Integrating Safety Into Kaizen Events

Safety and productivity do not have to be mutually exclusive.

THE word Kaizen is translated from Japanese to mean "continuous improvement." Kaizen events are an organized team effort to improve reliability of a process, reduce setup/lead times, streamline a process, or rapidly implement/re-layout a work center. An event can take anywhere from two to five days and the team members are usually asked to concentrate solely on the task at hand, without disruption from their normal job responsibilities. An event usually includes training, analysis, design, and re-arrangement of a work center. The success of an event is based on the concept that small-scale changes accumulate to have a large effect, often greater than a single large-scale change. The results are immediate and dramatic, and benefits are realized immediately.

The Kaizen approach is an organized use of common sense to improve cost, productivity, quality, delivery, and responsiveness to customer needs. None of these improvements are possible if employees are not able to perform their job due to a work-related injury. So if a company is serious about sustaining the improvements gained during a Kaizen event, safety must be included up front, as part of the event itself. Plan how to reduce the injuries in that area in order to keep well-trained, experienced employees in that job and produce a high-quality product at a lower cost in a shorter period of time.

Kaizen event leaders employ a quick hit, "do it now" philosophy, which is an ideal fit for safety. Why not fix it now--today--instead of putting it on someone's project list and fitting it in between other responsibilities? Even small projects can take much longer with the latter approach. Removal of a hazard today could mean prevention of an injury tomorrow.

A Kaizen team is usually cross-functional in nature and includes members from all areas of responsibility. An hourly employee or two is key to really understanding the job and the issues that are encountered. If parts are supplied to a work center, you may want to consider recruiting a production support operator, as well. These employees, as well as supervisors, engineers, and maintenance workers, have to buy in to the changes that will occur during and as a result of the event, or they will not become integral to the workplace. What better way to get employees to buy into the fix than to ask them up front what they want changed and how they think it would be better?

There are four basic steps in a Kaizen event. They include:

  1. Documenting reality,
  2. Identifying wastes/hazards,
  3. Brainstorming and implementing countermeasures, and
  4. Documenting the new reality to sustain improvements.

Documenting Reality
During the first step, as the job is observed and described, a baseline ergonomics assessment should be conducted. Granted, not all of your safety issues will be able to be solved during a three- or four-day event, and this is a good opportunity also to identify longer-term issues to be handled outside of the event. However, most jobs will have some low-hanging fruit, which when added together can have a significant impact on the hazard reduction of the job. These benefits can be realized immediately, and the longer-term issues can be tracked through other project or key safety item lists. During this stage, it is also beneficial to define the steps or create a process map. The process map is more visual, but incident history and ergonomic hazards can be added to either method. Job Safety Analyses (JSAs), Product Quality Guidelines (PQGs), and work instructions can be great references. Depending upon time and complexity of the job, cause-and-effect diagrams and failure-modes-and-effects analyses can be used to narrow focus to the areas of greatest hazard and quantify the risk.

Waste Not, Hazard Not
The second step is identify wastes within the process. The main types of waste identified during a Kaizen event are:

  • Waiting
  • Correction
  • Motion
  • Overproduction
  • Transportation
  • Inventory, and
  • Processing

It is easy to see how wasted motions, overproduction, and processing imply greater frequency and duration. If the employee is in an ergonomically hazardous position, then there is a higher risk and likelihood of injury. Waste of correction (machine malfunctions and unplanned events) often result in someone forcing something back into position, lifting something manually, or using the tool that is handy, not the tool that is appropriate. As employees discuss what they view as time wasted, it often becomes apparent that there are safety concerns embedded, as well. At one worksite, for example, when the alignment on a machine was not working properly, the operator had to stop making his part to realign the machine. When questioned how this alignment took place, the operator described and then showed us a series of "adjustments"--shoving with considerable force from the side. Waste of transportation can result in a safety concern if parts are lifted and moved manually, and waste of inventory can result in housekeeping (fire and trip hazard) concerns. It is obvious that safety and production have shared concerns and can benefit from working together toward a common goal.

Weathering the Brainstorm
A Kaizen event's third step--brainstorming and implementing countermeasures--is likely the most difficult and the most fun. No idea is a bad one--the sky's the limit during the brainstorming portion. I like to mix the productivity and safety ideas together. They are just problems that we need to find solutions for, as a team. After all the ideas are flushed out, it is necessary to rank them somehow to determine the countermeasures that will be implemented during the next two to three days and on the 30-/60-day project tracking lists. One way to rank them is to utilize a priority matrix, placing ideas in relationship to each other in a four-quadrant grid--going from high impact to low impact on one axis and low to high effort on the other.

Kaizen event implementation tends to then focus on the high-impact, low-effort quadrant. However, some countermeasures may be included on the event agenda that are more difficult to implement but may yield high safety and/or productivity improvements. Production usually stops there. However, for safety it is necessary to evaluate even the tasks that are deemed most difficult to implement. If the safety benefits are significant, those projects should be considered for longer-term implementation outside of the Kaizen event scope. I think it is important to also note that it goes a long way with an hourly employee, supervisor, production manager, or engineer to see a safety professional working on "production improvements." Get dirty--put together a cart, paint some lines, or reorganize an area. We are always asking people to work on what is important to us. Show them you will work on what is important to them, as well. They will remember it the next time you come to them for assistance with a safety issue.

The Kaizen Horizon
Finally, we need to document the new reality and sustain improvements. All the work of the event is wasted if we cannot maintain it afterward. You are partway there by involving the employees and supervisors on your team. They helped come up with the idea and put it in place. They have some vested interest in ensuring it is kept up. That is the beauty of having safety in the middle of this, as well. It is not another "safety rule" that came from upper management that they are told they have to do.The changes are a result of a Kaizen event, and the benefits of productivity, quality, and safety are intermingled as they should be--a three-legged stool. Buy in is the first step, and documentation is the second. Ensure the new procedure is documented and employees are trained and understand it.

5S Audits are very useful tools to baseline an area and demonstrate progress over the course of the event. They are also a key measurement for sustaining the improvements implemented during the event. The concepts of a 5S audit play a key role in safety; its components include:

  1. Seri-Sort (Organization)--If workers can't readily find the right tool, they are more likely to use a substitute that could result in injury.
  2. Seiton-Store (Orderliness)--This includes looking at the location of parts--ensuring employees don't have to reach for parts and that heavier parts are stored at the optimal lifting heights. In addition, a disorderly work area may lend itself to trip hazards.
  3. Seigo-Shine (Cleanliness)--A clean workplace is a source of pride for an employee. This can help in fostering a culture where employees also have pride in working safely.
  4. Seiketsu (Stabilize)--This essentially is the system to sustain improvements. It can include procedures, work instructions, and JSAs, which should all have safety incorporated into them. Standard layout is also key to the fourth S, at which time there is an opportunity to reduce trip hazards, reaching, and bending.
  5. Shitsuke-Sine (Self-discipline)--This is the measurement of success; it shows commitment and again fosters a culture change.

Take cost out of the product by reducing time traps as well as improving safety. Safety and productivity don't have to be mutually exclusive. It is possible to use the same tools, talk the same language, and achieve the same goals--together.

The hours and days participating in Kaizen events are always time well spent. They are chances to study the job in-depth, get to know teammates on a new level, and show that you are willing to get your hands dirty and be part of the fix--not just to identify issues.

This column appeared in the March 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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