MRO Magazine

How Lean helps safety

By Simon Fridlyand   

Health & Safety Human Resources Machinery and Equipment Maintenance

Lean manufacturing is a business initiative to reduce waste in manufactured products. The basic idea is to reduce cost systematically, throughout the product and production process, by means of a seri...

Lean manufacturing is a business initiative to reduce waste in manufactured products. The basic idea is to reduce cost systematically, throughout the product and production process, by means of a series of process reviews.

Lean manufacturing uses a systematic approach to identify and eliminate non-value-added activities and waste through continuous improvement. Non-value-added activities include:

* Overproduction (making more than is needed)

* Inventory (making the product before it is needed)


* Defects

* Idle-time waiting, and

* Travel between workstations.

Lean manufacturing strives to eliminate, reduce or simplify such activities by standardizing work processes, organizing the workplace, using teams and cross-trained employees, reducing changeover time and storing raw materials at the workstations where they will be used.

It also engages employees in inspecting the quality of parts before passing them on to the next workstation, using cellular layouts and applying total productive maintenance (TPM) to reduce equipment downtime.

The benefits of lean manufacturing include reduced material handling and travel distances; improved communication, quality and space utilization; and increased productivity.

Lean manufacturing also results in improved safety.

A crucial Lean insight is that most costs are assigned when a product is designed. Often an engineer will specify familiar, safe materials and processes rather than inexpensive, efficient ones. This reduces project risk, that is, the cost to the engineer, while increasing financial risks and decreasing profits for the manufacturer.

To help control such costs, S.A.F.E. Engineering Inc. pioneered a purchasing specification approach by which the purchaser can pass on the responsibility for Pre-Start Health & Safety Reviews (PSRs) to their suppliers through S.A.F.E. Engineering before the shipment is accepted.

PSRs document the measures required for compliance with the provisions of Ontario’s Regulation 851, describe additional testing necessary for new or changed equipment prior to operation, and indicate any special safeguarding that must be added during commissioning. A Pre-Start Health & Safety Review must be prepared by a professional engineer.

S.A.F.E. Engineering professionals will work with the suppliers and end users during the manufacture of the equipment, advise the supplier about the local compliance requirements, and co-ordinate any potential issues with the end users. This approach will ensure that when equipment arrives at its final destination, it is ready to be immediately operational, and that the principles of Lean manufacturing have been adhered to.

For example, cheaper but certified quality components are specified. This will also ensure that replacement parts for the future maintenance needs are not extremely expensive and are readily available.

Additional benefits are as follows:

* Improving quality and reducing defects reduces the likelihood of customer injuries or property damage related to product defects.

* Eliminating unnecessary transportation and rehandling of materials reduces manual material handling exposures.

* Decreasing the number of task steps reduces repetitive motion exposures.

* Eliminating unnecessary motions, such as walking to retrieve parts or tools, reduces worker fatigue.

* Eliminating unsafe behaviour by equipment operators reduces the risk of machinery injuries.

* Reducing overtime reduces the stress associated with high production rates.

“A Lean transformation naturally leads to an improvement in safety,” says Chet Marchwinski, communications director at the Lean Enterprise Institute, a non-profit training, research and publishing organization.

“That’s because some of the biggest improvement gains during the transformation often come from the Lean tool known as standard work, which includes safety as a key element. Basically, standard work is the most efficient work flow, considering quality, quantity, safety and cost.

Simon Fridlyand, P.Eng., is president of S.A.F.E. Engineering, Toronto. For more information, visit


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