“We must accept human error is inevitable
– and design around that fact.

Donald Berwick

What is Quality in Safety?

And how to approach it from the perspective of Operational Safety Excellence.

What is Quality?

Quality, in a broad sense, refers to producing goods or services that meet specified standards or criteria. It involves adherence to statistical bandwidth and ensuring that processes are carried out within defined parameters. Using terminology from the Lean methodology, the presence of excessive operational waste also indicates a lack of quality (Do you have too much waste? Then you are low on quality.)

Essentially, quality encompasses various aspects of a product, setting the foundation for its definition.

We have prepared an infographic explaining how to achieve Quality in 8 steps. Download it now!

However, when discussing Safety, the discourse inevitably turns toward the aspect of the quality of individuals. Within this domain, we encounter two distinctive facets of people quality — collective and individual.

The collective quality often intertwines with organizational culture, posing questions about the skill levels and behavioral tendencies of the workforce. Is there a pervasive culture of quality in safety? How adept are individuals at adhering to safety protocols?

Simultaneously, the lens narrows down to scrutinize the quality of individual people. This involves an examination of their specific skill levels and the alignment of their actions with prescribed procedures. Consequently, in the aftermath of a serious incident, the initial feedback often revolves around the notion of human error.

When root-cause analysis is misleading?

When it comes to addressing incidents, especially those with severe consequences, the first response is almost always to blame a human error.

A stark example that underscores this is the tragic Bhopal industrial accident of 1984. This catastrophic event unfolded when a tank containing 42 tons of methyl isocyanate experienced a runaway chemical reaction due to water ingress, leading to a staggering number of casualties.

The initial response of a simplistic root-cause analysis with a linear thought process examining facts in chronological order was to pinpoint an error made by a human in the maintenance procedure.

The prescribed instructions stipulated that, during maintenance, a specific device should be inserted to prevent water from entering the tank. The operator overseeing the maintenance neglected to follow this crucial step, allowing water to infiltrate the tank. This breach in protocol triggered the catastrophic chain of events—unleashing a chemical reaction, releasing lethal gas into the village, and resulting in widespread devastation.

However, this linear root-cause analysis provides an oversimplified view of a highly complex situation. It conveniently places blame on an individual, ignoring more impactful forces.

For unsafe states (2)
Look at the system

Quality as a holistic concept that urges us to scrutinize the entire system. It advocates for a more profound exploration of the multifaceted factors influencing the end result.
The Bhopal incident, upon closer examination, reveals harsh economic conditions faced by the plant, contributing to a lax approach to maintenance. The plant’s overall state of disrepair, incessant alarms, and a dismissive attitude toward safety audits all painted a picture of systemic issues that transcended individual actions.

The quality approach prompts us to question the simplicity of the initial narrative. It encourages us to acknowledge that there is seldom a singular, linear cause for such disasters. Instead, it is a complex interplay of various factors—economic downturns, conflicts between management and unions, and compromised safety protocols.

How Quality impacts the emotional state of people

This systematic approach is also supported by the fact that Quality has a direct response to the emotional state of individuals within the process. And that, in it’s turn, results in a poor quality delivery. Again and again, this turns into an endless loop: poorly designed process makes people frustrated, frustrated people are making wrong decisions, and wrong decisions lead to incidents.

We covered this in more detail in our previous article: Mindful and effective: how improved safety processes help to avoid unsafe states?

Quality in Operational Safety Excellence context

When we talk about safety and quality together, it goes beyond just following rules. It is a complicated puzzle that involves understanding human actions and the complex workings of systems.

For instance, when you’re getting ready for a task, an obligatory step is to perform a task risk analysis. This is a common practice worldwide, whether using paper or computer systems. It involves looking at the job beforehand and analyzing the potential risks associated with it. The task risk analysis has a few parts to it:
• Firstly, you consider how detailed the task description is. Is it clear and thorough enough for a proper risk analysis? This is a way to measure the quality of the preparation.
• Secondly, check how accurate the description is. Does it match how the task will actually be carried out? This involves comparing what’s written with what will happen in reality. So, it’s about being detailed enough for understanding and aligning with the execution.
• Finally, if you have a well-described job that matches the reality of its execution, another quality aspect to consider is the thoroughness of hazard identification. How comprehensive or excessive are the hazards outlined? These are three instances where you evaluate the quality during the preparation stage of performing a risk analysis.

In Operational Safety Excellence we zoom in to the level of operations and inject Quality in the process design itself. By doing so, a more comprehensive approach to improving safety quality can be established—one that goes beyond reactive responses to incidents and delves into proactive, systemic enhancements that safeguard against future calamities.

The power of Standardization

According to the knowledge from Operational Safety Excellence, there is one word for the solution: Standardization.

The concept of standardization encapsulates a systematic approach to defining what constitutes excellence and efficiency in operational processes. It is also a perfect example of human error prevention inserted in the process on the operational level. Standardization is not merely a set of rigid rules but a dynamic framework that guides individuals toward understanding what ‘good’ looks like and how to approach it.

Here are the steps to embark on the journey of standardization:

  1. What? Provide your team with tangible examples of what embodies a well-executed, efficient and desired task outcome (how GOOD looks like).By presenting real-world scenarios as benchmarks, individuals gain a practical understanding of the expectations within the context of their responsibilities.
  2. How? Provide comprehensive guidance on how to generate new materials with the emphasis on detailed, granular guidance rather than high-level abstractions. By imparting specific guidelines, individuals are equipped with the tools to assess and address challenges systematically.
  3. Check! Integrate of feedback loops, exemplified by the PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycles. This iterative cycle allows individuals to engage in continuous improvement by learning from their experiences. After individuals have created task risk analyses, a collective examination ensues. This collaborative approach involves asking pertinent questions—How well were the examples applied? Were the rules faithfully applied?
  4. No satisfied? If feedback indicates stagnation or decline in performance, get into a deeper analysis of the system. Scrutinize training adequacy, cultural alignment, and the clarity of rules. In essence, it is a return to the systemic level, ensuring that the standards themselves are adaptive and responsive.
  5. Establish the Standard. Reuse of successful outcomes. Rather than reinventing the wheel with each new task, the materials generated through the standardization process become a repository of best practices. This not only streamlines future efforts but also reinforces a culture of consistency and reliability.

In conclusion, standardization, within the realm of operational safety excellence, emerges as a multifaceted tool for quality improvement. It empowers individuals with clear guidance, encourages continuous improvement through feedback loops, and ensures the efficient reuse of successful materials. As a holistic approach, standardization laying the groundwork for sustained quality improvement.


Understanding and enhancing Quality, especially in safety, requires a shift from simplistic root-cause analyses that lead to blaming individuals to a comprehensive systems approach. Quality is about the entire context of how safety procedures are designed and applied. Standardization, coupled with continuous feedback and systemic analysis, emerges as a powerful tool to improve and sustain quality, ensuring safer and more efficient processes and the emotional well-being of the team.

Are you tired of errors, re-dos, and rejections in Permit-to-Work handouts?

