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November 11, 2011
Safety Metrics: What Is Lean Management?

You probably already use several safety metrics in your organization as a means to track and influence safety, but did you know that the principles of waste reduction through lean management can be applied toward safety as well? In a BLR webinar titled "EHS Metrics: How to Measure What Matters Most," Michael D. Lawrence answered the question: "what is lean management?" and explained how it can be used in measuring and improving safety performance.

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Safety metrics as a management tool

In EHS, a metric is the measurable performance of an environmental or safety activity or program within an organization. Metrics can drive performance toward more efficient use of resources, improved compliance and profitability, and improved general health and well-being of an organization and its workers. The use of EHS metrics is also a way to report information to management. It is important to remember, however, that metrics in themselves will not achieve excellence, but they do provide a window through which management can see the effectiveness of their systems.

To be used in making business decisions, a safety metric must be consistent, comparable, credible, and relevant to the people using it. Business leaders focus on revenue, profit, market share, new products, and increasing capacity, productivity, or efficiency. According to Lawrence: "by regularly measuring our individual, team, and company-wide performance, if we focus on specifics and sustaining employee involvement – very important to have the employees involved in safety metrics – then these metrics can prove to be a really important tool for making improvement in our overall safety performance."

So, how do you decide which activities to measure? The answer depends on your goals and what you want to accomplish. For example, if one of your business goals is reducing or eliminating waste in production, this is where lean management comes in and ties to safety.

What is lean management?

Lean management originated within Toyota in the 1950s. In this system, the focus is on the elimination of waste. Lean works to eliminate waste through:

  • Goals and measures leading to accountability and driving improvement.
  • Areas that are organized and arranged.
  • Trained and empowered staff.
  • Problem solving and proactive failure analysis.
  • Getting everyone involved.
  • Smooth and consistent processes working in unison.

Looking at this list, you can easily see how these goals can influence safety as well. Each of these items could be applied to your safety program in some way.

Lean management and safety

To further tie the concepts of lean management and safety, Lawrence highlighted that: "in lean terminology, poor safety in the company is just another form of waste and it needs to be eliminated. Injuries are costly, we know this, not only in the terms of the human suffering but worker compensation insurance, lost time, lost productivity, higher employee turnover, maybe having to hire and train new personnel . . . lots of costs involved in injuries. It's a form of waste; we want to get rid of it." The lean methodologies can help us to reduce or eliminate that waste.

Safety has historically been treated as a separate subject, which could be improved separate from production. However, safety is an integral part of every production process. Safety depends on every action, material, and person used. By carefully planning processes to minimize safety risks, work can be less hazardous and we can reduce this form of "waste" in terms of reduced accidents and injuries. We incorporate safety into process and production plans in order to achieve projected goals of improved worker health, reduced costs, and increased value.

In a related article, Lawrence outlines 7 Steps to Improving Safety by applying lean management principles to safety processes.

The above information is excerpted in part from a BLR webinar titled "EHS Metrics: How to Measure What Matters Most," with expert Michael D. Lawrence of Summit Safety Technologies. For more information on EHS metrics, order the webinar recording. To register for a future webinar, visit http://catalog.blr.com/audio.

Michael D. Lawrence is the Principal Consultant and founder of the firm Summit Safety Technologies in Long Beach, California. (www.SafetyProgramNow.com) Michael is an accomplished safety manager with expertise in all areas of workplace safety, and is certified both in safety and health management systems for small business and also as a performance-based equipment trainer.

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