Tag Archives: Safety

Lean: Past, Present, and Future

Beginning my learning in the Office of Continuous Improvement, not only did I learn what Lean itself was and what it looked like, but also I began to recognize where it is applicable. (The last part of that sentence is an oxymoron, as Lean is applicable literally everywhere). However, I began thinking about and applying Lean to circumstances from my past, starting to apply it in everything I do now, and applying it in the future.

Before working in the Office of Continuous Improvement here at Michigan Tech, my place of employment was absolutely awful, pretty much to the point of unbearable. For those of us who know what it is like to work at a job that gives absolutely no satisfaction in any shape other than being un-employed, then you know just how depressed it makes you. After being inducted into the Lean culture and environment, I cannot help but to mentally think about how much that company could truly grow and prosper if Lean was truly and wholeheartedly applied. I dream of how the 5 Whys and Swim Lanes and other useful tools of Lean could benefit the company and employees there, and the many problems that never go away. The kinds of issues that myself and others continue to deal with are ones that are chronic; not only in terms of the process, but that there is also an entire lack of safety as well as lack of respect between employees and managers of the company. Those who understand the culture of Lean understand that this is a huge issue, in that the two most basic pillars of Lean are lacking, which cripples any sort of progress or improvement trying to be made. To say that I am much more happy and satisfied in my work now is an understatement, but I do hope that my old work-place embraces Lean for the better, for the sake of those who continue to work there. Looking back at the two different work environments, and the two different attitudes that I attend work with each day, I can already personally see the difference Lean has made in my life.

Once learning about Lean, I began applying it immediately to my every-day schedule. Not only because I would have to be familiar with Lean tools at work, but also because they are good tools to use anywhere and the more familiar I am in applying them, the better. Thinking Lean is not a mindset that is only adopted in certain situations, but it is a mindset that you continue to use and apply all day, everyday. I can personally say, the transition to the Lean mindset was extremely easy and beneficial. Everyday, I find something I can improve on, and I try to take one more Lean step forward.

In terms of the future, I already have a head-start, thanks to the implementations I have made with Lean thus far. However, this does not mean my Lean journey is done, in fact it is far from being over. One of the best parts about Lean is that there is no limits to its application, the possibilities are truly endless. Endless! As said by Maria Calcagni  in “Gemba Kaizen”, by author Masaaki Imai,  “It is not the idea that something is wrong, but that it can be better”(pg 96). There is always room for improvement, always some process in life that can be made more efficient or effective.

And so, I will take my Lean journey and think of how it would have helped my past, allowing me to know where to start applying it in the present, and continue to let Lean guide me through the future.


The Sixth “S”

We are pleased to present this guest blog post by Pete Baril, Health and Safety Manager at Michigan Technological University

Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, Sustain. We know it like the back of our hand. The 5S process is an excellent Lean tool for decluttering, organizing, and improving efficiency, but it can also be part of the foundation for another very important S, Safety.

We’ve all been there, either at home or at work, fumbling around in a cluttered mess trying to get something done. We trip, grab the wrong tool, or spill something; a virtual gauntlet of hazards placed before us simply due to a poorly maintained workspace. Poor housekeeping not only detracts from efficiency and progress, it’s also a safety problem.

Housekeeping is central to a safe and well-run workspace. In a previous life I was a health inspector, charged with evaluating restaurants on food safety and sanitation. I could tell within five minutes of entering a facility whether or not it was going to be a good day or a bad day, simply based on the organization and housekeeping of the operation. Currently, my professional focus is on safety, and when I evaluate a workspace the results are no different; poor organization and housekeeping almost always equal safety violations and unsafe work practices.

Keeping up with safety requirements can be daunting, and when operating in a poorly kept space, the problem is compounded. Give yourself a chance by practicing the 5S process throughout your workspace. Improved housekeeping can do wonders for your efficiency, not to mention your stress levels. An organized space promotes safety by providing clear workspaces free of trip hazards and poorly stored items. Good housekeeping also prevents us from having to use the wrong tool for the job, as the right one is no longer “lost.” In addition to the many other safety benefits of an organized space, good housekeeping practices demonstrate a level of control over the process that brings with it efficiency, pride, and an improved outlook on the task at hand. All this from something as basic as housekeeping.

In closing, please keep in mind, as you strive to become lean, also strive to improve safety. Your co-workers, clients, and family will appreciate it.


Making Safety a Part of Your Lean Practice

Implementing safety and Lean together can help your organization increase productivity by reducing the wastes associated with a hazardous environment. Lean and other continuous improvement methodologies enable a safety-focused environment, by using problem solving and root cause analysis to correct the true cause of safety hazards in the workplace.

Here are some examples of how you can use Lean to make improvements to safety and increase safety awareness in your workplace:

  • Reducing excess inventory helps increase floor space and reduces potential tripping hazards. Other safety related to storage solutions might include avoiding piling boxes or other supplies on top of filing cabinets, shelves, etc.
  • While investigating workplace incidents, the “5 Whys” could be used to get down to the root causes of the accident and make improvements to prevent the error from occurring again. But remember, almost all system failures result from a combination of a number of factors and failures. You must continue to probe the circumstances, rules, policies, and people around the incident to search for all of the root causes.
  • Error-proofing can be used to avoid or prevent safety hazards.
  • Having “a place for everything and everything in its place” ensures that items are put back where they belong, and can be put back in a safe location.
  • When process mapping, safety risks can also be identified as improvement opportunities so that these risks can be mitigated.
  • Tracking  metrics related to safety can help identify any trends that may exist regarding safety incidents in order to identify opportunities for improvement.
  • Standard work can be created for workplace safety procedures in order to ensure that the task is completed safely each time.
  • Safety topics, recent safety incidents, and safety metrics can all be discussed in daily team meetings to increase safety awareness.
Example safety metric.

Those are a few examples of how an organization can make safety a part of their Lean culture. Keep in mind, a successful safety culture requires the same management support and participation as successfully making Lean a part of your organization’s culture!