“Digitalization Can Make People Think.”

Reflections from site director on the impact of Digitalization on the plant’s safety and other processes.

Digitalization is on the rise in the processing industry, and safety operations are changing at a rapid pace accordingly. There is also a lot of discussion about the current trend toward digitalization of safety processes and how it intersects with making them leaner and achieving the goal of zero incidents.

Does digitalization always improve processes? Can it help reach zero incidents? Or does it stop employees from thinking on their own?

To discuss these questions and the impacts of digitalization, Sjoerd Nanninga, Founder and Director of Unite-X, interviewed Kees van der Sluijs, Site Director at DSM DEM in Emmen.

Sjoerd: If you look at the overlap between digitalization, Lean methodology, and the focus on zero incidents, do you see them strengthening each other or in conflict?

Many people wonder if, in principle, achieving zero incidents is possible when related to safety and quality. Though it is hard to achieve, it is possible. Many factors influence zero incidents, and digitalization is one of the most recent impacts.

Contrary to what many people believe, digitalization does not stop people from thinking independently. Instead, it improves and strengthens processes. People are becoming increasingly aware that digital solutions are part of making flow lean and approaching zero.

Digitalization and Lean methodology are a great combination. Instead of using multiple manual checklists, digital systems can streamline the processes. This helps save both time and resources. Lean methodology and the zero incidents philosophy also work great together. Every incident is a loss of time, effort, and resources. Therefore, by focusing on zero incidents, you actively make the flow Lean.

But what if their plan was more flexible than that? Instead of calling them in for one job, there can be a backlog of potential tasks that meet their skill set. When the original plan falls through, they can simply pick up another task item on the list. And with a bunch of pre-defined templates, handing out permits for this newly-arisen task should not be a problem.

Sjoerd:  I’d add two more to this: digitalization frees up space for creativity. And it can also provide data to pinpoint what areas need attention.
Using digitalization to get to zero incidents is a big goal. What steps are needed to reach it?

It is essential to look at things in small, incremental steps. Most workers are not able to immediately analyze the big picture. Instead, they can focus on small steps to take, slowly progressing to the end goal.

Once processes are decomposed into small steps, workers can also identify what is required to improve things. They can bring their suggestions to management, who can respond quickly to a slight suggestion or improvement, rather than needing to approve an extensive overhaul. Thus workers get ownership over the improvement processes. They are also motivated to keep thinking about future improvements and encouraged when they see they are treated seriously and their suggestions implemented.

Sjoerd:  We want people to think about continuous improvement. What are the steps you have taken to make this a normal practice?

At DSM, we started DICI, or the DSM Integral Continuous Improvement journey. The goal is to give everyone a base, standard way of doing something. Once everyone utilizes standardized processes and procedures, different maturity levels mean you can implement various things and take more steps. It is a journey for many years and requires effort to improve continuously.

Instead of focusing only on meetings, checklists, and processes, we invest in people’s behavior. We want to stimulate good results and help people change. This means that there needs to be a focus on mindset and behavior—when these come together, you can achieve high performance.

Sjoerd: Now, when you mentioned a standardized approach, in Lean and digitalization, there is a focus on standardization. How do you decide when to standardize? What is the roadmap?

It is not always clear when something needs to be standardized. For example, if some process is rare and hardly occurs, it does not need to be standardized yet.

However, anything regarding tools needs to be standardized, especially while changing shifts. It is vital to have a deep level of standardization so anyone can come and use the tool, knowing precisely what needs to be done.

Another critical area of standardization is when there is a new process. If it has never been done before or is easy to forget, standardization helps everyone be on the same page.

Although even with standardization, you need to build space for people to think about things. It can be dangerous if people only rely on standardized instructions and do not think while they act.

Sjoerd:  There is an aging population in the workforce, and it can take a few years to really train people to be effective operators of digital environments. Do you recognize this problem? Are there any solutions?

We do notice a generational difference between operators. Those working for a long time can help train new operators with the SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) because they know how to work with it hands-on and have years of knowledge to share.

When it comes to digitalizing SOPs or creating new ones, we find that young operators can learn more quickly.

For example, when a new SOP is implemented for a machine, we may place a QR code on the machine. The code links to a video that then explains how to use it. This process is familiar for younger operators, and they can learn very quickly in this way.

The leadership mission is to build the process that supports everyone in the team to smoothly go through changes, regardless of age, experience, or other aspects.

Conclusion

The overlap between digitalization, Lean approaches, and zero incidents creates necessary synergy for the continuous improvement journey. We believe that digitalization positively impacts incident rates and saves time and resources. Moreover, it frees up workers the time to unleash their creative thinking and thus supports them in changing their mindset toward constant recognition of possible improvements.

This article has been adapted from a video interview between Sjoerd Nanninga, Founder and Director of Unite-X and Kees van der Sluijs, Site Director bij DSM Emmen. To watch the full version of the interview, please follow the link.

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Why planning is challenging?

For most businesses and industries, planning is the key to success. You spend time thinking ahead, making estimates and assumptions, and building a plan.  

But when it comes to lean manufacturing, planning is a bit of an oxymoron. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes that operate on a push model (i.e., make estimates > build inventory > and move through the supply chain), lean manufacturing is a pull model.  

Lean operates on a core concept that reality is so complex that instead of enormous planning, it is best to keep things simple. At Toyota, they discovered that predictive algorithms have great limitations, especially if used for large complex organizations like a manufacturing plant, where many factors vary and can have a significant impact on reality versus planning. 

This is 100% fair for the Operational Safety Excellence domain, where lean principles are applied to safety management. Plans are complex, and there’s no place for that in Operational Safety Excellence.  

So how do you plan when planning is not possible? Planning from an operational safety excellence perspective is built on three principles: simplicity, flexibility, and continuity. 

Planning with Simplicity

There is an old military saying: no plan survives contact with the enemy.  

The heart of this idea is that things are more complex than we can ever predict. So, we make our plans to provide some direction and structure, but we know they will be disrupted when they “reach the enemy” or get enacted.  

This reality calls for simple planning in lean and applicable for safety management operations.  

