Lean Manufacturing Doesn’t Overlook or Compromise Safety

In the article “Occupational Hazards – Keep It Lean and Safe,” the author says, in part:

“In the worst-case scenario, an overzealous company may implement extreme Lean Manufacturing strategies where safety is not merely overlooked, but compromised.

I don’t this should be called “extreme Lean”… it’s either “bad lean” or “not lean.”

I agree, of course, that safety should be a major focus of any lean initiative. I don’t think the main focus should be “reducing the waste” that is associated with safety and ergonomic problems, although that is part of the equation.

I have found that focusing on safety and ergonomics sends a powerful message to oft-neglected production associates — that management values you and that it’s important that people go home in the same condition they arrived in. By focusing maintenance resources, attention, and dollars on fixing safety issues, it can build trust between workers and management.

Focusing on safety and ergonomics is clearly the “right” thing to do, if that fits your value structure. But, once you can build that trust, your production people will probably be more forthcoming with improvement ideas and will have the confidence that they are doing so in a safe environment. What do you think?


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an book titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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