Living lean

September 2, 2003
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In today's dynamic market climate, there is one sure bet: Business will continue to respond to competitive pressure to perform efficiently. The concepts of lean thinking are here to stay. Safety, like all business functions, must respond to the challenge. Since we are a viable part of the business, we must think and act like business people and show that safety adds value to the enterprise.

Here are six specific steps you can take:

1) Use the S.A.V.E. principle - Safety Adds Value to the Enterprise. Want to get management's attention? Express your information in terms of costs. What are the true costs of accidents to your company, both direct and indirect?

Management typically views safety in terms of expense. Our job is to sell the safety initiative as an investment, which implies a return on capital. We are selling value.

It's critical to quantify the value of your solution. In their renowned work "Safety & the Bottom Line," noted safety experts Frank Bird and Ray Davies showed the positive economic impact of improving just one small task per critical job. This improvement, made yearly on 100 critical jobs, saved a company well over $400,000 per year.

2) Become a Black Belt. Not the martial arts kind. What we're talking about here is using the concepts of Six Sigma quality. In a nutshell, it's all about using statistical methods to determine process variability.

A Black Belt (which refers to a level of training and understanding of statistical concepts) is a person who applies the methods of Six Sigma to your system. Instead of an emotional argument as to whether a process is safe or not, employ these concepts to document process variation. Too much variation and your process is out of control. The goal is to eliminate process variation, and costly waste (such as accidents).

By using Six Sigma principles you allow facts and data to speak for themselves. There is rigorous technical training and testing involved to become certified as a black belt. Whether or not you actually become certified is up to you, but safety practitioners surely can borrow from these proven methods.

3) Push responsibilities and tasks out to the departments. When individual employees take on more responsibility for safety, resources are leveraged, and costs are lowered. Involvement of more personnel in the safety program also boosts ownership of the program. Safety becomes more systematized, more a part of the way things are done in your facility. When safety is owned by employees and woven into the culture of your facility, less policing is required.

4) Make safety more user-friendly. Design programs to make it easy for supervisors and managers to deliver safety to the customer. You want to save time wherever you can. Try setting up a system that will enable supervisors to sign up for training online. Help departments pinpoint where their big losses are so that they can pull together solutions.

5) Get your vendors involved. Some activities that you would normally handle yourself can be performed by outside parties. Vendors eager to sell product may agree to perform PPE hazard assessments or respirator training.

6) Check with your workers' compensation insurance carrier. Many services that provide workers' compensation insurance also offer loss control services. A loss control rep can likely assist with employee training, safety surveys, industrial hygiene sampling and ergonomics consulting.

You may be entitled to an allotted number of service hours which you are already paying for as a part of your premium. In some cases, this is like found money because companies were not even aware that they were paying for the service. Your workers' comp insurance carrier is also the place to turn for accident cost information, which can be used to show investment in safety as a value.

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