Consider the Kanban system for-inventory management. Say a company frequently orders and uses notebooks for their daily operations. They keep a stock in their storage room, and once the stock is at one-quarter capacity, a signal alerts staff they need to re-order. It’s a simple system that tells you what you need when you need it.  

This type of system can be applied to many situations because it’s grounded in the reality of what is happening instead of relying on complex projections. You don’t need a mathematics genius to predict the exact number of notebooks you need, just a simple trigger when you’re running out!  

We can spend so much time planning just to throw it out when we face the battle of daily operations. Keep it simple, and you’ll see how much easier it is to stick with plans.

Key takeaway: Simplicity should drive all safety management processes. Take inspiration from the Kanban method by creating a pull system for your workflow, where pre-determined milestones trigger the next phase in a workflow.

Planning with Flexibility

The second core tenant of planning for operational safety excellence is to be flexible with your plans. Again, the reality is more complex than we can even imagine, so creating rigid plans will never work.  

Take this situation, for example, a service person is called in to provide some routine maintenance and cleaning on some equipment. But unfortunately, the production plan changed and now the equipment cannot be served as originally planned. The person called in for a specific job, according to a specific plan, cannot do the task—they are standing idly by.  

But what if their plan was more flexible than that? Instead of calling them in for one job, there can be a backlog of potential tasks that meet their skill set. When the original plan falls through, they can simply pick up another task item on the list. And with a bunch of pre-defined templates, handing out permits for this newly-arisen task should not be a problem.

Key takeaway: Flexible plans are successful plans. Instead of a rigid plan where only one thing can happen, include multiple “back-ups” so you can easily shift to something else when the original plan falls through.

Planning with Continuity

Aligned with the concept of flexibility is the need for continuous adjustment to your plans. This is another way you can prepare for unexpected changes to a pre-determined plan.  

Most companies operate on a weekly planning system. On Thursday, they start pulling together work orders or permit requests needed for the next week. Friday is approval day, and the plan is set out—they’re ready to go for Monday. But again, what happens when things change? Who is empowered to make new decisions? How do you adjust for unexpected events? 

A better system is to participate in continuous backlog grooming, a concept that’s part of Agile software development. Backlog grooming is the concept of continuously evaluating what is and is not working in the task workflow and adjusting it accordingly.  

In practice, this looks like weekly planning coupled with daily reviews. The initial planning is still important, but it should be adjusted daily. A practice could be established of having the night shift, for example, review safety plans for the next day.  

The main question in this process is: are we ready and prepared for tomorrow? They groom the tasks and ensure that things are ready for tomorrow based on the present situation, not an idealized plan of what should happen.  

Continuous planning means that all stakeholders need to be aligned on what’s changing. Daily stand-up meetings or other processes can ensure there is consensus around the new, changed plan.

Key takeaway: Move away from a one-time planning system. Planning is an ongoing, continuous process that involves multiple people. When you keep the question “Are we ready for tomorrow?” in mind, your team will be empowered to make changes and adjustments to whatever is necessary at that time.

Conclusion

Planning in safety management with an operational safety excellence perspective has three pillars: simplicity, flexibility, and continuity. It is a departure from the old ways that required detailed and ambitious advance planning.

Instead, lean manufacturing principles applied to safety acknowledge that reality is complex, so our plans must be simple.

Besides increased efficiency and productivity, following this framework for operational safety excellence will reduce overburden amongst employees. Instead of being held to rigid plans, they’re actually empowered to make decisions and will develop stronger teamwork and communication through continuous improvement.

For all this to work, there needs to be a strong, mature relationship between the maintenance and production departments. It is important that the two work together in a cycle of continuous change and flexibility, evaluating what is next and what needs to be done to make tomorrow successful.

And if teams align with these tenants of lean manufacturing, they will be able to achieve operational safety excellence, decrease the burden on workers, and have more productive work environments.

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Standardization as a Modern Approach to Safety Management

There are many challenges companies are facing today. From unexpected events to economic pressure to the job market—it has become difficult for companies to keep their Lean approach to safety management. Waiting times are increasing, quality is decreasing, and companies are overburdened.

Why is this happening? And is there a way to resolve it?

Over the last couple of years, companies have faced a few significant challenges that make operations suffer. Waiting times for permits and other operational necessities have increased and, because of this, the quality of them is often poor. This all applies pressure to the workforce, and employees are overburdened.

Compounding this problem are two factors:

  • Job market: It is challenging to retain staff when they have an abundance of job opportunities available to them. High turnover results in lost knowledge and experience and lost time with training and onboarding.
  • Supplier availability: Suppliers are also overworked and have an abundance of jobs available to them—they can pick and choose what they want. Companies, then, must work with whoever is available, which means a lot of time is spent getting the contractor up to speed on the company’s operations and goals.

This situation has created an overburdened workforce in the safety management industry. Companies that are trying to operate on Lean principles cannot deal with these disruptive events and challenges. Companies need a new solution to resolve this issue—standardization.

Two approaches to Safety Management

The old way to approach safety management projects, tasks, or jobs was by asking: what are we going to do?

A company will look at what needs to be done and pull together contracts, permits, and tasks and responsibilities. They might draw on past experiences or ideas but are creating something new each time. This approach focuses on creation and idea generation—always starting at square one and trying to decide how to move forward.

In contrast, the new safety management solution is to work with standardized templates that go beyond generic instruction for several types of activities and hazards, like a corporate standard on how to handle hot work, line break, etc. This is about setting up very detailed standards for the many jobs that are carried out on site.

Instead of creating something new, you are starting from a standard and revising it along the way from the perspective of looking at the unique aspects of this particular job execution.

So the kick-off question of starting a new job in standardized reality is: what is different this time?

Standardization represents a culture shift. Instead of generating new information each time, you rely on checking information.  Make appropriate adjustments, evaluate the process, and then revise the template for next time.

Creating Templates Library

This new approach to standardization includes:

  • Detailed, high-quality templates for every single job, project, responsibility, job, or initiative with step-by-step information on what needs to get done and who will do it.
  • An accessible database of standard templates that are ready to use when needed.
  • A thorough review of templates and standards to continually improve and adjust.

