Safety: Is it the Sixth ‘S’ in a 5S system?

Make safety an integral part of your productivity improvement plan
By Tom Semiklose, Safe Rack May 8, 2014

As plants work toward meeting financial goals and maintaining compliance with safety regulations, it’s often thought that productivity is compromised. Safety doesn’t have to compromise productivity. On the contrary, safety and productivity complement each other.

According to research, manufacturers that emphasize safety often excel in productivity and efficiency. While compliance with safety regulations is critical, high-performing plants integrate worker safety with productivity programs and receive strong backing from management at all levels.

Performance and compliance

An organization can comply with safety regulations and yet not perform as well as another organization that also complies with regulations. The difference lies in management support and a culture that integrates safety into all aspects of its continuous improvement programs such as Lean. In high-performing organizations, safety becomes part of the same continuous improvement programs that drive productivity, efficiency, and business results.

An Aberdeen Study identified four key performance indicators (KPIs) to distinguish Best-in-Class from Industry Average and Laggard organizations relative to plant safety. The KPIs included overall equipment efficiency (defined as Availability X Performance X Quality), repeat accident rate, injury frequency rate, and unscheduled asset downtime. 

Manufacturers in the Best-in-Class category, or top 20%, had the highest OEE (90%) and the lowest accident and injury rates (0.2% and 0.05%, respectively). In contrast, the Laggard category, or those in the bottom 30%, had the lowest OEE (76%) and the highest accident and injury rates (10% and 3.0%, respectively).

Safety is inherent to Lean principles

Two key pillars of Lean are standardization and employee empowerment. Though often considered paradoxical, the pillars represent basic tenets of a safety culture. Plant safety is ensured, in part, by establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) and work instructions (WIs). However, as operations change, employees at the source are often more aware of potentially unsafe conditions. Empowerment gives these employees an opportunity to challenge a standard and provide a corrective action before an incident occurs.

"Give employees an opportunity to test their ideas by trying it for a brief period; and if the idea is successful, then change the work instruction or standard,” said George Biggs, quality and safety manager at ErectaStep, which manufactures industrial steps, safety gates, and crossover systems for a variety of industrial applications inside manufacturing plants and petroleum refineries.

"Although we invest in safety training and equipment, we also encourage employees to use common sense. If you see a safety issue that can be fixed quickly, just fix it," said Biggs. He explained that his teams have also conducted Kaizen events for safety issues that may require root cause analysis before jumping to a quick fix.

Consider safety within the context of the 5S methodology. The connection between efficiency and safety becomes more apparent. While some argue that safety should be the sixth "S," others believe that safety is inherent to the original 5S methodology. 

5S methodology

The basic 5S methodology is:

  • Sort: Remove unnecessary tools from the work area; keep needed tools in an easily accessible place.
  • Straighten/Sift: Arrange tools in an orderly workflow; "There’s a place for everything and everything in its place."
  • Sweep: Keep the work area clean; ensure the area is in order.
  • Standardize: Promote interchangeability by using uniform procedures.
  • Sustain: Ensure adherence to procedures.

Connections have also been made between reliability excellence and improved safety. In fact, the Aberdeen Study mentioned previously indicated that Best-in-Class companies had a 5% higher OEE compared to peers in the Industry Average category.

When routine maintenance is not conducted, the alternative is emergency repair. Such unplanned downtime often leads to poor housekeeping—repair debris and clutter left at the work area following an urgent repair—which can often result in accidents in addition to reduced operational efficiency and OEE. Most reliability-based maintenance programs apply Lean principles to improve not only OEE, but also worker safety. 

Applying 5S methodology

The following example illustrates how fall protection, the leading cause of workplace injuries, can leverage 5S methodology to reduce incidents while improving efficiency and effectiveness.

Workers require access to an elevated work area to conduct routine maintenance. For some, the first response is a ladder. While a ladder may make sense for its practicality, it comes with its own set of safety issues and may not be efficient if workers must first locate a ladder and bring it to the work area. Keeping a ladder in the area may seem like a good solution to the efficiency issue. However, considering the "Straighten" tenet, efficiency gains may be offset by the safety risk of added workspace clutter.