8 steps to improve Quality of Safety processes

Download the infographics for EHS experts ->

Learn how to approach the Quality aspects of Safety processes (i.e. Permit-to-Work)  in the EHS domain by applying a step-by-step approach to achieve Operational Safety Excellence.

How do the emotional states of people at the plant impact safety and efficiency?

Het beestje bij zijn naam te noemen.” 

Dutch saying “Call the beast by its name.”

In the safety domain, we deal with humans in various emotional states, which refers to the feelings and moods they experience and express at work. If you ask EHS people, they will name “Rushing” as a typical cause of accidents. We will add here three other possible risk-triggering emotions: “frustration,” “complacency,” and “fatigue.”

Emotional state can significantly impact safety and efficiency in manufacturing, as it can influence workers’ decision-making, behaviour, communication, and teamwork. Therefore, EHS managers need to be aware of the emotional states that can pose risks or opportunities for manufacturing operations and how to manage them effectively.

Four unsafe states of mind: rushing, frustration, fatigue, and complacency.

According to SafeStart International, a company that provides safety training and consulting, there are four common states of mind that can cause or contribute to critical errors or mistakes that lead to injuries or accidents in the workplace. These are:


When workers feel pressured to complete a task quickly, either because of external deadlines, personal goals, or perceived expectations. Rushed people skip steps, overlook details, or take shortcuts that compromise quality and safety.

Rushing unsafe state
frustration unsafe state

When workers feel angry, annoyed, or irritated by something or someone at work, such as a difficult problem, not effective non-value-adding action, etc. Frustration can cause workers to lose focus, act impulsively, or lash out at others, which can create hazards.


When workers feel tired, sleepy, or exhausted, either because of lack of sleep, long hours, physical exertion, or mental stress. Fatigue can cause workers to have reduced alertness, impaired judgment, slower reaction time, or diminished coordination, which can affect their ability to perform tasks safely and efficiently.

Fatigue unsafe state
Complacency unsafe state

When workers feel bored, disinterested, or overconfident, either because of routine, familiarity, or experience. Complacent people pay less attention, take things for granted, or underestimate risks, which can make them miss warning signs or ignore safety rules.

These four states of mind can have serious consequences for safety and efficiency in manufacturing, as they can increase the likelihood of human error, which is a major cause of accidents and injuries in the workplace. Moreover, they can result in defects, rework, waste, or delays, which can harm the reputation and profitability of the manufacturing company.

Please read more about emotional states on the LinkedIn page by Sjoerd Nanninga:

Three causes of unsafe emotional states

These four states of mind are not random or isolated occurrences. They are often triggered or influenced by various factors in the work environment, such as:

  1. Workload: The amount and complexity of work that workers have to do. Too much or too little work can cause workers to feel stressed, overwhelmed, or bored, which can lead to rushing, frustration, or complacency.
  2. Work schedule: The timing of work that workers have to do. Irregular, unpredictable, or time-demanding tasks can cause workers to feel confused, disrupted, or exhausted, leading to complacency first and rushing after.
  3. Work culture: The values, practices, and engagement workers experience at work. A positive, supportive, and inclusive work culture can foster workers’ enthusiasm, satisfaction, and comfort, while a hostile or indifferent work culture can undermine workers’ motivation, morale, and well-being, with frustration or complacency as a result.
The importance of effective process

A clear and transparent process can be achieved by applying the lean methodology to safety processes. Lean methodology aims to reduce waste and increase value for customers by eliminating activities that do not add any value for the customer.

This is how applying five key principles of Lean helps in the EHS domain to manage the emotional states of workers and to get improved safety and efficiency as a bonus:

Value: clearly understand the purpose and expectations of tasks.

✅ Value stream: see the whole picture of the process.

✅ Flow: follow the smooth and uninterrupted flow through the value stream.

✅ Pull: perform tasks only when they are requested.

Perfection: pursuit of improvement and excellence.

Read more about how to apply Lean to Safety here: Apply lean methodologies to improve safety

How to manage unsafe states of mind for a safer and more efficient work environment

The good news is that these four states of mind are not inevitable or irreversible. There are ways to prevent, reduce, or cope with them, both at the organizational and individual levels.

Here are some suggestions:
-> Plan and allocate work in a realistic and balanced way, considering the value delivered and avoiding overloading or underutilizing people.

-> Manage time, prioritize tasks, set realistic, attainable, and measurable goals, and break down complex or large tasks into smaller and simpler ones.

-> Create and maintain an engaging work culture that values, supports, and respects workers, encouraging them to communicate, collaborate, learn, and contribute.

-> Standardize and automate repetitive actions and flows so that people can focus on tasks that require creativity, problem-solving, or human interaction.


Emotional state is a critical factor that affects safety and efficiency in manufacturing.

By being aware of the four unsafe states of mind that can cause or contribute to critical errors or mistakes and by applying the strategies to manage them effectively, managers and workers can create a safer and more efficient work environment where they can perform their tasks with confidence, competence, and satisfaction.

Technology and digitalization is a great means to support people. Read more here: Digitalization can make people think

Interested to learn more about how Unite-X safety software can make your life easier?

Get in touch with us

Our Operational Safety Excellence experts will showcase how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher HSE level.

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

Contact us today

Rethinking the Role of EHS Expert: Why Safety cannot Be Confined to a Department

“Stop executing, start inspiring…

Jaap de Bruin, EHS expert with 40 years of experience

Believe it or not, numerous organizations still think that Safety is a standalone department.

But a significant paradigm shift is underway. Intending to create a culture of holistic safety consciousness, in this article, we explore the reasons behind this transformative approach.

Let’s overview the traditional notion of the EHS role as it is today. The conventional setup often leads to the misconception that Safety is solely the responsibility of the designated EHS person at the plant.

Not to mention that this puts enormous pressure on the shoulders of one or few people on site, the risk of this perception is exponential.

And here is why:

Balancing Proactive and Reactive Measures

EHS professionals face the challenge of balancing between proactive and reactive approaches. Preventing incidents and promoting a safety culture are crucial, but they must also respond swiftly and effectively when emergencies occur. This dual role demands a delicate equilibrium between preparedness and response from all the process participants.

Meanwhile, EHS professionals often feel overlooked when blamed for something that goes wrong while being ignored when everything goes well. 


Interdisciplinary Expertise

The EHS role demands a unique blend of interdisciplinary expertise. Professionals must comprehend scientific, technical, and legal aspects while possessing strong communication and leadership skills. They must consider the technical part of many projects to ensure policies are relevant and not to build artificial hurdles for the shop floor people.

Meanwhile, there is a rare case when EHS professionals have direct access to expertise, especially at smaller plants. 


Cultural Change and Engagement

Implementing safety and sustainability initiatives often requires driving cultural change within organizations. EHS professionals must convince stakeholders of the value of these initiatives, overcoming resistance and fostering a mindset shift. Achieving this cultural transformation demands effective communication, negotiation, and the ability to inspire others toward a shared vision.