After a template library exists, then the process for any new project or initiative is simple—you select a relevant template, review and adjust it, and move forward. No time is wasted on defining what we need to do. It is clear what needs to be done, so all energy can be directed towards accomplishing it.

As we see standardized approach requires an up-front time investment into the template library. Creating and maintaining the templates is a key job in each company and so adequate resources should be devoted to it. Having a detailed and accessible database library of standard templates will help companies go from creating from scratch each time to simply adjusting and revising based on the needs of the current project.

When companies invest in standardization, they can increase efficiency and quality while reducing errors, mistakes, and wasted time.

How to Introduce Standardization for Safety Management

Companies interested in standardization need to invest time and money into creating their template library. It’s a long-term project and needs to be done systematically, with strong attention to detail. Leadership should prioritize time to complete the project, but also invest in staff and professionals who have administrative, project management, and organizational expertise to help build the template library.

The standardization process is as follows:

  1. Start with a vision: Standardization is a culture shift, and everyone needs to be on board with the changes. It’s important that companies see this as a necessary change and part of Lean principles.
  2. Prioritize: Start with areas of your operations that are the highest risk and, therefore, the most key areas to improve. You can also prioritize what is most used or the most important areas of your operations.
  3. Determine responsibilities: Create a clear outline of who will be responsible for what area of the standardization and template process.
  4. Define metrics: How will you know you’re successful? Consider what metrics are important to your company and build them into the standard templates.
  5. Evaluate: Each time you use a standard template, evaluate its efficacy. These evaluations should also be standardized, too, so that you collect the same data each time.
  6. Revise: Based on the evaluation, revise and adjust the templates as needed. This is an essential piece of the process and ensures that the library is kept up-to-date at all times.

A future next step might also be to share templates within the company with different departments. And, depending on the company’s market position, it may also be possible to share across companies, too. There is a willingness, even between fierce competitors, to collaborate in the safety domain. Since the goal is to reduce the need to generate and create something new each time, sharing and repurposing standard templates should always be a priority.

Conclusion

Standardization is a modern approach to safety management that incorporates Lean values while addressing the challenges faced by companies today. Having a detailed and accessible database library of standard templates will help companies go from creating from scratch each time to simply adjusting and revising based on the needs of the current project.

To move towards standardization, companies need to start with the vision and understand the difference this process can make. From there, they can follow a systematic process of standardization of their operations. It will transform their overburdened employees, maximize efficiency, and help them reach company goals in achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

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Compliance: How to pursue people to adhere to what is agreed?

Safety agreements come in various forms: from legal and internal regulations to production process descriptions, customer contracts, workers carrying out their work as instructed, employers providing their employees with adequate guidance and protection, and maintaining a suitable maintenance program for heavy machinery.

Teams closely monitor agreements by internal and external auditing to remain compliant. However, the desirable level of Compliance is achieved when everyone follows safety standards without direct supervision.

In this article, we will discuss how to engage people at plants to maximize Compliance with rules and regulations for a safer and more effective production environment.

Why it is so hard to be compliant

Safety-minded professionals are aware of how crucial Compliance checks are. Yet, when you start talking with safety experts about their approach to safety audits, you will immediately capture boredom in their eyes. Nobody finds this topic interesting or inspiring.

From one perspective, that is explained by the fact that compliance checks execution often overloads operations and day-to-day activities. It requires continuous effort and tracking to understand and overview the production surrounding and identify deviations clearly.

Furthermore, the high level of responsibility associated with the performance of a Compliant process creates extra tension on the shop floor.

So Compliance checks are often a painful part of Safety professionals’ jobs.

Compliance is more than following rules

However, the Operational Safety Excellence domain considers Compliance an opportunity to investigate processes for creating potential improvement opportunities and engaging the team on Safety topics.

To ensure this happens, we need two essential ingredients:
1. There is a joined vision on Compliance, driving everyone’s behavior
2. There is a safety management system that dictates the Compliance

While working on achieving the maximally possible level of Compliance, the team usually eliminates hurdles that prevent from following the rules and thus removes non-value-adding activities, getting a better leaner flow in return as a side effect.

Let’s overview these ingredients in detail below.

Ensuring joined vision on Compliance

Now let’s look together at how management can ensure the fundamental conditions of excellent Compliance in Safety at the plant.

Compliance gets achieved when internally motivated.

To ensure this:
• Promote the reasons behind rules, not the rules themselves.
• Involve all operators and managers who are engaged and running the process. Listen to their concerns and pain points.
• Spark a discussion by asking how the rules relate to everyone’s personal working conditions. Take this as a starting point to find common ground.
• Show everyone specific needs have been taken into account in the best way possible to avoid the resistance.

Thus you empower all team members to influence their daily working circumstances and gain the necessary level of internal motivation.

Compliance is more about understanding why the rule is essential than learning the rule itself.

Frequent control to check things are done accordingly causes a waste of time and resources, while a passive attitude awaiting orders makes decision-making and corrective actions even slower.

To ensure people proactively take responsibility for their job area compliance:

• Identify the shared values of the team to help you in this process.
• Don’t impose a set of rules without clearly outlining their value.
• Change your team mindset toward Compliance outcome.
• Responsibilize people for their area of action and equip them to make decisions rather than waiting for direction from above.

Compliance requires a shared effort amongst all parties involved.

«I saw Production Operators get more involved, actively ask: “Wait, is this correct? Is this on the right point? Is it properly locked out? Let’s try and make sure”. I think it’s been a big improvement». This quote from a Production Supervisor at the one of the industry leaders describes the best mindset you want to achieve in the team.

How do you make it happen:

• Get everyone in the discussion on how to achieve Compliance together, agree on principles and values
• Invest time in writing clear rules, and co-design them with the team to share the ownership
• Ensure there are no obstacles to implementing the rules and the appropriate equipment is available if required.

Small practicalities

There are also a few small practical tips on how to support people in adhering to what was agreed:

• Provide a step-by-step guidelines
• Use precise, unambiguous language
• Add pictures and pictograms
• Deliver instructions in different formats
• Make sure guidelines are accessed easily

Additionally, to focus the team effort around achieving Compliance, it should be possible to evaluate the current state and report on the progress. Getting accurate data and following KPIs related to Compliance can help the team not lose that track.

