Does Implementing a Lean Process Conflict With Improving H&S Standards?

Posted on 10 Dec 2008 by The Manufacturer

Stuart Field of Northgatearinso Employer Services provides a personal view of how lean manufacturing and the management of health and safety go hand in hand, “with complimenting objectives and no conflicts”.

In writing the article Stuart uses his experience of managing health and safety in many manufacturing environments. Stuart also pulls on his experience as a health and safety specialist for Toyota motor manufacturing UK Ltd, when the Japanese automotive giant established its engine plant in Deeside, North Wales. During this period the plant went from being an empty shell to producing an engine off the line every 2 minutes. In Stuart’s time at Toyota the facility had 200 employees and there were no reportable accidents. Stuart has also been risk and safety manager at Corning Optical Fibres where he was also a lead facilitator in implementing a programme of Business Excellence. Corning Optical Fibre produced over a million kilometres of fibre per annum.

The first question to be asked is ‘what is lean manufacturing?’

“Lean comes from the ability to achieve more with less resource, by the continuous elimination of waste.”

This description is based on the Toyota Production System (TPS). Within Toyota the goal was, and probably still is, for employees to work smarter, not faster. Production line employees worked at the same rate producing an engine off the line every 2 minutes as they did when producing one every 3 minutes. It was achieved by organising the work sequence differently.

The second question is ‘what is health and safety at work about?’

I define this as preventing people from being harmed by work activities. This is achieved by organisations taking the right precautions and providing a satisfactory work environment. Any incident resulting in a person not being available for work, however small the time frame, has to be classed as waste.

Trips and Falls

The aim of the ‘Health and Safety Management regulations’ is to ensure that organisations manage health and safety within their operations. In HS(G)65 ‘The Successful Health and Safety Management’ the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) states that an effective management system will contain the following steps:

a) Planning
b) Organising
c) Controlling
d) Monitoring
e) Reviewing

I see no difference in this cycle than the Plan, Do, Check, Action cycle we use for lean manufacturing. Would anyone deliberately plan and implement an unsafe act? If we are in the unfortunate situation that unsafe acts happen, then we can use the check part of the cycle and take appropriate action.

Again lean manufacturing and safety management are in unison. In both situations we are looking to use root cause analysis to find the real cause of the incident rather than just dealing with the outcomes.

If an employee slips on oil from a dripping machine, of course the floor needs cleaning, and perhaps a drip tray may be useful, but let’s get to the root cause and repair the leak.

The five whys are really useful in accident investigation:

Why did you slip? There was oil on the floor.
Why was there oil on the floor? The machine was leaking.
Why was the Machine leaking? The hose has split.
Why did the hose split? The wrong hose was used.
Why was the wrong hose used? None of the right ones were available.

Get the right hoses in stock, and adjust the kanban ordering process

The principal duty under the ‘Management Regulations’ is to assess the risks to anybody that could be affected by work activities

Many of the arrangements needed to control risk and monitor their implementation will be outlined in the health and safety manual. Within lean manufacturing the manual should sit within the confines of the Total Quality Management (TQM) system. And again it should support the principles of TQM. However, both safety and TQM are not only about what is written; they are about what really happens at ground level.

There is a duty to make arrangements for putting health and safety measures that follow risk assessments into practice. The best way of achieving this is involving team members, team leaders, engineers etc. The information from these risk assessments and the critical safety points can then be written into the SOPs. In lean manufacturing it is best practice to involve team members in writing SOPs, with team leaders and engineers verifying them. By combining these processes all operators will be aware of, and more importantly work to, SOPs that are safe. If accidents occur when operating to SOPs then we can use the Plan, Do, Check, Action cycle. SOPs should be clearly available and best practice is to display these in the wok area. Critical safety points should be included in these SOPs, i.e. ‘safety spectacles are mandatory’.

Plan, Do, Check, Action


The philosophy of the 5S’s fits nicely with the philosophy of health and safety, and if implemented correctly should prevent manual handling incidents and accidents relating to slips, trips and falls.

If we have a can do attitude to

• Cleanliness
• Arrangement
• Neatness
• Discipline
• Order

Then surely we must have a cannot do attitude to accidents.

One of the first steps of 5S is to get rid of everything unnecessary. In health and safety terms this activity will need to be well planned to ensure we are not creating any undue risk. But, once achieved, the facility will be safer with the risk of trips and falls reduced. Use ‘Plan, Do, Check, Action’ before removing the waste

Putting everything in its right place has the added benefit of reducing manual handling activities, hence reducing injuries associated with them. Keeping the place clean and tidy for the future again reduces many hazards. A clean plant is healthier than a dirty one.

A key part of working lean is to have well planned and effective workflow throughout the process, and eliminating any unwanted journeys. Within health and safety we are looking for a workplace transport plan that keeps people and vehicles separated. If the workplace and workflow are well organised there will be no need for forklift trucks whizzing around the plant; forklift trucks can work on predetermined routes and these routes can be segregated from pedestrians. Pedestrian routes should also be predetermined and it is best if they are as short as possible. This eliminates the needs for employees to take short cuts.


Just in time (JIT) and Kanban will again require deliveries and movement within the plant to be well organised and will mean large stocks of components, goods and products are not allowed to build up in any undesignated area. This has the benefit in health and safety terms of giving high visibility across the plant and that everything is stored in pre-planned locations. Thus there should not be the need for materials to encroach on pedestrian/vehicle routes and the forklift truck drivers to have a clear view whenever operating.

For an organisation to operate lean there is a need for teams to be flexible. However, to achieve this there is a need for employees to be competent at the tasks they are asked to perform. Clearly if someone is not competent to undertake a task, then activities will go wrong, production will halt if working to JIT and waste is created.


A key requirement in health and safety terms is for employees to be competent, and training records kept.

Competency in health and safety terms can be defined as:

• Knowledge
• Experience
• Personality
• Training

So, Lean manufacturing and Health and Safety work hand-in-hand. A useful way of having visibility in this area is for competency matrixes to be clearly displayed in work areas so a team leader can quickly check it to see who is competent to operate a specific machine or drive a forklift truck.

In conclusion lean manufacturing is not about working faster, it is about working smarter. Working safe is the only smart way to work, or it is the perquisite at least. And effective management of health and safety can be seen as a proactive tool in reducing waste. Therefore there should be no conflict between lean manufacturing and meeting health and safety requirements, and excelling at health and safety.

By Stuart Field BSc(Hons) CMIOSH MIIRSM, consultancy Manager for Northgatearinso Employer Services.