Meanwhile, EHS people are often perceived as those “who check checkboxes” being overwhelmed with execution.


Balancing Short-Term and Long-Term Goals

While immediate safety concerns demand immediate attention, long-term safety improvements also require strategic planning and patience. Navigating this duality requires foresight and the ability to manage priorities effectively.

Meanwhile, EHS people often lack data to plan strategically, project future changes, and prove progress.


Ever-Evolving Regulations

The landscape of environmental and Safety regulations is dynamic and ever-changing. EHS professionals must stay updated on a plethora of local, national, and international regulations, often adjusting their strategies and practices accordingly. This requires a continuous learning curve, adaptability, and the ability to translate complex regulations into actionable measures.

Meanwhile, EHS people often have legacy tools at their disposal.

Please watch videos about the role of EHS people by Sjoerd Nanninga here:

Mindset shift required

So what should EHS people do to empower their organizations and to engage more people in safety topics and to achieve Operational Safety Excellence? First of all, they need to rethink from being the one who executes to being the one who inspires and leads. Here are just a few examples of changes of mindset needed to fulfill this:

Adapting to the company’s success

One fundamental aspect that stands out is the adaptability of leadership within the safety domain. Safety professionals play a critical role that evolves with a company’s growth trajectory. In the early stages, these professionals are often focused on operational tasks such as procedure approvals and measurements. However, as organizations mature, these roles transform into advisory positions, influencing and championing safety culture. Aligning safety roles with the company’s development phase is vital for ensuring that safety practices are both effective and contextually relevant.

Cultivating a Culture of Excellence

A cornerstone of operational safety excellence lies in the attitudes that drive it. Encouraging a mindset of continuous improvement is essential. Thought-provoking questions become powerful tools for promoting critical thinking. By challenging the status quo and encouraging innovation, safety professionals can strike a balance between enforcing standards and fostering creativity.

Navigating Challenges and Facilitating Change

Implementing standardized safety practices across diverse locations presents a unique set of challenges. Balancing universal corporate standards with local perspectives requires finesse. Collaboration with local teams is key to ensuring that standardized safety practices are well understood and embraced. Success stories from companies that have managed to scale safety initiatives underscore the transformative potential of such endeavors.

Fostering Cross-Organizational Collaboration

An essential quality of effective safety professionals is their ability to bridge gaps within the organization. Connecting different levels, from shop floor workers to top-level management, facilitates a comprehensive understanding of safety dynamics. This cross-organizational connectivity fosters a collaborative approach to enhancing safety measures.

Given listed above, if organizations want to elevate safety culture to a new level, they must adopt the concept that every individual, irrespective of their role, holds a share of responsibility for Safety. By embedding safety principles into an organization’s core values, it becomes a collective endeavor rather than a compartmentalized task of a single person (of a couple of people).

How EHS People Can Nurture Safety Culture

So what should EHS people do to empower their organizations? The answer lies on the surface: engage more people in safety topics. Here are some tactics for this:

-> Shared Responsibility and Ownership

Empowerment begins with instilling a sense of shared responsibility. Talk to people more often, create connections, practice Gemba, and co-create and co-design rules to encourage individuals to view Safety as a collective effort, fostering a sense of ownership that transcends job titles.

-> Effective Communication

Open and transparent communication builds trust and serves as a cornerstone of safety engagement. Regularly communicate safety updates, initiatives, and incident reports to keep everyone informed. Providing avenues for employees to voice concerns, suggest improvements, and share their experiences to develop collaboration. 

-> Tailored Training and Education

One-size-fits-all training approaches can lead to disengagement. Tailor safety training to the specific needs and roles of individuals. Interactive, hands-on training sessions can make safety concepts more relatable and memorable. Additionally, provide ongoing opportunities for learning and development, empowering individuals to stay updated on best practices.

-> Recognition and Incentives

Positive reinforcement creates a sense of achievement and encourages others to follow suit. Recognizing individuals who exemplify exceptional safety practices reinforces the desired behaviors. Regularly acknowledge employees who go above and beyond to ensure Safety. This is especially relevant when measurable results are achieved.

-> Collaborative Problem-Solving

Engage employees in collaborative problem-solving. Encourage them to identify potential hazards, suggest solutions, and actively participate in safety committees or forums. When individuals feel their input is valued and contributes to safety improvements, they become more invested in the process.

-> Mindfulness of Emotional States

Emotional state can significantly impact safety and efficiency in manufacturing, as it can influence workers’ decision-making, behaviour, communication, and teamwork. Therefore, EHS managers need to be aware of people’s emotional states and how to manage them effectively. Read more



The shift from viewing Safety as a department to a shared responsibility signals a transformative journey in operational Safety. Recognizing Safety as a collective commitment rather than a task confined to specific roles fosters a culture where everyone is a safety steward.

To empower organizations, EHS people should foster their leadership skills and engage more individuals in the safety domain. Adapting mindsets, aligning roles with growth trajectories, and fostering cross-organizational collaboration are essential steps.

To achieve this, strategies such as shared responsibility, effective communication, tailored training, recognition, and collaborative problem-solving are vital. These strategies transform Safety from an obligation to a collective commitment.

As the role of EHS experts evolves, a safer and more prosperous future is envisioned—a future where Safety thrives as a shared value, driving success and safeguarding the well-being of all.

Interested to learn more about how Unite-X safety software can make your life easier?

Get in touch with us

Our Operational Safety Excellence experts will showcase how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher HSE level.

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

Contact us today

Why Safety Processes Cannot Wait Another Year to Be Improved

Invest in Operational Safety Excellence already in 2024

As the new fiscal year approaches, manufacturers worldwide are busy setting their budgets for the upcoming year. While various departments and initiatives are vying for financial resources, one area that should take top priority is the digitalization of safety processes.

It is hard to believe how much paperwork is still involved in managing safety processes, though we all know that paper-process means lost opportunities. In this article, we will explore three critical aspects of safety that demand investment in digitalization in already 2024 and why waiting another year to get rid of paper is not an option.

Waiting another year to address these issues has costly repercussions.

Invest in People Engagement and Knowledge Exchange

To address the challenge of an employee shortage and an aging population

The job market in the 20s is increasingly competitive, making it difficult for industrial organizations to attract and retain qualified talent. Manufacturers are grappling with a significant challenge: an employee shortage and an aging population.

The aging population means that a considerable number of experienced workers are nearing retirement. One side of it is that when employees leave, they take with them valuable institutional knowledge. Losing their knowledge and expertise without proper succession planning can result in an increased risk of accidents. Another aspect is that access to expert knowledge becomes even more challenging.

Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize people engagement efforts by promoting internal knowledge exchange and a positive safety culture by involving all the team in safety topics. Shared digital storages of knowledge, lessons learned captured, templates and standard flows, and intuitive, easy-to-navigate libraries could address this issue.

Invest in Leaner Processes

To address operational waste that eats away at your budget

Inefficient processes and operational waste are relevant for safety processes just as for any other manufacturing flow and not only hinder productivity and profitability but also pose a threat to safety.