Building a proper system ensuring Compliance

Internal and external audits are not the only vehicles to ensure maximum Compliance. In fact, one should never rely solely on them. Checking the reality of execution vs. the initial plan should be built into the holistic system of managing safety processes.

The proper process management systems set-up will help you to:

  • Move from experiencing audits as a hassle, but consider them as the support to find value-adding improvements to your current way of doing things.
  • Get the opportunity for a complete overview of the process and improve further by collaborating with an external party.

In other words, the system should be designed so that being compliant is the most effective way to behave for everyone.

This is what a SHE Manager from one of the users of Unite-X safety management software says about the effective system: «The biggest challenge was keeping up with paper Permits to make sure they were compliant with our company Life-Saving rules. With Unite, they are automatically embedded, and that was such a relief as I became confident we were following governance.»

Conclusion

To ensure Compliance is not a hurdle but an opportunity, there should be particular prerequisites and a proper system.

We at Unite-X offer you our best practices and observation based on more than 20 years of experience together with our clients turning Compliance issues of various complexity into opportunities for Operational Safety Excellence.

We believe that only well-developed systems of internal interactions allow getting to the core of the “Why” and creating a collective agreement on the steps needed to achieve Compliance.

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What should the robust Permit to Work system look like?

A permit to work system is a formal process of stating exactly what work is to be done, where, and when. 

For years, printed on paper permits were the main items on the desk of safety experts, and even with a massive wave of digitalization, many of them still prefer paper. “It is just bigger,” says one of the Unite-X clients, SHE leader in a global corporation, unfolding a large sheet of paper with a printed version on it. “I immediately see everything I need”.

Hard to argue that a small-screen tablet gives less space for overview. However, digital permit-to-work software offers so many other benefits that beat the print size.

In this article, we investigate the impact of digitalization on permitting process and how digital permits exceed paper in helping to achieve Operational Safety Excellence.

What is the Permit to Work System?

Permits authorize workers to perform specific tasks within specific time frames utilizing standard procedures. This way the Permit to Work process helps protect the health and safety of frontline workers and the site’s assets and environment.

The permit includes information about required safety precautions, detailed information about how to perform the job, and any critical handover information. The Permit to Work process also triggers warnings about potential hazards, prevents errors, helps solve conflicts, and minimizes risk at the plant.

This definition of the Permit to Work is mainly related to compliance: ensuring all the jobs are done according to the head SHE office rules and government regulations.

But the permitting system is much more than just a shield protecting from internal and external audits. Actually, an optimal and effective permitting system can become a pillar of achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

Jobs performed under permits form a core of the plant’s flow. Records of planned, active, and closed permits can tell just as a fascinating story about the life on the production site as bills written on papyrus can tell about life in ancient Egypt.

Permits are vital for communication between site management, plant supervisors and operators, and frontline workers. They contain an enormous amount of data, which properly grouped, processed, and analyzed can signal problems and losses, triggering continuous improvements.

With the crucial role of the permitting process in the plant’s life, a not-optimal permitting process can significantly impact the plant’s general efficiency and safety levels.

Paper problems

If you walk into a large production site, where paper-based security regulation is still in place, it is fascinating to observe their archive. You will most likely see towers of paper on desks of Safety Department folks, folders with sticky notes indicating the time and date of the documentation.

For audit, this is everything from inconvenience to a real nightmare. Auditors usually pick a random document from those piles. But getting valuable information about the real situation of plant safety, especially in dynamics, is close to impossible.

However, an audit is only one perspective of the issue. Paper-based Permit to Work process often has a bad reputation as a source of frustration for the people that work with it daily because of:

  • Lack of overview for leading people to make decisions
  • Inaccurate or poor information communication
  • Incorrect measures or unclear descriptions caused by incorrect work permits
  • High costs caused by unnecessary waiting times, especially for contractors
  • Mismatches in the execution of processes among the various teams and plants due to unclear rules
  • High risk of people breaching rules caused by unworkable procedures

In our (Unite-X) practice, we saw the cases where teams shared the observation that the other team has a different “style” of creating permits, which made communication harder. Instead of solving up-to-date issues, they first needed to translate the permit into the “language” understandable by everyone in the daily meetings.

Hands up here, solely transfer from paper to electronic permitting system does not solve these issues immediately. The solutions lie mainly in the field of proper process design. Let’s take a look at how the process should be built for moving closer to Operational Safety Excellence.

Download the Unite-Permit to Work product brochure

Good Permit to Work processes should be:

Lean

If you walk into any plant in the world in the morning, you’ll usually find workers waiting around for the permits necessary to do their jobs. Instead of working hands-on, they might spend anywhere from 60 to 90 minutes every morning just waiting for permits to be approved and issued. This is not an efficient use of anyone’s time or money!

Plus, workers may be anxious to start their jobs once the permits are assigned or they might feel uninspired and disengaged from their work. They might also feel pressure to rush into their work to make up for the lost time. It can be hard to plan ahead for their day, so they might grab more material than they need for their assigned task. This leads to increased waste and risk of incidents at the site.

Instead, applying lean methodologies improves safety performance and reduces waste in safety processes.

Standardized

Within the standardizing principles lies the idea that every abnormality in the process signals a potential error.

As a tool that people use in their day-to-day routines, the Permit to Work process needs to be standardized. Permitting process utilizes practices and procedures that are constantly re-used. It is important to have a deep level of standardization so shifts can come and use the tool, knowing precisely what needs to be done.

A standardized way of handing out permits by using pre-defined templates, by default compliant with corporate regulations, also frees up the time and effort necessary to kick off the continuous improvement mindset of the team.

“Without standards, there can be no kaizen” this famous quote, attributed to Taiichi Ohno, is also very relevant for the Permit to Work process. If you want to learn more about the role of standardization in Operational Safety Excellence, download the white paper here.

Measurable

Strong, data-driven processes should be the basis for good, efficient decision-making. Therefore, it is important to build the process that will allow to capture and measure the performance of Permit to Work from all possible perspectives.