Biggs conducts ABC analysis to sift items. For example, "A" items are those used every day. They should be readily accessible. "B" items, used weekly, for example, should be somewhat accessible, but out of the way. "C" items that are used infrequently can be tucked away.  Taking a holistic look at the previous example from a 5S perspective, what’s needed is safe access that’s efficient, compliant, and unobtrusive—a solution that keeps the work area uncluttered (Straighten / Sift), meets safety regulations (Standardize) and does so consistently over time (Sustain). Can a plant meet these criteria and maintain efficiency? Modular workspaces may be the answer.

One safety module at a time

For many plants modularity strongly influences the choice in systems implemented throughout the plant. Modular systems offer a lower total cost of ownership and greater flexibility to accommodate the accelerated pace of change in business that ultimately impacts the manufacturing footprint. Changes in automation systems, packaging systems, or relocation of production from one plant to another require footprint changes that often result in less-than-efficient access.

More plants are considering modular access solutions that not only emphasize safety, but also provide flexibility to reconfigure pre-engineered and compliant modules in other difficult-to-reach areas of the plant. Modularity supports 5S tenets of Sort, Standardize, and Sustain. In our previous example of access to an elevated work area, modular stairs, rails, and a work platform are erected to enable safe efficient access. It’s safer than a ladder, particularly when workers must also bring tools to conduct maintenance activities. And the secure platform provides needed space for tools, preventing workspace clutter.

Pre-engineered components are designed to fit multiple configurations and still meet safety standards, making them a sustainable solution. They also include interchangeable parts that bolt together for easy assembly and dismantling when the system needs to be reconfigured or is no longer needed. Standardized components, hardware, and assembly tools eliminate non-value-added activity and waste when reconfiguring for another location. The newly reconfigured access system, with its pre-engineered components, does not compromise worker safety or regulatory compliance, and does not require additional engineering or maintenance resources to design and validate.

Look beyond the cost of safety

Safety and compliance are not simply about reducing the costs associated with incidents, insurance premiums, or fines for noncompliance. On the contrary, safety and compliance programs that consider efficiency are more likely to encourage investments in safety that reduce workplace incidents and produce a higher return.

Capital is considered to be one of three crucial elements of best-in-class safety in addition to culture and compliance, according to a January 2014 Rockwell Automation article, Safety Maturity: Three Crucial Elements of Best-in-Class Safety. Capital refers to technology investments that help companies not only meet safety regulation, but also improve performance. Referencing our previous example, a company invests in a crossover stair and work platform system to gain greater utility and efficiency versus investing in a ladder. Both support compliance; however the ladder can carry a greater safety risk.

A company cannot simply "buy" safety. Although companies with best-in-class safety programs invest in technology and equipment that reduces risk to safety, they also invest in people and processes. These organizations operate from a risk management model, which guides decision making. Risk management models help companies assess and rank risk factors and encourage a level of investment that’s commensurate with the risk.

Developing safe, efficient processes and training colleagues on how to follow them is a practice found at best-in-class organizations. It takes a financial and time commitment. More importantly, effective safety programs require leadership support at the highest levels.

Safety is everyone’s business

Safety rarely trickles up. Leadership support of safety programs fosters a culture of safety and empowers colleagues to identify safety issues and take corrective action. Studies show that employee participation in health and safety programs increases their engagement and productivity. Some even suggest that when employees are directly involved in their safety and that of their colleagues, they often "go the extra mile" for the company.

The hypercompetitive business world may tend to put productivity and profits ahead of safety. These important aspects of running a successful business can co-exist without one compromising the other.

Opportunity exists for businesses to combine productivity tools such as Reliability Based Maintenance, 5S, and other Lean principles with risk management models to achieve safety and productivity and do so profitably.

Tom Semiklose is the executive vice president of sales for SafeRack and its sister companies ErectaStep, RollaStep, and YellowGate. He can be reached at tsemiklose@saferack.com.

Key Points:

  • In successful manufacturing plants, safety is part of the same continuous improvement programs that drive productivity, efficiency, and business results.
  • Companies with best-in-class safety programs invest in people and processes, not just technology and equipment.
  • Studies show that employee participation in health and safety programs increases their engagement and productivity.
  • Whether part of a formal 5S system or not, safety management should be an integral part of all plant operations.

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