Safety Series, Part II: Shine A New Light On The Shop Floor

Today we continue our multi-part series focusing on employee safety. This series covers 5 key areas where improved safety performance impacts overall business performance and profitability.  Last week, we hit the direct and indirect costs specifically related to a change in your organizations’ safety performance. That topic was all about dollars and cents, with lots of facts and statistics meant to sharpen your safety “sales pitch” for your discussions with the pragmatists in your company.  This second article starts us down a less “bottom line” focused path and will cover how improvement in workplace conditions directly leads to a more efficient and less wasteful production environment. Even though statistics and numbers won’t be as “front and center” my experience shows the more holistic safety improvements I will cover in the coming weeks should have a very substantial positive impact on all areas of your business.

Improving workplace conditions is a tremendous way for you to establish a tone, culture, and set of performance expectations for your team.  This is an opportunity to engage the whole team in working together towards a common goal, and you can accomplish this in a way that fits your personal leadership style and/or the personality of the organization you’re trying to improve.  Whether you and your team are open to Lean/Six-Sigma/Continuous Improvement terminology or you’d rather fly under the radar and “just do it” you really don’t need much in the way of training – there’s plenty of free info out there, and most of this is simple common sense and your leadership willpower!  As an extra benefit, you won’t need to tap heavily into your precious repair & maintenance budget to succeed.  Let’s get started!

The best place to begin is with a simple 5S (Sort, Set in order, Shine, Standardize and Sustain) implementation. These five steps –– often referred to as the five pillars of a visual workplace—are universally recognized as the backbone for any workplace improvement effort. EHS Today has some great information in the following article which I would encourage you to read in its entirety. Some highlights are:

  1. 5S…works in companies all over the world…a support to such other manufacturing improvements as just-in-time (JIT) production, cellular manufacturing, total quality management (TQM) or six sigma initiatives, and also is a great contributor to making the workplace a safer and better place to spend time.
  2. 5S is a system to reduce waste and optimize productivity through maintaining an orderly workplace and using visual cues to achieve more consistent operational results…with the smallest amount of wasted time and materials.
  3. Typically, the first lean method that organizations implement…5S encourages workers to improve their working conditions (including safety and ergonomics) and helps them to learn to reduce waste, eliminate unplanned downtime and conduct in-process inventory…resulting in significant reductions in the square footage of space needed for existing operations.
  4. Safety and good housekeeping principles…keep employees from placing themselves in an unsafe position and environment…free up floor space, eliminating tripping hazards and clutter and improve visual management.
  5. Everything has a place…available when needed…labeled and identified…minimizes travel time…adjustable storage and workbenches make it easier to adapt to the differing needs of individual employees.

That’s quite a compelling list of highlights!

Next, you should work on improved lighting in every area of the workplace – from the production floor to warehousing/shipping and continuing in to the office space. There are plenty of studies available showing a direct correlation between better lighting and improved worker productivity, and the general consensus is a 6-8% sustainable increase in both operational and office results. Your team could suggest tons of projects, and certainly anything that could yield a 6-8% productivity improvement would hit a priority list! Plus, you get the extra benefit that improved lighting is also directly correlated with improved safety performance (shop-floor hazards more obvious and apparent, sightlines improved, etc.). This is low hanging fruit that can be immediately addressed, and often for minimal initial investment and with long-term energy savings as well. Local utility and local/state government programs are designed specifically to help businesses in this regard and will usually have people that will come out to perform free audits of your lighting/energy needs. Many of your suppliers or local lighting companies will also typically perform similar audits and they will have access/information regarding all of the assistance programs. This initiative combined with your 5S program really strengthens credibility and delivers immediate results that are apparent to all. People know change and improvement are happening quickly, and that energy will percolate throughout the organization.

The same lessons learned from the lighting improvement project should then be utilized to focus on air flow, temperature control, and relative humidity. Not only will your employees benefit in a wide variety of ways but often your product and process will see improvement as well. The employee benefits are the easiest to understand and quantify and are backed by plenty of well-documented studies that show direct correlations between temperature and relative humidity to factory worker productivity. What often gets overlooked is the product/process improvements that can be realized beyond greater productivity from your team. Whether you’re in food & beverage, machine parts, packaging, medical devices, liquid filling, electronic components, ingredient blending, etc., (basically any production process/product), big variations in temperature and humidity wreak havoc in product performance and consistency. And this is true from raw material storage, through the manufacture and packaging of your product, all the way to warehousing, and finally shipping to your customer. This project will take some capital investment, and therefore should be well planned and phased in over time. But, just like the lighting project, local suppliers and contractors should be able to perform zero-cost audits and there should be rebates and government assistance available to help.

Last but not least, start building multifunctional teams and hold work-cell kaizen improvement events that focus on ergonomics, worker time/travel, lifting/twisting, etc. Of course, you and the work teams will realize the safety impact of these improvement events, but you will also uncover a huge reservoir of productivity and quality improvements—they just happen naturally. This sort of team improvement exercise will strengthen those “muscles” for use on more intense productivity/waste/quality improvement projects to come. You will, in effect, be conducting high-level continuous improvement training sessions for the future while realizing significant safety and worker satisfaction benefits in the short term! Talk about a true Win/Win!

Please jump in and get dirty along-side your team during this process—it’ll be fun, and you’ll forge a stronger relationship with your most precious resource—your people! You’ll be building a foundation, setting a tone, and showing your employees that you are invested in giving them a safe, clean, and organized workplace—a space where they can succeed and improve. You’ll help lead an effort to invest in your people and invest in making employee safety an integral part of their training and development. When you imbed these safety behaviors, while communicating them throughout the entire organization, you get happier, more relaxed and engaged employees. They’ll have more skills and resources to perform the tasks that drive your business forward every day.

Don’t just say it—lead by doing it!

Next week we’ll review how the communication and management muscles used hourly/daily/weekly at all levels of the organization for the safety improvement effort will seamlessly transition into all other areas of your business. We will also address the use of select customer/supplier partners to assist you in the safety improvement effort driving enhanced revenue opportunities and supply chain efficiencies. I can’t wait!



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