Measurement and re-measurements help to extract necessary data for your site to:

  • Create reachable goals and long-term objectives
  • Understand any deviations from those goals and objectives
  • Measure progress towards those goals and objectives
  • Understand the root cause of any issues, should they arise
  • Meaningfully benchmark results

Moreover, a proper measurement system will help to identify “waste” as non-value-adding activities and to re-balance effort towards value-adding.

So digital or paper?

Looking at the above said about three characteristics of a decent permitting system – lean, standardized, and measurable – digital Permit to Work systems obviously will serve this goal better. No human can beat the ability of modern software in considering all necessary settings, prompt handouts and reviews, re-use templates, and close the loop of feedback.

Instead of using multiple manual checklists with manual efforts, digital systems streamline the processes and save both time and resources.

There is also a common hurdle that “digitalization makes people stop thinking” has actually proved to be wrong in 2022. It is totally the opposite, without non-necessary hassle, people tend to be more creative and motivated to improve processes around them even further.

No matter how small is the screen of your electronic device, the only a digital system can allow you the fullest overview of the current status of the plant including:

  • Real-time updates and actual situation overviews to the entire team
  • Ability to attach additional informational documents and work instructions to a permit
  • Ability to involve and reach all necessary parties simultaneously
  • A full overview of permits, their status, and their history
  • Ability to close the loop of learnings and re-use the best practices.

These and other features give you comprehensive control over the plant, that no paper tower archive can offer.

Digital Permit to Work: how to make it happen?

With the proven implementation framework, Unite-X supports and educates production teams to ensure organizations elevate towards Operational Safety Excellence by means of digital tools.

We utilize industry knowledge, team effort, and digital tools to ensure a smooth implementation process. Read more about how the Unite-X Permit to Work software here.

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Top Things to Consider for Successful Management of Change 

How to move the organization through the change with confidence

Production plants for Chemicals, Food, Pharma, etc., need to perform changes all the time — whether the change is in a shift organization, a new process or product introduction, equipment replacement, or another type of change.

Production plants are designed to be safe for the people who work there and the surrounding, so running organizational or technical changes through the safe path must be managed exceptionally well. Before executing a change, the risks of that change must be known and evaluated. Only then can the organization move forward with confidence.

Keep reading to learn more about what makes for effective and safe change management.

Why is good management of change important?

Whether big or small change occurs, every site must go through certain phases, including proposing, approving, implementing, and checking a change.

There are many perspectives to consider in the change process. For example, different specialties like electrical, mechanical, safety, and process are all people who need to work together on their piece of the change and give the change their blessing. The critical question they seek to answer is always will this change introduce any new risks?

Additionally, there should always be someone overlooking the entire change process to balance these perspectives and ensure nothing is overlooked. There are many factors and perspectives to consider for each change, and each change can have a significant impact on the overall process, flow, efficiency, and safety of a site. The management of change procedure should support everything goes as smoothly as possible.

How to define a change?

It is essential to define what we consider a change.

How “big” or “small” the change is determined by the level of risk it introduces. If the plant starts using a new pen in the office, that is probably too small to be managed as a change. Though sometimes, a tiny change can introduce enormous risks. One wrong spare part can bring down an airplane. The key is recognizing changes and adequately assessing the risks they could trigger.

It is a valuable exercise to look in maintenance management systems or permit to work systems to review jobs described there and check whether the job is actually about executing a change. It tells you something about the effectiveness of the organization in recognizing changes.

Once we define a change and identify which events should be managed as a change, it is also essential to decide how to manage them.

Having a single approach to managing changes usually is insufficient. Often when employees find the procedure of submitting low-risk change requests too complex, they tend to bypass it. Thus to handle different types of change fast and smoothly enough, the approach should be agile, and .changes need to be managed differently depending on the scope, complexity, and risk involved in the change.

Download paper on Standardization prepared by Operational Safety Excellence experts.

A hurdle to innovation

One of the downsides of an ineffective change management process is that it prevents innovations. Innovations trigger changes at all levels, technical, behavioral, cultural. While change occurs, it is crucial to keep current processes running smoothly without introducing new risks.

Moreover, if people know that the existing process of managing changes does not support them enough, and thus, changes cause a rise in stress level, hassle, massive documentary work, and extra pressure on safety measures, they may resist the change. The fact that the process’s complexity is high can also result in changes being lost. Somebody is reviewing but not clear who that is. How many changes do you have hanging somewhere halfway?

As a result, those who might benefit from innovation prefer to keep the “oldie, but goodie” status quo.

Why should a site implement management of change software? 

There are many benefits to implementing management of change software onsite. 

Control of risks

Proper management of change process helps to keep risks low and manage safety at the site by keeping everyone informed of all the ongoing jobs and changes.

The ability to innovate

Creating flow in the process of change will allow the plants to manage more changes. Changes are not done for nothing. They are meant to reduce risks or make the plant more effective or efficient. Do more of them.

Increased efficiency and waste avoidance

Management of change software provides an easy-to-use overview of everything that needs to be done and when it needs to be done. It also helps keep the process flowing so the site can handle more changes with fewer people, optimize resources, and focus on innovation. 

Data insights to inform decisions

Tracking every job in the management of change software can help you gather data and identify phenomena like bottlenecks in the process. You can see where the problems are and why. This data can be used to make practical, informed decisions on how to improve the process flow. 

Clear procedures and responsibilities 

Using the management of change software helps with clear communication and puts everything in one shared dashboard. It allows responsibilities to be easily assigned and procedures to be mapped out. This means there is less need for overhead and oversight, which can greatly improve efficiency. 

Increased compliance

Management of change software can help keep processes streamlined and on track. This can help ensure that your site is fully compliant with all necessary regulations. It also provides a traceable, trackable record of everything that was done and when. This makes it easy to go back if there are any issues. Having a traceable record can be greatly helpful for site audits.

Acts as a back-up

While nothing is a failsafe, implementing good management of change software can help you and your site avoid mistakes and remind you of what needs to be done so that nothing is forgotten.

Process components of change management 

So, what does good management of change look like?

Firstly, the proper process should be adaptable to the nature of change, its scope, complexity, and risk involved in the change choosing the confident path to realize the change. Risks drive the process.

