with Safety

Lean manufacturing is a high-level concept that incorporates a variety of different tools within it. Many of these types of tools or concepts can also be paired up with safety efforts to get the best results. The following are some of the best options available for using these tools to help with efficiency and safety:

  • Safety and Kaizen – Kaizen is a lean concept that means a change for the better. It is a great system that is focused on continuous improvements. In most cases, these will be small incremental improvements for a facility. Small changes that make improvements to safety will build up over time.
  • Safety Focused Kaizen Events – While normal kaizen is focused on smaller changes, many companies use kaizen events to try to address a bigger problem. If you find that there is a particular safety concern in your facility, you can organize a kaizen event to get it fixed right away.
  • Safety and Value Stream Mapping – Value stream mapping is a common tactic used in lean manufacturing, which allows you to identify every step where value is added for the customer. Health and safety issues are obviously not adding any type of value, so they should be eliminated whenever possible during this process.
  • 6S – As mentioned earlier in this article, 6S is simply 5S with the added S for safety. Even many of the other S’s, however, can benefit safety. For example, setting things in place will help to ensure safety materials are kept in an easy to access location that everyone can find when they are needed. Every one of the S’s in 5 (or 6)S can benefit safety.
  • Safety Gemba Walks – Gemba walks that prioritize safety are another great option that was mentioned here already. Any type of you can focus on finding safety hazards out on the shop floor, it will benefit the entire facility.

There are many other tools and concepts that are used within lean manufacturing. Look at any of them that you are using to see how they can also benefit the safety of your facility. Taking the time to find safety hazards and eliminate them where possible, or mitigate them if not possible, is an important goal for any company.

While for generations companies failed to make the safety of their employees a priority, today that is not the case. The most efficient companies in operation today are also the ones that make safety a priority. They know that safety problems are efficiency problems and they always need to be addressed right away. By incorporating safety and lean concepts together, your company will be able to enjoy the many benefits of both of these important goals.


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