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

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What is the domain of Operational Safety Excellence?

Operational Safety Excellence connects the essential safety carve-out of the Health Safety Environment (HSE) domain with the domain of Operational Excellence.

Operational Safety Excellence focuses on implementing continuous improvement in safety performance by automating safety execution, safety control, and safety assurance in the heart of operations.

This article highlights the main definitions and principles of Operational Safety Excellence.

What is HSE?

HSE (Health (H), Safety (S), and Environment (E)) is the acronym for the methodology that studies and implements the practical aspects of maintaining health and safety at occupation. Furthermore, it concerns the protection of the environment. In other words, it is what organizations should do to make sure that they will not cause any harm to anyone.  

  • From a safety standpoint, it involves focus, effort, and action to create procedures for identifying workplace hazards and reducing accidents. It also concerns the intended exposure of harmful situations and substances. This requires training of people in incident prevention, incident response, emergency preparedness, and use and instructions of protection (clothing and equipment). 
  • From a health standpoint, it regards the development of safe, high quality, and environmentally friendly processes, working practices, and systemic activities. These should reduce and/or prevent the chance of risk. 
  • From an environmental standpoint, it involves creating a continuous approach to comply with environmental regulations. This includes managing waste or air emissions to help sites reduce their carbon footprint. 
Operational Safety Excellence

What is Operational Excellence?

The operational excellence of an organization is the execution of its operations in an excellent way. Given two commercial companies with the same strategy, the operationally more excellent company will in general have better operational results, creating value for customers and shareholders. 

 

Combining Operational Excellence with Safety

The Operational Safety Excellence domain was initially explored by Unite-X (former IB&X) as a safety assurance platform focused on achieving a zero-incident strategy for large industrial industries.  

The domain was brought to life to fill the niche between the ever-growing pressure for organizations to comply with Health Safety and Environmental regulations and standards.  

While there have been various aspects to creating and maintaining a safe working environment, it is often challenging to implement efficient fail-safe systems and build them in the day-to-day routines. Operational Safety Excellence couples a straightforward zero-incident strategy with process optimization and cost reduction programs. 

Five principles of Operational Safety Excellence

  • Lean manufacturing  

Lean manufacturing, or lean production, is a production method derived from Toyota’s 1930 operating model The Toyota Way”. The term “Lean” was coined by John Krafcik (1988), and defined by James Womack and Daniel Jones (1996) to consist of five key principles: ‘Precisely specify value by specific product, identify the value stream for each product, make value flow without interruptions, let customer pull value from the producer, and pursue perfection.’.

The lean manufacturing methodology focuses on minimizing waste within production processes while simultaneously maximizing productivity. Instead of looking at safety measures as waste or ‘noise’, results have shown how safety aspects and lean processes can reinforce one another.  

  • Process standardization 

Process standardization can be defined as the improvement of operational performance, cost reduction through decreased process errors, facilitation of communication, profiting from expert knowledge, and providing flexibility without sacrificing organizational controls.

The focus of lean manufacturing is standardized work. Within the standardizing principles, this means that every abnormality in the process signals a potential error. When standardizing your processes, working lean means applying principles that can help and be of value for the final quality of your safety processes. 

  • People engagement 

To merge operational excellence with safety execution, people engagement is a key factor. A successful solution is not only supported by the management team, it is especially carried by the people who work with the system. 

  • Production continuity 

Research has shown that downtime is mostly caused by maintenance. When analyzing the duration of maintenance as a whole, you can divide it into preparation/waiting time and actual working and maintenance time. Most of the preparation and waiting times are unnecessarily long and can be lowered by efficient planning and good preparation. 

  • Operational excellence   

To effectively achieve full capacity under the safest circumstances, expertise in the domain of Operational Safety Excellence assures that safety processes are integrated into day-to-day production routines and maintenance environments. 

 

Insights 

The true value of managing safety goes beyond the reduction of the direct and indirect costs of serious injuries or the avoidance of catastrophic events.  

Firms that manage for safety are more successful and more sustainable because they are focused on operational excellence. Incidents are signs of deviations in the management system and indicate that production is not being managed correctly. 

When a business is properly managed for safety, this organization experiences higher production efficiency, higher production quality and provides higher returns for investors. 

 

Unite-X created the domain of Operational Safety Excellence.

To effectively achieve full capacity under the safest circumstances, expertise in the domain of Operational Safety Excellence assures that safety processes are integrated into day-to-day production routines and maintenance environments.

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.

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The role of standardization in lean and safe manufacturing

What is a “standard” from a safety perspective? 

While standardization is the activity of making standards, there are numerous definitions of the term ‘standard’ used in the industry. Unite-X looks at standardization as a tool of making production more lean and safe.  

Thus in this article, we rely on the definition, introduced by Henk J. de Vries in his paper “Fundamentals of Standards and Standardization” as it connects these two domains:

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. 

Standardized work is 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 have similar reasons behind. 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:  

o Unnecessary workforce  

o Inefficient costs  

o Waiting time  

▪ To achieve a higher level of safety by achieving  

o Fewer incidents  

o Less frustration  

o Fewer possibilities for unnecessary risk-taking  

▪ To roll out the process across sites globally:  

o To gain insights on how the corporate standard is applied locally  

o To align in the understanding of process steps  

o To develop a common perception of risk identification  

▪ To set up flows of knowledge exchange amongst teams:  

o To close the loop of lessons learned incorporation  

o To review and adopt new developments  

o 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  

o Procedures translated into content and rules  

o Rules translated into work instructions  

o The first-time action performed right  

▪ Improvement compatibility with other processes  

▪ Possibility to monitor and review performance  

o To benchmark and compare between sites  

o To benchmark and compare across the industry  

▪ Simplified communication with contractors 

Conclusion 

Concluding above said, 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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