Secondly, the process should contain four basic steps: make the plan, approve the plan, execute the plan, and finally close the job. There are smaller checks to make within these four basic steps, including identifying and mitigating risks, providing necessary authorizations, and completing the required inspections.

Thirdly, the process should be traceable and measurable at each step, giving everybody involved an overview of if everything goes smoothly with a change. For example, measuring the time required to approve changes, several changes with open actions, or time delays between actual versus planned due date of the change can signal if the change goes effectively and put the process on constant improvement rails.

Conclusion

A successful process of implementing change is only possible if the procedure fits the different types of changes and if means are available to share the information correctly and make the status of the change transparent to all those involved.  

And that calls for robust management of change software and Unite-X safety software offers this.

Read more about how the Unite-X management of change software can help you. 

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Shift handover – no room for errors and waste

How communication in production impacts safety and efficiency.

In many significant safety incidents, like the BP Texas City refinery or Piper Alpha explosions, the information flow during shift handover played a significant role. When there is an information backlog, not everyone is aware of what’s going on in the plant—things can easily go wrong.

Not everybody sees improving the communication between shifts as an opportunity to raise production effectiveness, which helps to save money or enhance safety culture and produce Operational Safety Excellence.

Communication errors can cost a lot of money. As a simple example: if a task is missing in quality control, a batch might be labeled as lower quality and will need to be sold at a lower price. 

In this article, we overview the true place of production communication in the safety and efficiency balance puzzle, what are challenges arise while solving it and how to plant management can address them. 

Better informed people make better decisions 

Picture a typical shift handover in the morning: The person coming off their shift stands together with the person coming onto their shift for no more than 10 minutes. They look over the screen together and go over what is happening in the production area. 

They’ll often say that the shift was uneventful, and there is not a lot to discuss. If anything noteworthy happened, they might write it down in a little notebook or log.

But in this situation, there is probably a lot of information that is being left out. Data is also exchanged through in-person chatter, emails, and more. And sometimes, scrawlings in a notebook might be misunderstood by the next person. Or by a later Shift when they are trying to solve an issue.

So even if the following shift-start meeting is structured, information might be missing. 

Thus becoming well-informed becomes a lengthy process.

Getting up to speed on what’s going on in the production plan is a big pain point for many plants. It can take hours to figure out the real situation in the plant. What is different than usual? What needs to happen?

Shift handover can be ineffective because there can be a lack of structured communication between shifts and other layers of the organization, and reports can lack crucial details.

To minimize safety incidents and achieve Operational Safety Excellence, plants need to cut down the time it takes to exchange information.

Standardized shift handover = safer = efficient

If everything always happens the same way, extra time and effort can be saved through standardization. From the other angle, within the standardizing principles lies the idea that every abnormality in the process signals a potential error. From this point of view, “unstandardized work = potential error” is a true statement. So how standardized and reliable are your shift changes?

Another thing about recurring actions is that they could be captured, described, and used to train people. Thus you might assume that there would be no surprises.

But, in reality, in a vulnerable environment, plants must consider everything going on in and around the job. There are countless possible factors and situations you have to account for. And surprises still might come!

Being a core principle of Operational Safety Excellence, standardized work makes processes not only effective but also safe.

Working with standardized processes enables shifts to spread the knowledge consistently and share experience, capture lessons learned, and cooperate for joined continuous improvement while embracing and appreciating the current state of the plant.

Download paper on Standardization prepared by Operational Safety Excellence experts.

Let them talk to each other in a structured way

Think of each shift change like a baton pass. 

It can be challenging to share a job with other shifts, as different shifts often have their own cultures and even styles. Sometimes things can even get a little competitive or tribal, and teams might develop individual goals.

While the different shifts have a shared responsibility to keep things running, this can sometimes lead to a lack of responsibility on any one person or team. 

Since not everyone will arrive for their shifts at the same moment, it can be hard to always perform a detailed handover and talk to the relevant counterparts about what is going on. 

When shift handovers happen, they are usually one-on-one between two people. This is good when the information being passed is relevant for a single person or job role. However, some info is essential for the whole team.

Many supervisor roles are only day shifts, they are usually not present during night shifts, while critical daily meetings usually only happen once during the morning shift.

Therefore, supervisors need to understand all the handover details and relay that information to their team quickly. Looking through the logs and going through a quick 10-minute handover often doesn’t provide enough structured information.

The solution: digital production communication system

Wrapping up above said, we address three main challenges:

  1. Unstructured information flows between shifts and production staff, as a loss of efficiency and source of errors. 
  2. Unstandardized information processing flow, as a room for potential error. 
  3. Nonaligned collaboration between shifts, as a trigger for both production losses and additional risks.

These three (and many more) challenges could be solved by implementing an intelligent digital way of managing shift handovers – Production Communication software.

Digital Production Communication systems tend to be highly underestimated in the market. 

Production people often think of implementing digital Production Communication modules as something needed for compliance. But in reality, by addressing the above-listed challenges, Production Communication plays a huge role in general safety and efficiency. 

It shortens the time it takes to be fully informed and builds a structured knowledge base for the plant that everyone can access and learn from. That way, handovers can happen quickly, new shifts can get all the information they need to be successful, and people coming off their shifts can go home soon.

The Production Communication system also provides a meaningful audit trail for the plant. It keeps a structured record of who took responsibility for the plant at what moment, accompanied by which information people had when they took responsibility.

This helps to drive safety and compliance. 

What does the Unite-Production Communication module include?

The Unite-Production Communication Module is a comprehensive information capture system that collects documents, forms, e-documents, notes, audio recordings, photos, and videos. It transforms them into accurate, retrievable, digital information.

The online dashboard delivers that information structured for business applications, such as active deviations, planned and pending changes, KPI reports, open tasks, operational instructions, shift handover reports, filter for times, teams, and more.

It compiles information about immediately relevant things, such as ongoing chatter and open tasks that need to be done. It also collects long-term information, such as changes to instructions and procedures.

The information can be used for immediate action or for historical tracing and analysis. 

The Unite-Production Communication module helps better inform the people involved in the production process so that better decisions are made, waste is reduced, and risks are lowered, producing Operational Safety Excellence.