Waiting another year to streamline and optimize safety processes can result in a continued drain on both financial and human resources.

Lean principles contribute to safety as they help identify and eliminate wasteful activities, reducing the chances of accidents and injuries caused by unnecessary steps or time pressure.

By investing in process improvement initiatives today, you can identify bottlenecks, implement standardized procedures, leverage automation to streamline operations, improve the quality of planning to avoid last-moment preparations, etc.

The Operational Safety Excellence domain supports this approach, and the Unite-X implementation methodology allows us to get visible, measurable results already after 90 days of implementation.

Invest in Getting to Zero

To address and manage the hidden risks, the sooner, the better

Waiting another year to address potential risks and hazards is a gamble no industrial organization should take.

We all know that if you have zero incidents for 2-3-4 years, it doesn’t mean that you are fully safe, and it definitely doesn’t mean that there is no need to improve safety. In fact, the longer an organization goes without incidents, the higher the likelihood that an incident will eventually occur if the underlying risks are not properly addressed.

Working with plants all over the globe, we at Unite-X still see situations where not all hazards are captured in working permits, and not all necessary control measures are applied. Incidents happen triggered by hidden risks; our goal is to uncover them as early as possible.

Evaluating the process of risk assessments, hazard identification, and proactive safety measures should be an ongoing process. As addressed in the first two chapters, digital tools greatly help spread safety culture. They establish hurdles to making errors and support people in making the right decisions.

Waiting another year to address these risks means unnecessarily prolonging the potential for incidents and increasing vulnerability.

Invest in Data

To address the lack of overview in the decision-making process

Investing in data is essential for improving safety processes in the manufacturing industry. Organizations can gain valuable insights to make informed decisions and drive continuous improvement by collecting and analyzing relevant safety information.

Data-driven risk assessments and management help organizations prioritize safety measures and allocate resources effectively. Furthermore, data insights enable organizations to identify areas for improvement and implement targeted corrective actions.

Ultimately, investing in data empowers employees, fosters a proactive safety culture, and ensures a safer working environment in the chemical manufacturing industry.

Invest in Going Digital

Digital tools provide a range of benefits that directly improve employee engagement, foster safety processes, enhance the safety domain and support data-driven decision-making.

Digitalization promotes better communication and collaboration among stakeholders and teams, both within the organization and with external partners.

By automating routine tasks and data collection, employees can focus more on proactive safety measures, such as conducting safety inspections, participating in training programs, and engaging in risk assessments. The ease of access to safety data and guidelines empowers employees to make informed decisions and take ownership of safety practices.

Cloud-based platforms and mobile applications enable the seamless sharing of safety-related information, incident reporting, and hazard identification. This enhanced communication facilitates timely response and corrective actions, ensuring that safety concerns are addressed promptly.

Embracing digital solutions enables organizations to revolutionize their safety management systems and mitigate risks more effectively. Waiting another year to embrace digital solutions for safety means missing out on opportunities to improve safety outcomes and falling behind competitors who have already integrated digital solutions into their safety processes.


Organizations cannot afford to neglect safety improvements for another year in the competitive business landscape. Prioritizing safety measures not only protects employees but also safeguards the reputation and long-term success of the organization. By investing in people engagement, leaner processes, proactive risk management, and digital solutions, businesses can create a safer working environment and achieve sustainable growth in the years to come.

If you want to learn more about how Unite-X can support your continuous improvement journey in 2024, contact us today.

Interested to learn more about Unite-Permit to Work capabilities?

Download the brochure

The brochure will give you a brief overview of the application of the Operational Safety Excellence domain to the Permit-to-Work process. It will also explain how Unite-X enables your company to operate at a higher level both in safety and productivity.

We are also ready to provide you with the necessary documentation and guide you through the stages of realizing your safety ambitions within the organization, business unit, or plant upon request.

Please submit your contact details to get access to the brochure

Removing Operational Waste in Safety Processes:

A Guide to Operational Safety Excellence

Safety processes, such as Permit-to-Work (PTW) and Lockout/Tagout (LOTO), are not immune to operational waste.

In high-risk industries, such as manufacturing, construction, and energy, safety processes are crucial in protecting workers and preventing accidents. However, no plant management wants to achieve 100% safety and go bankrupt. Operational waste refers to any activity, practice, or resource that does not add value to the overall safety process, leading to inefficiencies, delays, and increased risk. And thus, increased costs.

In this article, we will continue to explore the various types of waste in safety processes and discuss strategies to remove them, ultimately achieving Operational Safety Excellence.

Waste Types in Safety Processes Overview

The concept of operational waste originated from Lean Manufacturing, a management philosophy, and methodology developed by Toyota in the mid-20th century. Lean Manufacturing aims to eliminate waste and increase efficiency in manufacturing processes. One of the central principles of Lean is the identification and reduction of various types of waste, often referred to as “Muda” in Japanese.

Over time, the concept of waste in Lean Manufacturing expanded beyond the realm of manufacturing and was applied to other industries and processes, including safety processes. Operational waste in safety processes refers to activities, practices, or resources that do not contribute value to the overall safety objectives and may lead to inefficiencies, delays, increased risk, and compromised safety.

  • Waiting: Delays caused by waiting for approvals, authorizations, or equipment availability.
  • Defects: Erroros, re-dos, misalignments that lead to production losses and avoidable risks.
  • Overproduction Waste: Excessive production of safety documentation or redundant safety checks.
  • Unnecessary movement: searching for tools, equipment, or information, movement of documents, personnel.
  • Overprocessing: getting too many non-value-adding authorizations and duplicated paperwork.
  • Inventory Waste: Excess inventory of safety supplies, such as personal protective equipment (PPE).
  • Unused employees’ creativity: not using the expertise and enthusiasm of shopfloor people to improve safety processes.

These waste types contribute to inefficiencies and delays in safety processes, but by addressing them effectively, organizations can improve overall safety performance. We have reviewed them in detail in the following video series.

The Mindset Required to Remove Waste

Removing operational waste in safety processes requires more than just implementing strategies and methodologies. It requires a specific mindset within the organization, emphasizing a commitment to continuous improvement and a proactive approach to waste reduction. In this chapter, we will explore the key elements of the mindset necessary to effectively remove waste in safety processes.

Being Ready to Change

Embracing change is crucial when aiming to eliminate operational waste in safety processes. It requires a culture that is open to new ideas, willing to challenge the status quo, and receptive to feedback and suggestions from employees at all levels. Leadership plays a vital role in fostering this mindset, promoting a culture of innovation and improvement, and encouraging employees to participate in waste reduction initiatives actively.

Long-term vs. Short-term Vision

Removing operational waste is not a one-time effort; it requires a long-term vision. Organizations must prioritize sustainability and view waste reduction as an ongoing process rather than a short-term fix. While immediate gains may be achieved through specific initiatives, it is essential to maintain a broader perspective, continually seeking opportunities for waste elimination and striving for Operational Safety Excellence.

