Combining Lean Tools and Safety Standards for Improvements

Combining Lean Tools and Safety Standards for Improvements

The practice of providing a safe workplace and implementing Lean production systems have been kept separate in most manufacturing sites. It is not uncommon to find these two essential functions being slightly out of alignment due to the (mistaken) perception that improving the objectives of improving safety and reducing waste may actually be in opposition with each other. The new complexities of regulatory safety compliance have demanded the need for specialists. Similarly the skills to implement a lean production system also seek the top professionals in this field.

Manufacturing companies have realised they need a way to collaborate between their safety and production staff to combine these two specialists areas to produce improved outcomes. Excellent Safety practices are also excellent Lean practices.

Ethically it is never acceptable to put people in harm’s way for the sake of a short term productivity gain. And at a more fundamental level, a hazardous workplace will adversely affect quality, production, cost, delivery and morale. We know that an unsafe workplace always has higher costs than a safe one.

When it comes to improving your manufacturing process, it is critical to be aware of the safety practices needed in any process you wish to improve. There are three excellent lean tools that you can implement into processes to create a safer and incident-free workplace. There are Practical 5S, the 8 Wastes, and Standard Work.

Practical 5S

A Practical 5S program improves the safety and reduces the risk profile of a work area; even though it does not focus directly on safety. A clean and organised area will always be safer than one that is not.


Ideally, the Practical 5S system will follow the sequence – Sort, Set in Order, Shine, Standardise, Sustain. When the historical clutter is removed, the risks are reduced by eliminating unused equipment and items which opens up the area to allow the work to be performed without the clutter, resulting in fewer accidents. When we approach “Set in Order” we can adjust the process to incorporate improved ergonomics, lowering the risk of repetitive type injuries and manual handling problems.

Shine, Standard and Sustain follow to further improve the work area, engage the workforce, increase safety awareness and continue to lower the risks within the area.

The Eight Wastes

When lean systems look to remove waste from processes, the 8 Wastes are a standard approach to take. We can identify the Eight Wastes and at the same time consider their impact on safety and hazards in the work area. We can expand this viewpoint as Damon Nix, of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, suggests “Safety is value-added, and hazards are wastes.”

Eliminating waste in a manufacturing environmant

Therefore we can see the Eight Wastes from a safety perspective:

Transportation – Exposure to forklift traffic, Extra handling, Potential slip, trip and fall hazards.
Inventory – Double handling, Falling loads, traffic congestion, trip hazards.
Motion – Overexertion, poor ergonomic design
Waiting – Hazardous energy exposure, Setups and Changeovers
Overproduction – Overexertion, further handling of goods, unnecessary machine interaction.
Over Processing – Unnecessary machine interaction
Defects – Hazardous material exposure, Increased maintenance activities.
Skill Not Used – Not using employee ideas and missing out on potential safety improvements.

An example of considering the Motion waste is to look into the ergonomics of the process. Improvements in ergonomics are one of the biggest impacts to help smooth out the work. A process that has poor ergonomics often takes longer than a process that has included good ergonomics.

Ergonomic improvements address one of the 8 Waste, and once a team understands the difference between good and bad ergonomics, they can quickly make many small improvements which accumulate. This addresses safety and lean improvements at the same time.

Standard Work

By investing time to develop the way a process is undertaken we can create standard work and, more importantly, a defined baseline. Where there is no standard work, there is no repeatable sequence, timing and outcome. Without this, the team members can freely create their own way to approach the work or take short cuts. This may, or may not, be the safest way to do the job, or give the right outcome.

rough documentation helps with practical standard work

To develop standard work for a process, first, take a good look and specify exactly what result you expect to achieve with each process step. Then design a new process that is safe, and produces a defect-free outcome. When standard work is created this new method can ensure that the work is done correctly and safely every time.

In Conclusion

By using the lean tools of Practical 5S, Eight Wastes and Standard Work we can implement Lean principles and good safety practices together. The results can be higher than when each aspect is considered in isolation. Then both the safety professionals and lean experts can speak the same language and solve more problems when working together.

Robert Chittenden

Author: Robert Chittenden

Robert Chittenden is a Senior Lean Consultant at TXM Lean Solutions