This week the Bureau of Labor Statistics released some interesting findings for 2009. An Associated Press article reported that the Bureau documented a 17 percent drop in workplace fatalities last year. The article notes that much of the decline can be attributed to a reduction in hours worked as a result of the recession.
This is good news when taken at face value. However, occupational health and safety practitioners know that the number of fatalities can start to climb as the recession subsides and more people join the ranks of the employed. Now is the time to consider new strategies for elevating safety as a primary workplace concern in the competitive business environment. One means of accomplishing this is to provide an entirely different frame of reference for the safety debate.
Safety is, very simply put, a quality concern. An incident is really a defect produced by a failure in a process or work flow. Process and layout designs should reduce the risk of such incidents just as they should reduce the risk of defects. Safety advocates can gain support in their organizations by using this context to discuss workplace concerns.
Lean and Six Sigma techniques can be used to assess and mitigate the risk of injuries and other incidents. These methods are used together to facilitate the improvement of a wide variety of processes. Examples include manufacturing and assembly, medical services, financial transactions, and environmental testing. Other disciplines such as project management can be used in concert with Lean and Six Sigma to ensure the success of improvement efforts.
Lean techniques are used to: (1) identify the portions of a process that create waste, and (2) facilitate the process redesign. The first step is to map the process to understand how it works and to highlight problem areas. In the safety arena, this translates into looking at the process flow and the physical layout to determine where hazardous conditions exist.
Six Sigma encompasses a variety of tools that are used to reduce process errors and quality defects. Six Sigma can also be used to gather and analyze data on safety incidents and dangerous occurrences to evaluate possible causes and improvements. The approach consists of a series of steps known as DMAIIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Implement, and Control. These steps address each phase of a process improvement effort, and all are required to evaluate potential sources of errors, defects, or hazards. From there, improvements are recommended, implemented, and evaluated. The tools used in Six Sigma include Statistical Process Control (SPC), design of experiments, and individual statistical analysis tools, to name a few.
Using Lean and Six Sigma to assess hazards and safety incidents provides an opportunity to evaluate these issues in a broader context. Treating incidents as a type of defect or process failure allows workers and managers to see the business impact of safety as well as the personal impact. This analytical, performance-based methodology provides an excellent framework for the due diligence needed to make safety improvements and enhance the overall health of the work environment.