Applying Lean principles to create a healthier and safer workplace

When I first heard the word “Lean,” I thought about it in the context of physical fitness – a perfect balance between fat and muscle.

The intent of perfect balance is not what usually drives people to become physically Lean. What they really want is a healthy body and a disease-free lifestyle.

After studying and practicing Lean methodology, I have come to understand that’s what it also means for organizations as they strive to be healthier, safer and more effective.

Lean is the name Dr. James P. Womack gave to his interpretation of the Toyota production system after studying Japanese manufacturers. This system focuses on the elimination of waste or non-value added activities.

I have applied Lean in manufacturing and service settings in two multinational organizations and to more than 10 different functions in at least 15 countries. Over time, I have come to recognize that Lean implementation improves the product or service while simultaneously enhancing the lives of an organization’s employees. Lean has the power to reduce cost and increase quality; it’s not an either-or proposition.

Lean focuses on the elimination of waste in seven areas: defects, over-processing, over-production, inventory, transportation, motion and waiting. The so-called Seven Wastes correlate with the leading causes of work-related injuries, such as overexertion and slips, trip and falls.

For example, elimination of unnecessary motion at a workstation reduces stress and strain on the body and decreases the likelihood of injury. In addition, Lean improvement tools such as Failure Modes and Effects Analysis can be used to identify and mitigate risk during a manufacturing process. Another great system leveraged in Lean is 6S (also known as 5S), which ensures that materials, areas, tools and equipment are correctly positioned to reduce hazards in a sustainable manner.

Creating a Lean culture of continuous improvement and innovation in your organization empowers the entire team to focus on efficiency, in turn creating value for customers.

To learn more, view my recent Lean principles webinar.

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