What About Lean Machine Safety?

April 9, 2013
Common Misconceptions Keep Manufacturers From Integrating Safety Into Lean Manufacturing

Lean manufacturing has a seemingly endless stream of phrases to identify its various methodologies — 5S, kanbans, value-stream mapping, spaghetti diagrams, kaizen, kaikaku, etc.

"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 during March's ABB Automation & Power World in Orlando, Fla. He explained that lean safety is about being more efficient, better and more cost-effective. And the results can be immediate.

SEE ALSO: There's Room for Safety in Lean Manufacturing

John McHale, engineering manager for ABB Jokab Safety, presented a session on lean machine safety during ABB Automation & Power World.

There's been quite a bit of focus on lean manufacturing, eliminating waste in all its forms. But there are common misconceptions that keep manufacturers from integrating safety into lean manufacturing, McHale said. "People think there's no place for safety in lean," he said. "Safety will just impede things; all of my processes will slow down. Implementing safety doesn't necessarily result in lost production."

McHale believes safety and lean manufacturing principles can reinforce one another. 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.

McHale debunked these misconceptions, noting that, done properly, lean safety will have just the opposite effects. He pointed 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. "Did safety impede production here?" McHale asked. "It actually helped it."

But it needs to be done properly, with a well-formed team and effective communication. The team, ideally, should have 4–8 people, with some combination of operators, supervisors, EHS 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. "They know the intricacies of the machine because they deal with it day in and day out. They're also the one person that has to deal with that machine with the least amount of operational support."

The team 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, he 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.

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.

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.