Hello Safety, My Name Is Lean

Nice To Meet You

The two biggest waves to hit the American workplace in recent years are Lean and improved safety agendas. Both have revolutionized the workplace leading to safer, more productive and efficient organizations everywhere. One doesn’t necessarily always lead to the other, but in the case of Lean, organizations are seeing tremendous improvements to their safety initiatives with the implementation of Lean logistics.

Meant For Each Other

Safety crewLean principles are about eliminating waste and keeping an eye on continuous improvement. Poor safety then, is a form of waste and is a target for the Lean practitioner to focus on. Injuries are costly in more ways than one to the organization. First off, you have the initial costs of the medical treatment needed to treat the employee which can be extremely costly depending on the injury. But it goes much deeper than just medical costs. When you account for the human suffering, lost time, lost productivity, higher employee turnover, and the possibility of having to hire and train new employees, the numbers begin to multiply quickly.

Safety By The Numbers

Occupational safety is a critical concern among the American workforce. Here are some alarming numbers that will hopefully make you re-think your approach to occupational safety.

  • In 2011, an estimated 39 million workers had a nonfatal injury or illness in the US — Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • Compensation cost to employers due to injured workers was $73.9 billion in 2009 — National Academy of Social Insurance
  • Lost productivity from workplace injuries cost companies $60 billion in 2006 — Bureau of Labor Statistics
  • In 2011, manufacturing industries had a non-fatal occupational injury rate of 4.4 per 100 employees, compared to 3.9 in construction and 3.8 overall –Bureau of Labor Statistics

Lean and Safety

Occupational safety is not a process or a separate focus which could be improved as an aside. It is culture based and relies heavily on the people that make up the culture for success. A culture that is deep rooted in a safety mindset will have an impact in every part of their operation, from production lines to the break room.

Lean on the other hand, is the processes and methods for which your organization runs it’s operations. If your operations are ran using Lean principles, then you already have a focus on reducing waste, which will lead to less hazards and risks. This will subsequently reduce the number of accidents and injuries within the workplace, improving safety in every aspect of the organization.

That’s not to say that Lean doesn’t rely on a culture as well. In fact, without a strong Lean culture, the processes that get implemented will more often than not fizzle out over time. Culture is the key to sustaining Lean and keeping your facility focused on continuous improvement, each and every day.

Remove The Waste

Each risk is a form of waste that Lean processes will target. Processes like the five whys, root cause analysis’, 5S and Kaizen, provide Lean organizations with tools necessary to attack waste and eliminate it, regardless of the waste. These tools allow an organization to be both reactive and proactive when it comes to safety.

While the term safety may not be in the handouts or training sessions, improved safety outcomes are simply a natural bi-product of Lean initiatives. When you focus on clean and organized work flow, the results will follow. It may not be a match made in heaven, or an E-Harmony commercial, but Lean and safety belong together and are a perfect match in my book.

In Lean terminology, poor safety in the company is just another form of waste and it needs to be eliminated.

-Michael D. Lawrence, founder of Summit Safety Technologies

Additional Resources