The Relationship Between Lean and Safety - 4Ward Solutions Group - Modular Commercial Building Construction Consulting
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The Relationship Between Lean and Safety - 4Ward Solutions Group - Modular Commercial Building Construction Consulting


By Ben Hershey, President & Coach, 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC

In my experience and with the work I do with hundreds of component manufacturers, I find that many companies will tell me Safety is important, but, in practice, safety is treated as a burden on the company. Good managers will always have an attitude that they want all of their employees to be safe and to end the shift in the same physical condition they started in. But sadly and quite often, the cost of safety (e.g., additional time and capital spent for material and equipment) gets in the way of making good decisions. When the cost of safety becomes a burden to the organization, the safety approach begins to suffer.

You are probably saying to yourself—there is no way this is really the attitude of my team—but, as the owners of LBMs and component and millwork operations, we need to make sure. If safety is a burden to our supervision teams and associates, then we need to turn that around and find ways to add value and achieve the level of safety required. The way to accomplish that is by making your safety approach more efficient.

How much time is your supervision team spending on safety? Do they talk about safety during the shift huddle? Are they committed to achieving results in safety committee meetings and so they complete a Job Safety Analysis form that is reviewed with the ownership/management team? As an industry, we have several areas in our operation that can be considered risk concerns and, like other industries, we have had accidents with unfortunate and deadly results. But also as an industry, we have tools that operations can use to improve safety and provide levels of excellence.

Here are some Next Practices to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your safety approach:

Integrate Safety into Operational and Support Processes

 Safety should be a part of everything we do, when we review lean processes in the plants or yard, to how we conduct business in the office. To foster integration, operational leaders may need to help their safety professionals become more operationally savvy. A specific example of safety integration is including the hazardous energy control (lockout/tagout) process in the work order and/or work instruction. This creates a more efficient and integrated work process where maintenance staff are less likely to forget the requisite safety measures. Therefore, doing the job well means doing the job safely. How many of your folks hate to conduct an accident review or fill out the related Job Safety/Hazard Analysis form? Part of the reason is that it’s perceived as “extra.” Perceptions of extra work, time, paperwork, etc., contribute to poor decision-making. Integrating the safety form expectations into operational standard work will make safety and the work process more effective and efficient. 

But don’t just stop there. Whenever possible, you should integrate safety training into work-process training. For example, when training a new sawyer on how to perform their tasks/process, you should also discuss the safety needs/requirements of the area. Make them aware of those key items they should check or what may cause a hazard to others. The hazard communication elements, such as job-specific hazards and protective measures, will be more applicable and seen as part of the task, and the knowledge will be transferred in a more sustainable and cost effective manner.

“SAFE” Should be More Apparent and Visual

Though it may require a safety professional to determine how to make the process safe (e.g., compliant with requirements, low risk), it doesn’t take a safety professional to keep it safe; this is where your team makes a difference. If you make correct safety practices (e.g., expected workplace conditions, body positions and activities) visually apparent to the associate, then it will be easy for anyone to identify non-safe activities. By making safety visually apparent, everyone becomes a safety leader. Here are some steps you should consider:

  • Define the right way (condition, body position, etc.). For example, how should I use the hammer at the gantry table, or feed material to the saw correctly? Show by example, and at the work cell show how the body should move.
  • Create visual cues that make it easy (for anyone) to see what right looks like. Provide examples, such as color coding and photos/diagrams of the right condition, position, etc. Remember, the goal is that anyone walking by can determine if it’s right or wrong.
  • To design the visual cues and examples to post, recruit those in your organization with knowledge about your processes and who have creative energy. This enhances team building and safety.
  • To check your work, again rely on your team members. Enlist people with no process and technical knowledge to review the safety guidelines, so that they are relevant and understandable for everyone in the organization.

 Make Your Process the Shortcut to Safety

lean safety - 4Ward Consulting Group

How many accidents have happened in your operation where the employee decided to shortcut a process or they create a work-around on a piece of equipment that is not working as designed? If you see these shortcuts, it is imperative that operational leaders ensure the root reason for the shortcut is identified and addressed. To get ahead of these “floor-level” shortcuts, have those same individuals (the ones who created a shortcut) design the process for the shortcut. Yes, that’s right—make the process the shortcut by design. When I first heard this from our insurance carrier a number of years ago, I thought they were crazy. But once they showed our team how to do this, I have used the same process with my clients too. 

To move people from the “dark side” and integrate their work-around steps, start by acknowledging their energy, capacity, savvy, and ingenuity. Include these folks in process design/re-design teams and give them a stake in making the process the shortcut and shortcut-proof. Provide the team with your organization’s quality, operational excellence, safety, etc., performance expectations and challenge them to make the process both safer and more effective/efficient. Validate by review and walking through the new approach with inexperienced employees during the most challenging operational periods. For example, if safety seems to take a back seat at the end of the month when your product gets shipped, this is a good time to test the shortcut-proofing of the process.

Resources You Can Use for Safety

Give one of these principles a try in your organization, re-energize your safety committees, provide guidance and support, build consensus on a ideas, generate some success and momentum, and then stand back. And along the path, use the resources our industry has spent time developing.

  • The SBCA Operation Safety program is your first tool to turn to and implement in your operation. When you talk about a baseline in lean management and benchmarking, this program is tailored to what is occurring in your operation and is an excellent tool to manage a safety program. It has creative ideas, Best Practices, and much more. This should be your first tool in the box.
  • Your insurance provider is another excellent source of safety information. Ask your carrier what safety “toolbox” talk topics they have, DVDs, signage, etc. that you can use as part of your shift huddle each day. A good safety tip for the day reminds your team of how you care about their safety. In addition, some insurance carriers will even come out and perform a safety walk with your team, providing valuable feedback. My companies have used this along with SBCA Operation Safety.
  • Check out the offerings from your local community/technical colleges. Many times these educational institutions have safety programs or courses you can tap into for your company. And if you do this, then take the opportunity to share information about your company and the employment opportunities you offer.

Making safety a part of your lean process will have measurable benefits, which also includes keeping your team safe each day. If we can be of assistance or provide advice on how to use the resources listed above, give us a call.

 Next Practice Tip

I want to beat the BCMC drum again this month as we are getting much closer to this year’s show in Milwaukee. There are so many benefits your team can take advantage of by attending the BCMC show: Educational Sessions, Exhibitors with products to advance your operation, and the opportunity to learn from your peers during Industry Roundtables are just a few of the chances you get to improve your company. And why not also join me and others as we try to set a record for participation in the BCMC 5K Run/Walk. The proceeds from this year’s BCMC 5K will benefit the SBCA Emerging Leaders Scholarship Fund which I believe is a vital part of advancing our industry in the future. 

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Ben Hershey is CEO of 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at or 623-512-6770.

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