Lean is Not Just About Cost-Cutting

A common misconception is that lean practices and waste reduction initiatives are primarily about cost-cutting. While cost reduction can be a positive outcome, the primary focus of lean methodologies is on value creation, process improvement, and enhancing safety outcomes. The mindset required for waste removal should emphasize the pursuit of safety excellence and the well-being of employees, aligning with the organization’s mission and values.

Data-Driven Decisions

Data is a powerful tool for waste removal in safety processes. The mindset should emphasize the importance of data-driven decision-making, leveraging available data to identify waste, measure progress, and inform improvement efforts. Collecting and analyzing relevant safety metrics, incident data, and performance indicators will provide valuable insights and guide decision-making toward the most impactful waste reduction strategies.

By cultivating this mindset throughout the organization, safety processes can be continuously improved, waste can be reduced, and the path to Operational Safety Excellence can be achieved.

Removing Operational Waste: Methods and Tips

Various methods and principles can be applied to identify and eliminate waste effectively. The organization should choose methods that match its goals and available resources. Here are some proven methods and practical tips for removing operational waste in safety processes.

Gemba: The Place of Action

One of the fundamental methods for waste removal is the practice of Gemba, which means “the place of action” in Japanese. Gemba emphasizes the importance of going to the actual location where work is being done to observe and understand the processes firsthand. By engaging with frontline workers, managers can gain valuable insights into waste sources, identify non-value-added activities, and collaboratively find solutions to eliminate waste.

Practical Tip: Regularly schedule Gemba walks to actively observe safety processes, engage with workers, and encourage open communication to uncover waste and improvement opportunities.

Kaizen: Continuous Improvement

Kaizen, meaning “change for the better” in Japanese, is a methodology that focuses on continuous improvement. It involves empowering employees at all levels to contribute to waste reduction by identifying and implementing small, incremental changes. Kaizen promotes a culture of continuous learning, encourages problem-solving, and fosters employee engagement in the pursuit of waste elimination.

Practical Tip: Establish a formalized process for collecting and implementing employee suggestions for waste reduction. Regularly review and recognize successful Kaizen initiatives to sustain a culture of continuous improvement.

Value Stream Mapping (VSM)

Value Stream Mapping is a powerful tool for visualizing the flow of information, materials, and activities within a safety process. It helps identify waste, bottlenecks, and areas of improvement by mapping the current state and developing a future state VSM. By visualizing the entire process, organizations can prioritize waste reduction efforts and develop a roadmap for process optimization.

Practical Tip: Engage cross-functional teams to create collaborative value stream maps, ensuring a holistic perspective and encouraging diverse insights for waste identification and elimination.

5S Methodology: Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain

The 5S methodology focuses on organizing and standardizing work areas to eliminate waste and improve efficiency. The five principles provide a systematic approach to workplace organization, leading to improved safety, reduced motion waste, and enhanced productivity.

Practical Tip: Implement regular audits and visual management techniques to sustain the 5S practices, ensuring a clean, organized, and efficient work environment.

Remember to foster a culture of continuous learning and embrace data-driven decision-making to drive effective waste reduction efforts. By actively addressing operational waste, organizations can enhance safety performance, mitigate risks, and strive for Operational Safety Excellence.

The Role of Digitalization in Removing Waste in Safety Processes

The integration of digital technologies can significantly contribute to waste reduction and enhance safety performance. Here are some key ways digitalization can support the removal of operational waste in safety processes:

  • Automation and Digitization: Manual processes, paperwork, and documentation can be time-consuming and prone to errors. By automating and digitizing safety processes, organizations can eliminate waste associated with manual data entry, document handling, and approval workflows. Digital platforms and software solutions can streamline PTW and LOTO processes, enabling real-time collaboration, electronic approvals, and improved traceability.
  • Data Analytics and Insights: Digitalization allows organizations to collect and analyze large volumes of safety data. By leveraging advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, patterns and trends can be identified, enabling proactive risk mitigation and waste reduction. Predictive analytics can help anticipate safety hazards, optimize resource allocation, and identify opportunities for process improvement.
  • Mobile Applications and Wearable Technology: Mobile applications and wearable devices offer real-time access to critical safety information, checklists, and procedures. This reduces the waste associated with manual information retrieval, improves communication, and ensures that workers have the right information at their fingertips. Wearable technology can also provide real-time monitoring of vital signs and environmental conditions, enhancing worker safety.
  • Integration and Interconnectivity: Digital systems can integrate various safety processes, allowing for seamless information flow and reducing waste associated with redundant data entry and communication gaps. Integration with other operational systems, such as maintenance and scheduling, ensures that safety considerations are incorporated into overall operational planning, further enhancing efficiency and waste reduction.
  • Visualization and Reporting: Digital platforms enable the creation of interactive dashboards and visualizations, providing a comprehensive overview of safety performance indicators. Real-time reporting and monitoring facilitate timely identification of waste and areas for improvement. Visual representations of data can also enhance communication and understanding among stakeholders, promoting a shared focus on waste reduction and safety excellence.

Moreover, digitalization enhances personnel, thus helping to eliminate the most precious waste – unused employees’ creativity. Read more about How Digitalization Makes People Think.


Removing operational waste in safety processes, such as permit to work and lockout/tagout, is essential for achieving Operational Safety Excellence. By understanding and addressing different types of waste, implementing lean principles, and leveraging digitalization, organizations can streamline safety processes, reduce inefficiencies, and enhance overall safety performance. The journey towards Operational Safety Excellence requires commitment, engagement, continuous improvement, and using digital tools to drive waste reduction and create a safety-first culture. By embracing these principles and methods, organizations can ensure the well-being of their workers, mitigate risks, and achieve operational excellence in safety.

If you want to learn more about how Unite-X can support you in your continuous improvement journey, contact us today.

LoToTo: How to Organize a Highly Complex Process

Keeping track of the LOTOTO process and ensuring that each action is given the proper attention it deserves is a real challenge. In this article, we overview how to deal with the complexity of the LOTOTO (Log Out Tag Out Try Out) to achieve Operational Safety Excellence.

People vary in their ability to manage many small details. Some individuals have a natural talent for it and can stay organized and focused even in the midst of chaos, while others may struggle to keep track. But when it comes to risky processes, human errors are unacceptable.

LOTOTO procedure is as a system of checklists and actions that demands high attention to detail.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 120 fatalities and 50,000 injuries occur yearly due to inadequate LOTOTO procedures.

That makes LOTOTO a process with extremely serious consequences and endless opportunities for human errors.

Complexity of LOTOTO

The LOTOTO is a process that consists of many small details that need to be managed properly to ensure the safety of workers. Isolating and de-energizing equipment, placing locks and tags on energy sources, and verifying that the equipment is safe to work on before maintenance or repair work can begin to require attention to detail and careful management.

Additionally, LOTOTO procedures often involve multiple stakeholders, such as operators, maintenance personnel, and supervisors, who must coordinate and communicate effectively to ensure the process is executed properly.