Conclusion

Well-informed workers are critical to any production plant. They add an important layer of protection to the plant and help avoid accidents.

Production Communication is a module of the Unite-X system that is designed to efficiently communicate the plant’s current status from one shift to the next shift. 

Start implementing the Production Communication Module today to help your plant:

  • Standardize and optimize both safety and production processes
  • Gain specific insights that enable continuous improvement
  • Get ready for the next level of efficiency and sustainability

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Role of standardization in safety

Introduction

There are multiple motives and incentives behind the standardization of operational processes, eliminating unnecessary costs is only one of them.

Unite-X puts into focus that standardized work makes processes not only effective but also safe. 

This paper summarizes the insights of Unite-X experts, describing how standardization puts organizations on the rails towards Operational Safety Excellence. In this article, let’s look at the definition of a standard and how it supports safety and lean.

Image: The formation of safety culture in an organization

Safety

Creating and embracing a safety culture amongst sites of manufacturing organizations demands a high level of engagement from every person involved.

To achieve this, organizations need to develop a consistent safety culture and spread it across all the facilities globally, ensuring that this culture fits local specifics. 

In its turn, working with standardized processes enables sharing experience, capture lessons learned, and cooperate for joined continuous improvement.

A standard

While standardization is the activity of making standards, there are numerous definitions of the term ‘standard’ used in the industry. In this paper, standardization is observed as a part of making production more lean and safe. 

Thus in this paper, we rely on the definition that connects these two domains:

A standard is an approved specification of a limited set of solutions to an actual or potential matching problem, prepared for the benefits of the party or parties involved, balancing their needs, and prepared and intended to be used repeatedly or continuously for a certain period by a substantial number of parties for whom they are meant.

To decompose this definition from the lean perspective standard has the following characteristics: 

      • It is an approved specification 
      • It has a limited set of solutions 
      • It solves the actual or potential problem 
      • It is used repeatedly and continuously 
      • It is used for a certain period of time 
      • It is used by a substantial number of parties. 

A standard must consider the users’ needs, and the usage of the standard must be beneficial. 

Aside from that, standardized work is the focus of lean manufacturing. Thus concluding from the definition of standard, standardization is necessary for organizations that seek to elevate their safety to the next level.

Lean

Within the standardizing principles lies the idea that every abnormality in the process signals a potential error. At the same time, one of these principles is to avoid waste. 

Additional safety measurements may result in additional procedures and when these procedures are not efficient, they form a process waste. Ironically, this triggers risks instead of preventing them. For example, long waiting times due to failed planning can result in rushed behavior in the maintenance process, not rarely at the expense of safety. 

Standardizing safety procedures can prevent causing inefficient safety procedures to become waste. Based on the definition stated in the previous chapter and looking from the lean perspective, these are the benefits gained: 

      • To achieve maximal efficiency by uncovering and eliminating: 
          • Unnecessary workforce 
          • Inefficient costs 
          • Waiting time 
      • To achieve a higher level of safety by achieving 
          • Fewer incidents 
          • Less frustration 
          • Fewer possibilities for unnecessary risk-taking 
      • To roll out the process across sites globally: 
          • To gain insights on how the corporate standard is applied locally 
          • To align in the understanding of process steps 
          • To develop a common perception of risk identification 
      • To set up flows of knowledge exchange amongst teams: 
          • To close the loop of lessons learned incorporation 
          • To review and adopt new developments 
          • To implement improvement ideas 

Going further down at the level of widely used safety operations, like Permit to Work or LoToTo, standardization brings: 

      • Necessary support for users in understanding and applying procedures
          • Procedures translated into content and rules 
          • Rules translated into work instructions 
          • The first-time action performed right 
      • Improvement compatibility with other processes 
      • Possibility to monitor and review performance 
          • To benchmark and compare between sites 
          • To benchmark and compare across the industry 
      • Simplified communication with contractors 

As described above, there are numerous reasons to standardize safety procedures.

Conclusion

So, when done well, standardization decreases ambiguity and guesswork and increases employee morale.

When implemented successfully, standardization brings measurable improvements in important processes of an organization, such as planning, designing processes, quality of output, and compliance.

Unite-X considers standardization as an essential step towards Operational Safety Excellence.

Interested to learn more about Unite-X capabilities?

We can give you a remote demo

Our experts will showcase the system architecture and explain how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher HSE level.

They will provide you with all necessary documentation and guide you through the stages of realizing your ambitions within your organization, business unit or plant.

Request a remote demo

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Author: Sjoerd Nanninga

In this article managing director Sjoerd Nanninga writes about the X-factor in safety. This article was originally posted on LinkedIn. 

Building connections with X

At the crossroad

Archaeologists love crossroads because this is where they find a lot of coins and goods. People met at crossroads to trade and to talk, and also to get help and to make new connections.

As the story about the X-factor in safety goes on, here is the following insight:

X is a crossroad, a place where we intersect, a connection.

‘Death in the desert.’

A better and more robust connection is another X-Factor in safety, and let me tell you why using another story from the personal development experience.

There is an exercise that is called ‘death in the desert.’

It is a group activity where you have to imagine that you are stranded in the desert after your plane has been crushed. The pilot, unfortunately, has not survived the crash, but all the others are fine.

So there are about fifteens priority sets and decisions to be made, and there is a correct objective order. The priority decisions will impact your life and death.

At first, people make the priority decisions on their own. And after they hand in their decision, the fun starts, because they have to make those decisions of priority as a group.

The decision-making process is highly refreshing from the perspective of personal growth.

For us, however, it is crucial to note that in nearly all groups, the collective effort does much better than the sole best individual.

There is only a rare odd case when a survival expert is present in the group, and for some reason, the group decides not to utilize his knowledge. Then the individual experts score higher decision efficiency.

 

When one plus one is three

Now imagine a group of experts globally working together on best practices and decisions to bring incidents to zero.

The decision is to be made about common general tactics and detailed issues that bother you (and everyone) every day. The connections among people, in this case, expand the level of just one site or plant.

When put together, people tend to share knowledge naturally.

The hard-learned lesson from one plant will organically flow to the other plants and can be immediately added into the daily practice of all the global plants. Thus if you genuinely elaborate together and put joined effort into decision making, the result would be near-perfect policies.

