LEAN and industrial safety are complimentary. One helps the other. The August 2006 Lean Tips article titled "Avoiding Cardboard Logjams" provided an example of a real-world situation. The box folder was operated by "Charlie." Charlie would make boxes fast and then take a break. He would come out of the box-folding area onto the mezzanine and oversee the entire production floor from his perch. This could be tolerable if not for the fact that an over-supply of boxes jammed up the line. More boxes than could be used during the rhythmic flow of production caused problems on the packing line.

From a Lean perspective, this waste cost time and money. Boxes fell down on the floor. Packers had to reach up to pull on boxes to dislodge them. All of this reduced packing efficiency and added to motion and transport waste. All waste reduces profit. However, there is another perspective: safety.

An accident in the making

No one was hurt while observing Charlie and his over-supply of boxes. However, it was plain to see that an accident was in the making. People tug on boxes. They reach up and across the packing line to get the boxes. This isn’t a problem when the boxes are not wedged together. But Charlie’s method of supply ensured that often the boxes wedged tight. So now the slight stretch became a pull on muscles and tendons that may, over time, become strained. More immediate was the danger of the pulling motion and resistance causing a slip or a fall. Charlie did not see that nor did he seem to care when it was explained to him. What to do?

Management re-assigned Charlie to be a packer and a packer was given the box-maker job. Her responsibility was to maintain a steady flow of boxes to the packing line. She was accustomed to the over-supply and jamming pushed onto the line by Charlie’s need for a break. She did not want to do that to her friends on the packing line and easily adapted to the job requirements. There are many benefits to maintaining flow in this situation, not the least of which is the change in behaviors and conditions. These changes in behaviors and conditions reduce the risk of injury.

Improving efficiency, safety

A recently held safety forum hosted by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Food Manufacturers’ Consortium put the spotlight on the inefficiency of unsafe workplaces. This grass-roots organization pulls together individuals who are passionate about continuous improvement in food processing. A panel of experts was invited to speak about safety issues and answer questions. The speakers were competent, thoughtful and experienced regarding safety in the food industry. After the Safety Forum, Eric Reynolds, manager of safety and ergonomics at Cargill’s Taylor Beef, said most changes made to improve ergonomics also improve productivity. In short, reducing motion and transport makes that work station more efficient and safe.

Other experts at the Safety Forum answered this question: "Are safety and Lean complimentary or opposing programs?" These food-processing experts answered that Lean and safety work together. They are complimentary and reducing the cost of waste often improves safety.

One expert stressed that safety issues arise from unsafe conditions and unsafe behaviors. His view was that unsafe acts often contribute to accidents. These unsafe acts can be minimized by applying simple tools from your lean tool box. Specifically initiating and sustaining 5S can not only minimize wasteful behaviors like waiting, motion and transport 5S can reduce slips, falls and strains. Other tools such as Kan ban alerts can reduce the need to rush up and down a production line. Moreover, visual factory operator aids can increase efficiency and ensure newer employees perform set-ups and change over efficiently and safely.

Motivating people

Processors might ask how to motivate people towards thinking and problem solving that integrates and combines the two different perspectives of Lean and safety. The problem-solving sessions, referred to as Kaizens, are a great place to instill synthesis or integrated thinking. Synthesis is an academic term for combining thoughts and concepts. It is considered a little more difficult than analysis, which basically is the foundation of an effective Kaizen. First, break down the problem. Breaking a problem into smaller parts is analysis. The ROI from group problem solving increases significantly when the participants recombine the suggested fixes towards an approach that at its’ best addresses two gains for one problem. In the best of all worlds, a solution will benefit costs and safety. As the group leader, ask how this change in safety conditions may also reduce costs. If the problem is seen primarily as wasteful behavior or conditions, ask how the solution can enhance safety. Solutions generated from these combined perspectives will often gain two benefits for one answer.

Lean practices strive to help a meat processor be more efficient and eliminate waste. To become efficient the processor seeks to perform work correctly and efficiently the first time. With creativity, this time-honored notion can also ensure that safety is an integral component of a Lean deployment.

Dr. Glen Miller is Senior Lean Consultant for Performance Essentials, Inc. More information can be obtained regarding Lean Manufacturing at www. performanceessentials.com.