Safety Issues – An Often Unrecognised Waste

Safety Issues – An Often Unrecognised Waste.

Manufacturing industry has undergone a quiet revolution over the last quarter century or so which has resulted in a huge increase in the quality, and a reduction in the cost of manufactured goods. A large factor in this phenomenon has been the spread of production methods and techniques developed by the Japanese Auto Industry. Since the late 1980’s when the world realised that the Japanese had developed something special these methods have spread throughout all manufacturing sectors and more recently into services. Taiichi Ohno who is considered the father of the “Toyota Production System” identified 7 key wastes in industry, overproduction, waiting and variability being examples. The various iterations such as “World Class Manufacturing”, “Total Quality Management” and “Lean” that have evolved from The Toyota Production System have all had the same underlying principle namely, the identification and elimination of waste in all its forms.

This is old news to managers and engineers in industry. I have found from my experience implementing Lean Systems that once a committed manager or engineer is given the scent of a waste it is relentlessly pursued and eliminated. This is in stark contrast to the attitude that is often displayed when issues of safety, hazards or unsafe work practices are raised.  Whenever I raise these issues in a workplace setting I often see the same expression that appears on my son’s face when I ask whether homework has been done. It is considered nagging, being awkward or unreasonable. Yet without even considering the moral and legal imperatives, hazards and unsafe work practices probably deserve first place in an extended and prioritized list of Mr. Ohno’s operational wastes. Once a hazard exists in a modern industrial setting, the scale, complexity and speed of change increases the frequency of exposure to that hazard to the extent that a loss is all but inevitable in the absence of careful management. Such losses when they occur not only cause suffering to the individuals involved but are also accompanied by many of the other wastes.

Most managers care about safety and want to manage a safe operation. Unfortunately a classic myth persists that in order to achieve high safety levels tradeoffs are necessary and constraints must be put on other goals. In fact, safety is a prerequisite for the achievement of most operational goals and it is axiomatic that a truly efficient operation is also a safe one. The organisational structures required to improve safety are the very same as those required to improve productivity through Lean programmes or similar. Unfortunately safety is often “managed” by issuing hardhats and earplugs and compiling a safety manual that remains unread on a shelf in the manager’s office. If safety issues and hazards were viewed as the wastes that they truly are they would be tracked down and eliminated, leading to a safer and more productive workplace.