Surprisingly many plants still organize their LOTOTO process on paper, leveraging complex systems of Excel sheets, documents, semi-automated connections, printings, and handwriting.

Managing a process that consists of papers and handwritten notes often also involves oral agreements, inconsistencies, misunderstandings, and unknown factors on top.

To put it another way, keeping many small details in order is like trying to organize a room full of cats. Just when you think you’ve got everything under control, one cat jumps on the bookshelf, another knocks over a vase, and the rest start running in circles. It easily becomes overwhelming and can quickly turn into chaos, a never-ending cycle of energy-draining actions needed to keep everything in order.

Each person involved in the process may have a different understanding of the requirements, leading to errors and inconsistencies. Handwritten notes can be difficult to read or misplaced, leading to confusion and delays. Unknown factors can arise unexpectedly, making it challenging to plan.

Under these circumstances, LOTOTO is a process that is very hard to scale up, speed up or hand over.

Manage the chaos

So, how do you optimize LOTOTO to avoid the issues described above? We at Unite-X promote the approach that consists of the main areas:

  • Standardization: Streamlining processes to eliminate operational waste and minimize risks.
  • Verification: Proving that the equipment or process is safe by focusing on the “Try-out” part of LoToToTo.


Standardization is the best thing a plant or factory can do to support its operational safety goals. Through standard processes and procedures, you can minimize waste and maximize efficiency. It means you don’t have to start everything from scratch or compete with each other’s local templates like some notes written down somewhere.

With LoToToTo, standardization makes a complex process simple and manageable. It brings the value of LoToToTo into a process that everyone can follow.

The key benefits of standardization for LoToToTo are:

  • Making a complex process simple.
  • Ensuring everyone is on the same page.
  • Eliminating operational waste.

With a standard approach to managing things, people start a process with a question: “What is different this time?” instead of “What do I need to do?”, Read more about standardization in our previous article.

Standardization also opens new opportunities for global organizations that aim to spread out their safety culture across sites all over the globe.

Download Unite-LoToTo product brochure

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Sometimes in public discussions and professional slang, we hear that the process of LOTOTO is called LOTO instead of LOTOTO, where the last “TO” is left out. This is cannot be intentional, indeed the part with verifying is given less priority.  However, verification is a crucial ingredient of the optimal LOTOTO, last, but not least.

Without trying out your equipment and proving it is safe, you are not assuring your team members that they will not be hurt.

Even if you have the best staff and highly qualified employees, there is room for human error. And, if you think about it from the workers’ perspective, they just want to know: is this safe?

Try-out is an essential part of LoToToTo because it verifies and proves that the equipment is safe.

Example: Many plants work with steam, which can cause significant injury. In the LoToToTo process, you are turning off one steam pipe. But, because of human error or lack of standardization, the wrong one was closed. So, as a next step to ensure safety, you need to “try-out” the pipe and check to ensure it was done correctly. This will prove to the workers that there is no energy in the pipe that will hurt them.

Don’t just focus on lock-out, tag-out with your safety processes—Try-Out is such an important part of it because it proves safety. Doing this will not only ensure that there are no incidents, injuries, or deaths, but it inspires trust with your team members.

Implementing Effective LoToTo Processes

It’s important to note that standardization and verification in the LoToTo process are not vague ideas or solutions that don’t work in the “real world.” They are real areas of focus for plant managers.

Too often, people think the solution for operational safety excellence is to just hire better staff or to have higher standards. But there are a few issues with this idea:

  • There is a staffing shortage, so it’s hard to hire team members already.
  • It’s too simplistic. Even the best employees are prone to human error.
  • It doesn’t account for the challenges with LoToToTo (complexity, lack of standardization, etc.).

A better approach is to ask, “What went wrong today, and how can we fix it?”

This keeps people in the present instead of worrying about the past and the future. They can work with real problems and situations, find creative ways to resolve them and improve things for the future.

To implement a successful LoToToTo process, it’s also important to keep track of metrics such as how many standardized templates are being created (there should be one for each piece of active equipment) and how much waste or rejects there are.


High attention to detail, focus, and organization is usually mentally exhausting and creates stress and anxiety, especially when dealing with high-stakes projects or situations where mistakes can have serious consequences. At a time when there is a staffing shortage, it is crucial for leaders to think of ways to support teams best, make them feel valued, and not be overwhelmed with managing too many details.

Standardization and verification are critical to a successful LoToToTo process to strive for operational safety excellence.

Implementing a successful LoToToTo process means that you need to have the right tools. Unite-X is top-notch safety software to achieve operational safety excellence. It can help you streamline and standardize your processes, optimize operations and keep everyone safe.

If you want to learn more about how Unite-X can work with your company, contact us today.

How does waiting in Permit-to-Work impact the plant’s safety?

And how to reduce waiting time to achieve Operational Safety Excellence?


Imagine this: you arrive in an unknown city in the middle of the night. You are exhausted after a long flight through a few time zones, and you need to get up early tomorrow for a long, busy day. You stand across from your hotel, one hand’s distance from you. But you need to cross the road, and the light is red. It is very late, and there is no single car around. What would you do?

Realizing that you are from the safety industry, you will probably say, “I’ll wait until the light is green and then cross.” But being fully honest with yourself, after such a hard day, do you really have encouragement to wait more?

This article will overview the impact of waiting time in the permit-to-work process from the people’s perspective. How does it impact people, why should shopfloor people be a part of the reducing waiting project, and how to empower them to do this?

Is waiting always bad?

Waiting in manufacturing is one of the seven wastes introduced by Taiichi Ohno, commonly used in modern Lean. Waiting in safety is a brutal reality, where performing a 5-minute job takes a few hours of safety preparations and is considered a regular practice.

We all know that waiting consumes a non-renewable resource, an important one: Time. But we often forget that waiting also consumes people’s willpower, just as limited as time.

Tiredness, hurry, overburdening, keeping deadlines, following compliance… By the end of the shift, these have already eaten quite a large portion of the average person working in manufacturing. So now also waiting. How tempting is it to violate rules when no one is watching? 

This mindset creates risky behaviors, frustration, complacency, or indifference, which can kill any team spirit and willingness to improve and innovate.

Such a huge impact on people reducing waiting time becomes emotional and thus cannot be resolved by simply directions from above.

Remember to mind human nature!

From the people’s well-being perspective, waiting is not always bad. Sometimes (especially during tiredness or stress), brief periods of inactivity act as microbreaks. This creates an internal dilemma for some people. On the one hand, they recognize that there is something inherently wrong with getting paid to stand around. On the other hand, they may work exceptionally hard between the waiting periods and need a quick breather. 

For example, waiting in line may give an individual a minute to chat with coworkers. Resolve that problem, and the social interaction goes away, making the job seem less satisfying for some.

What types of waiting in Permit-to-Work exist?

Waiting can be noticeable as when a person waits for all necessary approvals before starting a job preparation and performance. You might see a waiting queue by your permitting desk every morning or a contractor drinking coffee waiting for isolation. 

