By Tom Sammon, Project Manager, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) at Georgia Tech
The practices of safety engineering and Lean production have for many years been implemented separately in most industrial plants. The complexities of regulatory compliance have in large part dictated that separate specialists be dedicated to each area. Over time, in fact, these two essential functions have diverged to the point of being adversaries in many plants due mainly to their seemingly opposed agendas.
So how can workers be kept safe while maximizing production? Seldom have these issues been approached together in a concerted way, but recently some managers have discovered the common ground through a method called Safety Integrated Process Improvement (SI-PI). Manufacturing companies that realize they need better collaboration between their safety and production people have even begun to merge the traditional roles of safety professionals and lean leaders.
To be effective in both roles, however, each group must be proficient in the practice of the other’s discipline. Designing a process or workstation from the start with good safety practice in mind can make for more robust standard work documents, as many of these documents do not now include safety procedures. Conversely, the approach to safety protection can be simplified, and sometimes eliminated, when a process improvement change does away with the hazard or reduces the frequency of dangerous tasks in the workplace.
- Saving money on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) if the process improvement changes the procedure or exposure such that the PPE is not needed.
- Getting a production line up and running faster by simultaneously addressing both safety and production needs, both of which are essential to good manufacturing practice.
Bridging the gap between the best way and safest way to do a job is what the SI-PI method seeks to do.
Recognizing the Impacts of Safety
“Safety is value-added, and hazards are waste,” says Damon Nix of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, one of
the pioneers of the method. This phrase helps us visualize the integration of safety and process improvement in the familiar language of a Lean practitioner. Consider the Eight Wastes and their impact on safety hazards:
- Defects – Increased maintenance activities, hazardous material exposure, machine exposure
- Overproduction – Overexertion, extra handling, unnecessary machine interaction
- Waiting – Setups/Changeovers – hazardous energy exposure
- Not Using Employee Ideas – The company misses out on potential safety improvements
- Transportation – Extra handling, slip, trip and fall hazards, exposure to fork lift traffic
- Inventory – Falling loads, traffic congestion, trip hazards, extra handling
- Motion – Overexertion, poor ergonomic design
- Extra Processing – Unnecessary machine interaction
In a technique similar to the way that lean production managers now conduct “waste walks,” the method equips users with the tools to expand the scope of these walks, having “eyes for hazards and waste,” and beginning to naturally identify opportunities for improvement in Lean and safety at the same time. This will lead to a culture in which the safety professional and the production manager are not adversaries, and where safety improvements come built in and are not just a regulatory measure or afterthought to your workplace layout.
In many plants, safety statistics are aggregated into facility-wide performance indicators. This practice homogenizes the data and does not provide the information needed to identify and address problems. This often leads to broad-stroke safety policies and delayed solutions to potential hazards. Using the proven tool of Value Stream Mapping (VSM), the SI-PI method helps you get to the root of the activities from a process level, not just a plant level. So when improvement teams collect their initial data, they will compile statistics on each step of the process, highlighting the riskier areas of a production operation. Each process will continue to be evaluated on production measures such as cycle time, work-in process inventory, and set-up time. In addition to these typical production measures, data will be gathered on measures of:
- Productivity Impacting Safety Wastes – Lost days, lost productivity
- Quality Impacting Safety Wastes – Total incidents
- Cost Impacting Safety Wastes – Direct costs paid, indirect cost impacts
This will bring into focus where the hazards lie within your plant and allow you and your managers to focus attention on improving the areas found to be of most concern.
Safety by Design
One of the primary objectives of the SI-PI method is to design safe processes from the start. By combining the tools of 5s and the Hierarchy of Safety Controls, you can seamlessly integrate the countermeasures of Elimination, Substitution, Engineering Controls, and Administrative Controls within the context of the 5s program before having to resort to PPE (personal protective equipment) for equipment operators. For instance, during the “Set-in -Order” step that dictates the process for a new workplace layout, potential safety hazards can be considered right alongside concepts such as point-of-use-storage and material presentation.
Implementing Lean principles and good safety practices together should be a gradual process for companies that have historically operated the two separately (or not at all). There are many considerations to be made in terms of production expectations, safety regulations, and existing company culture. The Safety Integrated Process Improvement method allows safety professionals and Lean production managers to speak the same language and solve problems similarly.
This is part of a series of articles for manufacturing improvement. Download a pdf of How Will Combining Safety and Lean in Process Improvement Efforts Save Money?