There's Room for Safety in Lean Manufacturing

Risk Assessment Is the First Step Toward a Safer, More Productive Machine

By Aaron Hand

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ABB Automation & Power World 2013

When it comes to lean manufacturing, there's a seemingly never-ending stream of phrases to identify the various methodologies—5S, kanbans, value-stream mapping, spaghetti diagrams, kaizen, kaikaku…the list goes on and on. "But we don't see safety in there anywhere," said John McHale, engineering manager for ABB Jokab Safety. "A lot of times, it's an afterthought."

McHale presented a session on lean cultural machine safety Monday afternoon at the start of ABB Automation & Power World this week in Orlando, Fla. In it, he explained that lean safety is about being more efficient, better and more cost-effective. And the results can be immediate.

There's been quite a bit of focus on lean manufacturing, eliminating waste in all its forms, whether that's as scrap/re-work, transportation, associated motion, wait times, inventory, over-production, over-process or underutilization of people. But there are common misconceptions that keep manufacturers from integrating safety into lean manufacturing, McHale says. "People think there's no place for safety in lean," he said. "Safety will just impede things; all of my processes will slow down."

Other misconceptions are that the cost will be too high to upgrade every machine in a plant; safety systems will just get bypassed anyway because they stop people from doing their jobs; or a particular process is just too important. "People say, 'There's no way I can shut this machine down. This machine makes the most amount of money of any machine. If I shut it down, my profits and bottom line will be affected,'" McHale said. "I've seen it countless times."

But McHale debunks these misconceptions, noting that, done properly, lean safety will have just the opposite effects. He points to a case in which a Canadian corrugated box manufacturer integrated safety into its process and not only met the necessary standards and regulations, but reduced machine setup time significantly. The changes saved about 30 seconds per setup for the manufacturer's printing press. Running two shifts a day, with an average of six setups per shift, the company gained more than 35 hours of production per year.

"Implementing safety doesn't necessarily result in lost production," McHale noted. "Did safety impede production here? It actually helped it."

But it needs to be done properly, with a well-formed team and effective communication. The team, ideally, should have four to eight people, with some combination of operators, supervisors, EH&S personnel, maintenance personnel, process, system or design engineers, the machine builder/OEM and safety consultants. "From my perspective, the best person to have on that team is the second-shift operator," McHale said. "He or she knows the intricacies of the machine because they deal with it day in and day out. They also are the people who have to deal with that machine with the least amount of operational support."

The team, once assembled, needs to perform a risk assessment. "It's the only way to truly evaluate your machinery," McHale said. Done properly, the risk assessment should be able to identify any issues that could arise with the machinery. And it promotes effective communication by dealing with and involving all stakeholders, McHale added.

There is a wide range of standards that manufacturers can follow—from ISO 13849-1 to EN 954-1—and it can get pretty confusing. "We find 90% of the time when we walk into a facility, they have not performed or even heard of a risk assessment," McHale said. "It's our job to go in and help to educate them."

McHale recommended using a methodology with the least amount of criteria to worry about. "The more criteria we have, the more opportunity we have to get into a gray area, where maybe we didn't classify this risk or hazard appropriately, and then maybe we don't put the appropriate safeguarding on," he said. "The more criteria, the more confusion you can introduce into that process."

For many companies, introducing the concepts of lean safety and risk assessments requires a cultural shift—a shift away from spending the least amount of money possible by avoiding the latest technologies, away from not meeting or exceeding industry standards, and away from current ideas about training.

"Training often ends in the classroom; there's little on-the-job follow-up," McHale said. "With a new machine, there's quite a bit of training that could be required. And it has to be consistent."

Implementing lean safety, as with other lean manufacturing programs, has to start with management," McHale insisted. "It starts with effective communication, a good team and diligent implementation," he said. "If we don't take those steps, we'll never achieve our goals."

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