It can also be pretty subtle, as when a slow computer flashes the “spinner” while loading an enormously heavy Exclel sheet with checkboxes.

In Permit-to-Work, it is also often entirely hidden, as waiting time is often a component of cycle time. When one step is taken ONLY after the previous one is completed, those could be done in parallel. Initiating a LoTo plan for an isolation job together with initiating a permit could be an example. In a paper-based permit-to-work universe, these steps go after one another. 

Observing and capturing these cases could push forward the understanding of how much you really wait.

Some waiting time is expected, and some is not. If a maintenance person is required to wait for the machinery to cool down before being isolated, it is an expected waiting. If a maintenance person sometimes has to wait for a delayed part of isolation materials to arrive, that is unplanned waiting. Obviously, it is easy to manage (plan, schedule, analyze, etc.) the expected waiting. 

It is essential to observe your processes at the site (“Gemba”) to understand the types of waiting present in your Permit-to-Work to set up goals and build a relevant strategy for removing it. 

Why waiting occurs?

Waiting occurs for a variety of reasons. As we speak about the Permit-to-Work process, as a pillar of LSR, people often wait for signatures or authorizations, safety items, document delivery, or someone else to complete isolation tasks. You name it.

If you look from the process perspective, the reasons could also be quite variable:

  • Poor preparation
  • Poor prioritization
  • Unclear goals
  • Defects (re-dos, errors to be fixed, incomplete measures, etc.)
  • Unclear steps
  • Lack of education

But if you look from a larger scale, all the reasons for waiting time could be grouped in:

  1. Poor process design
  2. People are not engaged
  3. Lack of tools

We have overviewed these three aspects in the other article Three Root Problems of Permit-to-work Process.

What waiting costs you?

Coming back to the hotel story from the beginning. Wait time is not only costly for the labor time that is paid for and not utilized. 

  1. Waiting costs new risks, as it is harder for people to stay compliant after waiting too long.
  2. Waiting costs opportunities, as every idle minute means no task is being performed, and no improvement idea is introduced.

Thus waiting becomes a hurdle on the way toward Operational Safety Excellence, with zero incidents and balanced costs.

Wondering how much Waiting time costs you every year? Click here to calculate

How to approach reducing waiting time?

The strategy you choose will depend on how you classify waiting time from the impact it has.

VA vs. NVA

It is vital to distinguish value-adding from non-value-adding time.

In our article for EHSToday, we have brought up the example of rebalancing waiting time towards adding more value. Briefly, the example shows that improvements lead to a minimum decrease in overall time consumed but increased time spent on preparations.

From the safety perspective, getting more time to think through necessary safety measures can increase safety and thus is value-adding. Read more here: When Lean Meets Safety, Sjoerd Nanninga for EHSToday

Normal vs. abnormal

Leave extra time within the process to handle the fluctuation while looking at the speeding up process steps. This means that the work is still finished on time when there is a problem. But when things go well, there is a lot of standing around.

This is very well explained  in the article about Waiting time on Velaction.com: “Instead, take out the buffers from individual work areas. Rebalance the line at the lower cycles, and free up a person to act as a floater to go where the problems are. The benefit is that the time is consolidated in a way that it can be used. The floater can support the line but also work on projects without the fragmentation that an operator would have if trying to work on something for a few minutes each cycle.”

It is critical not to focus on just eliminating waiting time but on the general goal of improving the process.

Remember, you work with people!

Wait time occurs whenever a person is inactive while he or she could be doing productive work. Reducing wait time can have a negative emotional effect on team members. This is especially true if they work quickly when they are not waiting.

Do not focus specifically on reducing wait time. Instead, take a holistic approach to waste. Look for all the wastes that affect a process and create a new operation that minimizes all the different forms of waste.

How to reduce waiting in Permit-to-Work?

People on the shopfloor are those who experience waiting for the most. They stand in morning queues, walk back and forth for approvals, wait until the paper is printed, etc. But it is also they who see things happening wrong and can hugely impact them. 

At the same time, reducing wait time is a challenge for an individual. 

Automating processes requires management buy-in, support, and direction. Coordination is equally challenging as most people have some flexibility in their own jobs but may not have an impact on how others operate. And it is even more challenging to manage abnormal signals, especially when a job requires narrow expertise from a third party, which is unavailable at the plant and needs to be arranged. 

Thus, encouraging and engaging people and supporting and educating them in the removing waiting time journey is crucial.

For this reason leaders, instead of managing waiting time in permit-to-work on their own by introducing new policies and tools, it is more vital to help people to synchronize the teamwork better and teach them to handle intermittent cases.

This wait time reduction strategy does require three main things:

  1. Set up measurements: measure, set up KPI goals, re-measure and constantly monitor data.
  2. Improve the process: observe, overview, explore best practices, eliminate other waste types, standardize, design new flows, and implement.
  3. Create ownership: talk to people, engage, and co-design processes together.

Disclaimer: remember to give people the right tools!

Digital Permit-to-Work software helps to save an enormous amount of time by automating actions, running parallel streams, empowering people using templates, and running processes smoothly without delays.

Moreover, digital Permit-to-Work software is also an intelligent library of lessons learned both for storing internal and external knowledge, experience, and best practices. 


Removing waiting time is straightforward if you work with machinery. But if you work with people, it is a delicate, emotional process, where taking away waiting without other changes makes people’s jobs harder.

When working together on eliminating waiting, make sure that you focus on taking away frustrations and hurdles for better flow instead of just forcing people to rush. 

There are three core things you can do to eliminate waiting time: measure, observe and engage people. But don’t forget to give people the right digital tools to make the goal of Operational Safety Excellence achievable. 

Read more about Unite-Permit to Work here.

Roots of the most of the Permit-to-Work process challenges

Why do we still often see issues with building and implementing an effective digital Permit to Work safety process?

At Unite-X, we always start with Kaizen, a session where everyone involved in the Permit to Work safety process is able to co-design the flow in the most efficient way. We do so because we believe that an improvement and simplification of the flow should always precede digitalization. 

In this article, we sneak peek into the way of thinking about the foundation of problems and how to approach them to start the journey of continuous improment.

Cascading consequences effects

Imagine Permit-to-work as a complex ecosystem with many unequal steps, elements, attributes, multiple stakeholders, and processes influencing it. These types of systems with many interconnections usually experience the effects of cascading consequences or chain reactions, like the “butterfly effect,” “domino effect,” “snowball effect,” and “iceberg effect.”

These effects are different phenomena where a small initial action can lead to significant and sometimes unexpected outcomes. At a closer look, Permit-to-Work on paper all these effects have a lot of negative impacts. Let’s see in detail below how:

Butterfly Effect is a concept from chaos theory that suggests that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. For instance, a typo in the permit handout could set off a chain of reactions leading to a production incident.

It highlights how sensitive paper systems can be to initial conditions, stressing the importance of enhancing small actions in complex systems. 

The Domino Effect refers to a situation in which one event sets off a chain of similar events, like a falling domino causing an entire line to topple over. Permit-to-work on paper is a perfect example of when you need to make an edit in one handout and then make the same edit in the mountain of other papers, too.