 

Tight knots of connections

The conclusion is obvious, better connections within organizations lead to more safety and efficiency in the field.

The X-factor of a solid collaborative network will result in a giant step towards zero incidents, a crucial one. And I do not mean the flyer on the information board explaining incident causes or recommendations.

 

To read the first part, click on this link.

Interested to learn more about Unite-X capabilities?

We can give you a remote demo

Our experts will showcase the system architecture and explain how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher HSE level.

They will provide you with all necessary documentation and guide you through the stages of realizing your ambitions within your organization, business unit or plant.

Request a remote demo

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Lean and Safety: are they friends or foes?

At first sight, Lean manufacturing and safety seem opposites.

Safety protocols have a reputation of slowing things down rather than speeding up production processes or make these more efficient.

In this article, Sjoerd Nanninga (Managing Director at Unite-X) investigates if this common opinion is true.

Working safe or working lean?

If you talk to people in plants, safety has a reputation of slowing things down.   

When you ask people, they will reply in utter frustration: “Sometimes we have a 5minute job and it takes you 3 or 4 hours to do the safety preparation, get the proper authorizations in place, find our managers to OK everything and then we’re waiting, waiting, waiting and then we do our 5-minute job.  

“So, safety and maintenance can be frustrating and certainly can at times feel totally ‘not lean.”

This was purely about the experience of people in plants, but what we also see organizationally, is that in large corporations they are a huge group of internal consultants.  

People working with lean methodologies in improving important the performance of plants, and domain that these guys look at so that the black belts and the green belts is usually totally unrelated to safety.  

They are focused on manufacturing or maintenance and maybe sometimes also on the financial and the logistical side of things, but safety is like a separate domain and there’s very little into a mingling of the methodology of lean and the application of that in safety.

 

How lean methodologies could improve safety performance?

There are a number of ways in which lean can be applied to safety to increase performance.  

“One of the biggest things is that the focus of lean is to standardize work.”

Thus, whenever there’s a situation where you have a process in which there is variation, you are at risk: that’s kind of the definition of variation.   

For example, if you look at your maintenance job and you’re looking at the quality of the risk assessment of their job and all the mitigating factors included, if you have variation in the quality, then you will need to have a loss of checks and balances and everybody needs to look at it.  

So you have a lengthy process in place in order to come to a good safe situation.  

Thus, if you can have a more standard standardized process with a standard way of approaching these types of jobs and everybody in the organization does it the same way, then with much less effort and much less throughput time you can get to an even higher quality of those risk assessments.  

Applying principles of standardizing jobs and standardizing also the job process means that you can get a big increase both in quality of the safety in terms of compliance and also the quality of the assessment but also make it much more efficient.

By the way, read our article about standardization in safety here.

 

How does working lean creates value?

The major value creation in lean work happens due to the elimination of waste. 

Lean is famous for waste reduction. The process by which we reduce waste is continuous improvement.  

Continuous improvement for me means looking really well at an organization (and the processes that go on in an organization) and then making small adjustments until it gets better and better During and after that process you always keep looking for improvements. This is why it’s continuous improvement. In our experience, most safety processes consist of a lot of waste. There is a lot of waiting time and people rewrite or redo stuff all the time. 

“Safety usually consists of a lot of waste.”

These things can be very costly, especially the misalignment between departments and people can cost a lot of money. Also, this kind of waste can also be risky at times.  These are the things that we need to eliminate.  

Secondly, what also sometimes happens, is that downtime in plants is longer than it actually needs to be because of these misalignments.  By working through these aspects of waste and removing them also the safety processes can be more value-driven and get to a higher quality level with fewer costs. 

 

People first

One of the key pillars in lean is the engagement of people.  

The engagement of people starts with respect. Really truly understanding as to the leadership of an organization, is that the people that work in those processes daily are the true experts in their fields.  So, any improvement that you’re going to implement into an organization is going to start with these people.  

They have to first sense, feel and own that there are things to improve and that there’s a possibility or value creation. And then also those improvements should be designed and implemented by the people on the shop floor.  And that will make it a lasting situation.

“Leadership is there to support because as the leaders in the organization they should show their respect and trust in their people, that they can actually do the work.”

Because if you are managing an operational organization the biggest responsibility that you have is the safety of the people that work in your organization; the externals and internals that come to your plant. You are responsible for their safety.  What you need to do is trust that you have people with expertise and you have to trust the process of continuous improvement.

Consultancy

Positive impact on both safety and efficiency

There’s still this big separation between the safety professionals on one side and the leading professionals within manufacturing organizations on the other side.  So, what we think is that those communities and those ways of thinking should really come together.

“This means that the people in the safety domain should really get themselves trained and involved in understanding lean and lean methodology. They should have a good feeling about how to implement continuous improvements also in the safety processes.”

On the other side, lean professionals in those organizations usually do not look at the safety processes. but I think that’s a mistake because there is a lot of value to be gained and a lot of ways to be reduced in those processes.   

If you take them on board you can make great combinations with other processes and optimize the whole plant to a new level.  So, I think it’s just a great domain to look at how we can combine stuff, learnings from two sides.

Conclusion: lean and safety are friends!

We definitely see that safety gives great opportunities to improve efficiency by eliminating even more waste, while lean allows safety experts to implement continuous improvement strategies.

We at Unite-X call this domain Operational Safety Excellence as a connecting domain between safety and lean.

 

About Unite-X

Instead of looking at safety measures as waste or ‘noise’, Unite-X has developed a philosophy that focuses on how safety aspects and lean processes can reinforce another.  This strategy is what we call Operational Safety Excellence (OSE). 

We at Unite-X promote three sub-domains to be crucial parts of the strategy of Operational Safety Excellence.  

These are:

  1. Standardization  
  2. Reduction of maintenance downtime 
  3. People engagement

Read more about the Unite-X solution here.

Interested to learn more about Unite-X capabilities?

We can give you a remote demo

Our experts will showcase the system architecture and explain how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher HSE level.

They will provide you with all necessary documentation and guide you through the stages of realizing your ambitions within your organization, business unit or plant.

Request a remote demo

Stay up to date, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.