A Safe Path to Lean

As most lean advocates know, successful improvement initiatives cannot be driven by legislation or regulatory requirements. Any “program” that is based on mandates from a federal administration is severely limited because compliance merely drives reactive behavior -- “doing” not “thinking.” If lean tools expose and solve process problems, why can’t these same tools improve safety? Robert Hafey, author of the book Lean Safety: Transforming your Safety Culture with Lean Management, offers these insights:

“While attending the AME international conference, held in Cincinnati last October, I introduced myself to a lean thought leader and briefly described a book I had written that suggests to get lean you should start with safety. His comment back was that for most companies that is exactly where they should begin. I failed to ask a follow up question to fully understand his reasoning for supporting my contention but I know why I recommended it in book form -- because it works.

All lean leaders understand the path to real lean, lean that is lasting, is dependent on employee engagement. Resistance to lean that is predicated on cost savings has killed off many a lean effort. Because we work in adult workplaces the simple equation that cost savings = fewer employees is understood by everyone. To discourage this thinking a senior leader may state that no lay-offs will occur as a result of lean but this is not the norm. He could instead take the safe path to lean by asking his employees to focus on safety improvement and thus bypass the initial resistance to lean caused by mistrust and a lack of understanding.

Simply by facilitating safety improvement activities while using a lean tool like the kaizen blitz you can begin to train your employee base in the lean language and many of the lean tools. A team of employees given the gift of time to focus on safety will not only reduce injury risks but they will most certainly reduce the cycle time of the process they have observed. This safe path to lean can initiate a journey toward real lean for any business for it is build upon respect for people first and then cycle time reduction.”


David McGan said...

I led a couple of "Ergonomic Kaizen" workshops at a company, which resulted in a number of identified improvement opportunities. However, without leadership commitment, first and foremost, it doesn't matter whether the focus is on Safety or Lean or whatever you want to call it. True senior leadership commitment is harder to gain than most people realize. Leaders should recognize that before they begin to throw money around. If there is TRUE leadership commitment, then it doesn't matter exactly where one starts. Safety certainly is a good place.

rick maurer said...

It seems to be that if safety has that sense of urgency about it, then it would make a great focus for LEAN. I recall someone on the floor telling me that things "could go boom" as he pointed to the hazardous materials surrounding us. These people were eager for something that could improve safety since their lives depended on it. On the other hand, if safety is just another program, then people won't have sufficient fire in their bellies to take LEAN (or anything else) seriously.
Thanks for your thoughtful post.