It underscores the interconnectedness of events and the potential for a single action to trigger a series of consequences. 

The Snowball Effect describes a process that starts small and builds upon itself, becoming larger and more powerful. Imagine rolling a small snowball down a hill; it gathers more snow and grows bigger and faster as it descends. Just like a one-step adjustment in permit-to-work that started small can suddenly evolve into a big and costly project (making the initiator think twice next time before proposing an improvement).

It shows how actions can gain momentum, escalate, and go out of control.

The Iceberg Effect, as a metaphor, highlights that a small visible part of a problem or situation (the tip of the iceberg) is just a small indication of a much larger and more complex underlying issue.

It emphasizes the importance of looking beyond the surface to understand the full scope of a situation, making it crucial in fields like the engineering of the permitting process.

In our experience running over a few hundred sessions, we see how these effects generate other problems with permitting processes:

  • Operational Waste: The process is not efficient and full of operational waste
  • Lack of Ownership: People are not engaged and avoid taking ownership of the process
  • Missing Hazard Controls: The process is not 100% safe and is missing important hazards and control measures

Now, let’s look at these more in detail.

Do you want to find out how the Permit-to-Work solution by Unite-X mitigates those effects? Download the product brochure

Lack of Ownership

This could be a classical “chicken or egg” dilemma: Is the process inefficient because people do not own it, and thus errors and imperfections create unnecessary risks? Or vice versa — people avoid owning it because it will bring too much of a hassle to perform?

We put people first at Unite-X and truly believe in the power of joint creativity and engagement. Therefore, we focus on improving the Permit to Work process in a way that supports, engages, and guides people toward operational excellence.

The lack of ownership over the Permit to Work safety process can lead to disastrous results, so it’s important to understand why people aren’t taking part in it. Moreover, there is a constant popular thought that safety is a standalone department and the headache of a responsible EHS person only.

Behaviors triggered by an inefficient process

When people are overburdened or overwhelmed, they are not in the best emotional state to make decisions. They might neglect issues, forget things, and skip important steps.

If you are constantly rushing, you lose track of what is happening around you and only focus on the most urgent things. In this frame of mind, you forget about improvements and future developments.

These behaviors are clearly triggered by inefficient processes and a lack of tools, which can lead to injuries and incidents. Read more on the topic here.


Why do people avoid owning a Permit-to-Work process?

In addition to the feeling of overwhelm and overburdened by inefficient processes, there are other reasons why people avoid owning the Permit-to-work process. Here are some of the main reasons:

  • If the Permit-to-work safety process is too complicated and unclear, people avoid taking a role in it, trying to get rid of unnecessary hassle
  • Being under pressure for a long time eventually leads to frustration, boredom, or a “Why bother if nothing changes?” attitude.
  • Lack of trust, when people are simply afraid to say things aloud because of internal leadership culture, might lead to unrealized improvement initiatives. (There is a great book about it, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni)
  • In the manufacturing industry, people tend to work long periods at one position, which creates complacency and an “it has always been like that” state of mind.
People behaviour in permit to work process

All of these are examples of behaviors that create potential room for risky actions. The good news is that a well-designed Permit to Work safety process can support a team in overcoming or avoiding these behaviors

Operational Waste

The first challenge is an excess of operational waste—the PtW process is not efficient. Waste is a type of activity that doesn’t bring value to the client (i.e., to the team that operates the PtW process in our case) and does not contribute positively to safety.

At Unite-X, we believe that a leaner process is a safer process. Operational waste like waiting time or unnecessary movement triggers risky behaviors and forces people to cut corners on safety and costs organizations avoidable costs.

Waste in permit to work
How to identify waste

So, how do you know if your Permit to Work process is full of waste? Most people avoid taking ownership of inefficient processes, so observing your team’s perceptions could be the first step to understanding the process better.

Here are some signs of a badly designed Permit to Work process:

  • If your team is often rushing
  • If you often see a contractor sitting and waiting hours for permits before they can start
  • If tasks are often stuck, and projects do not progress
  • If you see a lot of re-dos, false steps, unclarity, and errors
  • If it is hard to plan or opposite planning doesn’t work

These common waste signals are important to pay attention to. Try not to blame others, but simply pay attention to the hurdles that are in the process itself.

Reasons for waste

There are many reasons why operational waste arises. It could be a result of poorly designed procedures or human neglect.

During our 20 years of observing Permit to Work safety processes around the globe, we defined three root problems:

  • Lack of full process overview: This is when team members have “tunnel vision,” being too focused on their part of the process and missing the full picture.
  • Lack of standardization: This refers to teams who do not re-use what was already improved and created and start from scratch every time
  • Lack of necessary tools: This is not necessarily software but methods and techniques that help to create situational awareness and to monitor the process, like Gemba, measurements and KPIs, kaizens sessions, etc.

Tackling these three problems decrease operational waste and help to build a smooth Permit to Work process.

You can watch a series of videos about each waste type here.

Missing Hazard Controls

The last root issue with the Permit to Work safety process is that we still often see that it does not ensure a 100% safe work environment, even if it is fully compliant and established.

Even if you have a great process in place and a robust software program, important hazards, and control measures could be left out. Why?

The job is done by people. People configure the software according to their expertise and knowledge. Sometimes, their expertise is simply not enough to manage a particular case. This is very relevant for smaller sites, where they have limited access to experts.

By reusing a permit template with missing hazards, you create a “snowball effect” and duplicate the wrong permit to work handouts over and over.

The same comes to control measures. Your peer might use a better way to protect people, but you might be unaware of that, even if you are using the same software.

Thus, the process should be built in a way to contain all available safety expertise, best practices, and lessons learned in order to help people to avoid human errors and to guide them through the safeties possible path.

Missing hazards in permit to work
How to improve your Permit-to-Work?

So, what’s the solution to building a solid foundation for an efficient and safe Permit-to-work process?

At Unite-X, we believe that a permit-to-work safety process should be well-designed, clear, and transparent. This way, everyone following it can make the best choice possible.

In other words, if you want to go from A to B, follow the process, and you will go the most optimal and safe way.

We at Unite-X have created the “3E Model” to address the above-mentioned challenges:

  1. Engage: involve people in designing the process to ensure their buy-in and ownership, support and educate them constantly
  2. Enhance: Be aware of the existing operational waste, tackle it, measure it, and focus on eliminating it from your process.
  3. Embed: choose the Permit to Work software that already contains the most effective best practices and the safest path of work proven by industry leaders.

All three principles we apply while implementing Unite-Permit to Work with our structured implementation framework.


The “chicken and egg” dilemma with the Permit to Work safety process issues can be solved by realizing everything is interconnected and impacts each other. People avoid owning inefficient processes, and inefficiencies in the process appear when no one owns them.

With Unite-Permit to Work, we do not tackle these elements separately but work with all of them to create synergy.

“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.


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.


Interested in exploring further? Read about how technology helps to manage unsafe emotional states.

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.


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.