Ergonomics done right.®
March 19th, 2008

More on “Safety and Lean Manufacturing”

Great post today on The Lean Thinker. Mark points out the strong link between safety and kaizen, and potential reasons why these two groups clash within some companies. One point that we’d like to add is that within TPS (Toyota Production System, the basis of lean thinking), the priorities are very clearly laid out as SQDC – safety, quality, delivery, cost. Former President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mikio Kitano described it well:

"Standardized work encourages the close, one-by-one examination of:
First, Ergonomics and Safety Issues
Second, Quality Issues
Third, Productivity, and
Fourth, Cost Benefits"

To Toyota, good workstation design (ergonomics) is a starting point for TPS. They understand that you can’t expect a manufacturing cell or production line to be stable and productive if the individual workstations aren’t optimized for human operators. A way to illustrate this is to consider the 4 M’s of manufacturing – Materials, Methods, Machine, and Man. Each of these needs to be stabilized, and in addition, the man/materials and man/machine interfaces need to be optimized through workplace ergonomics.

In contrast, many if not most lean initiatives in North America focus on optimizing material flow while expecting a continuous improvement culture to just happen as a natural extension of kaizen events. We know this is not the way TPS/lean works – and according to another good post at Evolving Excellence, "The potential of lean has become sub-optimized by the focus on waste elimination". Bob Chapman, the CEO of a $1billion capital good company went on to say, "Lean is about people, not about waste. Focus on the employees – all other benefits are just by-products."

Previously, we’ve discussed how a culture of continuous improvement arises when improving ergonomics is a starting point for you lean initiative. Basically, improving ergonomics will:

  • Accelerate shop floor buy-in to the lean process since improvements benefit them by reducing daily pain and fatigue
  • Sustain shop floor involvement by respectfully engaging operators in both finding and fixing barriers to safety and personal performance
  • Reinforce the impact that continuous improvement has with quick and visible ergonomic improvements

Mark from The Lean Thinker sums up his post (and ours) this way:

Bottom line?You get perfect safety exactly the same way you get perfect quality.

The methods and approach for getting it, and the methods and approach for correction and countermeasure are exactly the same. Remember:The right process produces the right result.

If you aren’t getting the result you want, then take a look at the process.