Lean Manufacturing: Unexpected Benefits for Accident Prevention; along with Improved Efficiency and Productivity, Lean Manufacturing Offers Companies a Path to Improved Safety. Safety Managers Need to Know How to Promote This Powerful Philosophy in Their Operations

By Kincaid, William H. | Occupational Hazards, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Lean Manufacturing: Unexpected Benefits for Accident Prevention; along with Improved Efficiency and Productivity, Lean Manufacturing Offers Companies a Path to Improved Safety. Safety Managers Need to Know How to Promote This Powerful Philosophy in Their Operations


Kincaid, William H., Occupational Hazards


Safety has been getting an unexpected boost at some facilities that, in the past, did not seem so committed to a proactive safety approach. Old school employers are unexpectedly adopting many of the processes, terminology and tactics of the safety profession.

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It's not driven by a sudden safety epiphany, but just the same, it's happening. In spite of the absence of useful help from our federal government, these facilities have found new tactics to compete with the unfair monetary policies and substandard wages of China, and assaults by other Third World competitors. Lean Manufacturing, a phrase that wraps up many modern philosophies in one term, has become important at these facilities. Improved efficiency, productivity, profitability and, yes, accident prevention are the results. Safety professionals need to be aware of the cultural shift towards Lean, the resulting opportunities, and how to exploit their possible roles in the future.

Eliminate the Waste

In case you haven't heard of it, Lean means more than pinching pennies (some of my clients say, "We have been working lean for 70 years!".... Whoa, wait a minute, there's a substantial difference!). In Lean, the goal is to eliminate anything not essential to the process. The goal of Lean Manufacturing is to eliminate the seven wastes of Lean--overproduction, unnecessary motion, inventory, waiting, transportation, defects, underutilized people and extra unnecessary processing.

Cutting these wastes becomes an over-riding philosophy in Lean operations. In practice, this means a cultural shift towards reducing the seven wastes using a 5-step thought process proposed by James Womack and Dan Jones in their 1996 book, Lean Thinking, to guide managers through a lean transformation. The steps are:

1. Specify value from the standpoint of the end customer.

2. Identify all the steps in the value stream.

3. Make the value-creating steps flow toward the customer.

4. Let customers pull value from the next upstream activity.

5. Pursue perfection.

The goal is to find better ways to do the most productive work with the least expenditure of time and materials, with slim inventories and overhead. The desire is for flexibility and reliability, to economize on staffing and to keep rejects low.

Everything that adds value to the process stays; everything that does not add value is waste and should be eliminated. But Lean isn't mean. People who are removed from non-value-adding activities should be given other jobs in the organization. These people often go to the Lean Improvement office or to work that is in-sourced from suppliers into the floor space freed by Lean. Over time, attrition will reduce headcount as the lean transformation improves productivity. Unfortunately, many companies don't launch a lean transformation until they are sinking. Management should cut immediately to the right level of people and promise that no one else will lose a job due to the introduction of lean techniques.

Steps in the Process

Identifying the work elements in a process is the first step. Then the work elements are identified as to those that add value and those that do not. The process then undergoes a refining phase that is essentially continuous, although the major benefits will probably materialize quickly, with diminishing returns as time goes on.

Value Stream Mapping is the creation of a simple paper-and-pencil diagram of every step involved in the material and information flows needed to bring a product from order to delivery. A current-state map follows a product's path from order to delivery to determine the current conditions. A future-state map shows the opportunities for improvement identified in the current-state map to achieve a higher level of performance at some future point.

Lean improves the process with a rich stew of programs, (some derived from Japanese philosophies) such as 5-S, Kaizen, self-empowered teams, cross training, visual process control, Total Productive Maintenance, Error Proofing and others. …

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