How applying lean methodologies could improve safety performance?

In this article, Sjoerd Nanninga describes “waste” one can eliminate from safety processes to make them leaner and thus more effective.

This is the second article of the Unite-X safety talks series. We discuss how to apply lean methodologies to safety processes to improve production performance and increase people’s engagement.

You can read the first article in the Safety Talk series about the relationship between lean and safety here.

Sjoerd Nanninga:

“In the production and maintenance domain, we see a lot of valuable applications of lean principles.

Organizations create value by reducing waste and focusing on customer success, doing the right things in a company.
But still, we see that these processes in the safety domain are in some way excluded from lean and lean thinking, which is strange.

We created this domain called Operational Safety Excellence (OSE), which is basically about applying lean methodologies to safety processes.

When you start discussing applying lean to safety, usually there is a bit of pushback because people start saying: ‘Well, we do not want to cut corners on safety and no cost reductions; we want to spend the time we want to invest in safety.’

But, lean is about real value by focusing on the parts of the processes that add value and reducing the parts that do not add value.

Safety processes can be greatly improved. We have measured situations at over 500 plans, and basically, we see there is still a lot of waste in those safety processes. This amount of waste affects efficiency, compliance and quality.”

The aspects and Effects of Waste 

Waiting time

“One of the categories of waste in lean philosophy is of course waiting time. This is called ‘Time on Hand’.

It means that workers would be standing around waiting for the next step to be fulfilled. 

If you walk into nearly every plant in the world in the morning, contractors and maintenance people are waiting to start their jobs. Generally, they are waiting for isolation activities and permits to be ready and then hand it out. 

Usually it’s very common that these people wait 60 minutes 90 minutes until their job can finally start. 

Looking at this from the aspect of efficiency, these guys are waiting but instead should be working with tools (hands on tool time).”

Quality in the blinds effect

“Viewed from a quality perspective: waiting times have efficiency effects because people could be working instead of waiting.

But, there’s also the ‘quality in the blinds effect’, because if people are waiting a lot for a long time until they can finally start, later on, they tend to be rushed, causing them to be unfocused on a task and more prone to make a mistake.”

Access inventory

“One of the other well-known types of waste in lean is access inventory. 

What we noticed in a number of larger plants is that there is a tendency to create a huge stockpile of isolation materials for lockout tagout try out.

If there is no organized process – structurally – when performing an isolation, people don’t know the exact material they need. Without knowing this, you cannot make a plan. The result is that people tend to take a lot of material, and with many ongoing activities every day, they will need more material.

Then, there is also the added non-benefit of carrying much stuff around the plant. So waste all around.” 

Unused employee activity

“The final category usually mentioned in lean methodology is unused employee activity, which means losing value caused by unengaged employees. 

This is extremely important in the operational safety processes because it happens at shop floor: where the work is performed and where the risks are. 

Having unengaged people during safety processes can be very dangerous.”

A safe work environment

“So, let’s ask ourselves how to create a safe work environment?

The way to turn an unsafe work environment around is to empower people at shop floor to make the decisions on these properties. Of course, with guidance and with rules. But you have to give people the responsibility to run these processes well.

Then, the magic begins.

When making people responsible, people can turn around and become really creative on how to solve their day-to-day issues. 

Occasionally, problems that have been reoccurring every day for 20 years are solved in a relatively short period of time.

After that, because people sort out these things themselves, they design something and commit to it. This is key because this ensures continuous improvement.”


In this article, Sjoerd Nanninga outlined briefly the types of waste that is present in safety processes. In the following articles, we are going to discuss these waste types with Sjoerd in more detail: how to identify them, and how to manage them.

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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Author: Sjoerd Nanninga

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

The X-factor in safety

X is where everything starts

An X always draws attention.

When my kids and I are playing pirates, we have a map with an X on it.
X is where everything happens, and you need to go there to get the treasure. It is the X where the action is.

My search for this magical X-factor that makes productions safer has brought me few insights that I strive to share.

Go and see yourself

In the lean manufacturing theory, there is this concept of Genchi Genbutsu, which means ‘go and see for yourself’.

In the lean practice, this means there are two major, significant implications:

    1. First, you need to make your decisions based on observations and data. Not on hunches, beliefs, feelings, or personal preferences. Go to X and see.
    2. Secondly, decisions about critical processes – including safety processes – should be made by the people involved. The people who are at X.

This way, the people with knowledge about what is going on have the power to decide.

Suppose you want to understand what’s going at a site. Take the time to visit the control rooms at night a couple of times. Get the guys a coffee, let them make fun of you, shut up and listen.


Here is my field story about being at the X

I once had a crash course in Genchi Genbutsu. I was flying to an offshore production platform, and I was accompanying a manager that came on shift.

He was a silent man in the beginning. Let’s say he needed to warm up to me, maybe. But we started talking, and at the end of the helicopter flight he told me:

“if you want to learn something, stay within 2 meters for the next two hours after landing”.

We spent the first half-hour together with the crew that was leaving.

They had intense conversations because they were trying to bring over two weeks of data, facts, and information (maybe even three weeks of data in some cases) to the arriving crew.

So, there’s a lot to learn and know about what happened over the last two weeks: potential risks, what is going on everywhere, etc. During this briefing, the helicopter was waiting on the deck, so there was a lot of time pressure.

Right after the ‘leaving crew’ left, the manager went outside to check all the decks. The first thing he checked was a tiny leak, which he noticed in the last hour of his previous shift. The leak was still there. Just a couple of drops were going into the sea.

But one drop pollutes 1000 liters of water. So, continuing that has a huge effect. The loop was not closed, so this was a small mistake. But this small mistake can become a bigger problem when not fixed.


Lessons learned at the X

The lesson was learned. I realized how challenging it is to control such a complicated combination of equipment and to execute actions.

I learned a lot that day and also in the years that followed stands on sides around the world. Sitting in control rooms and going with everybody to see what is going on gave me many insights.

Small mistakes and inefficiencies happen every day.

With my own eyes, I saw how these mistakes and inefficiencies, which are often SMALL, grow fast as a snowball when you sum them up.

So, how could you prevent those?


X is where you should be

When people at the work spot (at the X, remember?) make decisions, they influence processes directly. Thus they prevent unwanted things from happening.

If you allow and empower them to take control of safety processes, that will create real magic.


However, the story about X is not over.

The X also is about connections, tightening knots, and making solid nets of expertise.

Let’s talk about this next time.


To read the second 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

Stay up to date, subscribe to our monthly newsletter.