Picture-Perfect Pliant Safety

By Sutcliffe, Virginia | Occupational Hazards, August 2000 | Go to article overview

Picture-Perfect Pliant Safety


Sutcliffe, Virginia, Occupational Hazards


Experts agree that the Japanese concept of the visual workplace improves safety overall worker protection and plant efficiency.

The idea seems simple enough. Improve safety, efficiency and plant organization by eliminating waste. Many companies may think everyday housekeeping efforts can accomplish this goal. But ask yourself this question: Can any employee in any department in your plant find whatever he needs to do his job in 30 seconds or less? If not, your plant may be in need of an organizational concept called the visual workplace (VW).

The visual workplace is a Japanese method of plant organization that improves safety and overall worker production. It is based on strict standards of organization and orderliness, with a place for everything and everything in its place. Those standards are created through a variety of visual cues and color-coded guides that identify where work materials should be stored to eliminate clutter. When the workplace is clean and well-organized, the result is a safer, more efficient plant. It may sound like industrial housekeeping, but it's much more. It is a pack rat's worst nightmare.

"One of the biggest problems for most manufacturing plants is clutter and disorganization. It makes people search for things, wastes time and presents a variety of hazards," said Brett Balkema, president of Lean Concepts, a Muskegon, Mich.-based company consulting in the methods of VW. "Waste reduction is the ultimate goal of the visual workplace."

In addition to waste reduction, the VW concept focuses on ways of eliminating motion for greater productivity. When workers are in motion searching for tools or items they need to do their jobs, they are not working.

Gwendolyn Galsworth, president of Quality Methods International (QMI) in Dayton, Ohio, has consulted with companies on the VW concept in the United States for 20 years.

"If you search for the source or cause of motion, you find a strong link to information deficits in the workplace," Galsworth said. "You spend time moving around and looking for something because you don't have the information you need to find it. Visual systems are designed to put an end to these deficits."

Through visual information sharing in the way of such items as signage, charts and color coding, employees get the critical information they need to do their jobs quickly, safely and at the point of use.

"Any employee ought to be able to find anything they need to do the job for the area they are in within 30 seconds or less," said Charles Skinner, management consultant with Productivity, a Portland, Ore.-based company that helps plants implement the VW process. "Every employee knows the who, what, where, when, why and how of everyone else's work area through the concept of the visual workplace."

Implementing the VW process, however, is not simply a matter of putting up signage. Visual cues might get you started, but they will not work by themselves.

Those who specialize in this practice say that companies achieve the most success by implementing the pillars of the VW concept, known as 5S + 1, throughout their facilities.

The five S's stand for sort through and sort out, scrub, secure safety, select locations, and set locations.

We talked to several companies that have implemented VW at their facilities to see just how the 5S + 1 process works.

The Five S's

Sort Out. Sorting through and organizing items (S1) in the work area is the first element of VW. By identifying what items are used in the work area, labeling those items and putting them in the proper place, excess waste is removed. Certain methods associated with the VW concept can be used to help eliminate clutter and unneeded items in the work area, such as the Red Tag System.

Richard Murphy, health, safety and environmental leader for Allied Signal's Honeywell manufacturing and systems plant in Tucson, Ariz.

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