Lean *is* Safety


Safety Issues on the Table:

Saw this quote in an article about safety:

“A range of issues and concerns fall under the rubric of ‘globalization,' from the challenges of maintaining safe and healthy workplaces amidst the pressures of lean manufacturing environments…”

I suspect this article didn't mean “lean manufacturing” environments, but maybe meant lean “manufacturing environments” if you see the distinction there. If they meant “lean” in terms of “strapped for people and resources” (the wrong definition of lean) then I could see safety being a concern. If they meant “lean” as the Toyota Production System (the right definition), then declines in safety shouldn't be a problem or a worry.

Now, I'm not a pollyanna and I realize Toyota's not perfect on safety. They're human. But, there's nothing in stated lean methodologies or philosophies that says worker safety isn't important. Quite the opposite from my first-hand experience with lean outside of Toyota.

When I was in non-lean environments, traditional mass production, that's when I've seen the LEAST concern for worker safety.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I recently toured Toyota’s plant in Georgetown Ohio, and was a bit horrified when I saw life-sized displays depicting workers in street clothes with the title “Mutilation Prevention” in bold letters above them! I silently wondered how many workers had been mutilated recently by the robots and automated lines there…then I got a closer look and learned that the displays were about preventing mutilation of VEHICLES with belt buckles, etc from worker’s clothing! Lean always teaches to see a process from the view of the product, and in this case Toyota must still have some safety improvements to make to prevent mutilating injuries to their cars!


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