Monday, January 5, 2015

Safety Challenge – Schedule a Lean Safety Gemba Walk in 2015

A new year brings new opportunities to each of us. The question is will we continue to cope with all of the problems that occur during the workday or will 2015 be the year when we say “enough is enough” and choose to focus on continuous improvement. While developing my business plan, and therefore my focus for 2015, I began by reflecting on 2014.

During the past year I had the opportunity to make a safety difference in many companies around the world. The variety of the businesses I visited reinforces the fact that Lean is indeed a universal philosophy that applies to all business types. In 2014 I visited facilities that were involved in brick making, cement production, Mexican food products, newspaper printing, paint manufacturing, screen printing, multi-story building construction, heavy machining, auto frame fabrication, coiled steel processing, medical device assembly and producing packaging products. At each and every site the need was the same - to engage the workforce in both business process and workplace safety continuous improvement. Following are a few quotes, sent to me this past year, that support the need for Lean Safety.

Bob came to our facility in April 2014 to for a brief "safety gemba walk" and to provide his input and guidance on our overall safety practices. We still talk about that visit and what Bob encouraged us to think about in terms of our safety program and policies, etc. Bob's perspective on safety is very people-centric and thought-provoking. It's not the traditional approach to safety and that's just what most of us need!

I've read several books about lean (but not nearly enough) and I've attend a variety of seminars and workshops, but you opened up a new perspective for me. The idea of recognizing safety risks as opportunities for lean improvement is unique. By making a work activity safer we also make the work more productive. I think most lean practitioners do the reverse - they look for waste in the production cycle, fix that, and then trust that the process improvement also makes the work safer. But having a worker-centric point of view makes the whole lean improvement idea more personal and grounded in ethics, which makes sense to me.

After decades of grappling with variability in lean implementation results, along comes Lean Safety Gemba Walks and ties all the loose ends together into a coherent, practical and very powerful approach to the engagement of the hearts and minds of those employees who traditionally suffer the most injuries, the very same people who we want to “transform” into efficient assets. Enough with management pushing transformation - bring on the employees pulling it. The question is whether management can keep up.

I recently purchased a copy of your book and want to tell you it is an excellent read, not only in the content but the writing style. Having read many books on leadership, lean manufacturing and industrial safety topics, I find that your book succinctly covers all of the principles and puts them together in a formula that leaders and managers can easily apply. The greatest challenge is getting those who set the culture to read, understand and adopt the right behaviors.

As noted in the last quote leaders set the culture of a business. The Gemba, where the work is performed, is a in the mirror reflection of management. A common complaint in the Lean community is that the senior leaders are not involved enough in the promotion and support of Lean. For me a noteworthy accomplishment in 2014 was the December release of my second book, Lean Safety Gemba Walks – A Methodology for Workforce Engagement and Culture Change. Because it contains 20 case studies that describe how a facilitated Lean Safety Gemba Walk can have a dramatic impact on how leaders think about Lean, safety, employee engagement and work culture, I believe 2015 is going to be a great and very busy year for me. I expect an increased interest from business leaders in the application of Lean Safety and I will challenge each of them, along with you, to participate in or lead a Lean Safety Gemba Walk. After you take your walk send me an email describing the impact of the activity both on yourself and the people in your organization. Then, next January, I will summarize those testimonials into a blog post. I look forward to your feedback.

Therefore my 2015 business plan is to continue to focus on making a safety difference in the world by helping leaders and their reports view safety differently. To expand their thinking so they understand that safety is not just about compliance to OSHA or other regulatory agencies. It can also, and should, be about employee engagement in efforts to make work safer and easier. Making work safer and easier in turn reduces the cycle times of the work performed. That is the essence of Lean Safety.

Early in March I will again travel to Australia to conduct a series of Lean Safety workshops. Let me know if you would like to arrange a visit while I am there.

Stay safe!