How applying lean methodologies could improve safety performance?

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.

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