top of page

Safety in SQDCP - stop fooling yourself that you behave safely in factories, you don't!

Updated: Sep 13, 2023

A cutting blade exposed

You're probably not as safe as you think you are!

Here's a fact that I've observed: Almost all lean-minded people preach SQDCP Safety first, Quality second.

This fact is also true: The same group of people routinely demonstrate dubious personal safety behaviour on the gemba.

I have no doubt they carry the unshakeable belief that their behaviour is safe enough. The reality suggests otherwise. This contradictory behaviour entered my awareness after peering into an unsavoury mirror and realising, several times during the past decade, that I didn't entirely walk the walk. During that period, I have forced myself to become safer than 99% of people I work with.

Look in the Safety mirror

A harsh statement, but, If you do any of the below occasionally, you're playing at having a "safety first" mindset:

  • Do you ever walk with hands in pockets?

  • Do you ever walk and use your phone?

  • Do you ever cut across working or storage areas?

  • Do you ever interrupt Operators mid-cycle?

  • Do you ever "nip" through a safety barrier because "nothing's coming"?

You can't be a little bit pregnant - meaning that it only takes one lapse of concentration, in each of these circumstances, to create a serious safety problem.

"You are who you are when nobody is watching" is a good way to judge yourself on this front.

A tragic tale of 2 serious manufacturing accidents

Twice I have been on-site (or arrived within hours) in factories when a fatality has occurred. I looked into the distressed eyes of the two Managing Directors involved and saw men who knew that they would be haunted, for life, by the fact that this happened on their watch. Neither was in any way directly culpable – their facilities were no better or worse that most I've been in. Their loss could easily have been your loss.

  • Both accidents were caused by people performing perilous non-standard work that had, in a creeping way, become accepted as custom and practice.

  • Both saved time

  • Both flouted the Standardised Work & Risk Assessments

  • Both were tacitly sanctioned by management

  • Both Operators were trying to be helpful

  • Both had done it hundreds of times before

  • Both got distracted doing something dangerous that had zero margin for error from distraction

  • Both died 😔

Incidentally I still see these two Managing Directors and both are enthusiastic leaders of real (as opposed to fake) safety in the workplace. They will stop machines, or shipments, or factories to correct an issue – no debate, just a reflex action now. They, without fail, demonstrate safe behaviour in negotiating factory terrain.

Question 1: Why did it take a death for these people to become serious about Safety?

A lucky tale of 2 factory near misses

My own conversion to becoming safer was completed 7 years ago when I stepped out of an ambiguously signed gangway into the path of a forklift truck. My good fortune was to test the skills of a driver with exceptional reflexes, a fact that he proved by stopping some 4 inches from my right ankle.

Twenty years previously, as a callow youth, I had fallen from some parts racking I'd scaled (yes, I'd scaled) having grabbed hold of a metal bin for support. This metal bin turned out to be empty, and therefore light. As I grabbed it to avoid falling, the empty bin duly plummeted after me. Luckily, in a reflexive act that I have yet to better, I compelled myself to roll out of the way in time.

Question 2: Why did it take 2 near misses for me to become serious about Safety?

Questions 1 and 2 hang heavily in the air..."Why did it take...?"

Using Industry 4.0 to increase safety awareness

Perhaps we're hardwired to only learn from direct experience? Perhaps the time has come to move away from training people to be safer by using grim videos and photos, showing the aftermath of injuries.

A move into Digital Manufacturing via AR/VR and haptics would allow us to experience the consequences of unsafe behaviour through our 5 senses, in a safe and simulated way, to internalise the safety lessons.

3 Key skills to SQDCP Safety

Skill 1 - Awareness

A few years ago I was supporting a factory in China which bore the hallmarks of most new facilities. The building structure, services and external landscaping had benefitted from deep thought. Step inside and the assembly track layout was OK, but the material presentation and flow was carnage. Large, jemmied-open wooden boxes lined the periphery of the track and parts regularly turned up in containers of all shapes and sizes - big ones, little ones, patterned or plain - including carrier bags. Like creating a beautiful body and forgetting to consider the blood that flows around it and sustains life.

Notwithstanding these issues, we decided that the line would be vastly improved via that well worn path to basic stability - a little 5s. So, we performed the usual hands-on 3s blitz activity and, at the finish, created a simple, visual, time achievable daily check sheet with the team members working the line.

I had a gnawing feeling that I had been lazy somehow in this Shanghai 5s activity but couldn't locate the source of the itch to scratch it. The next day it came to me as one of the operators inadvertently pointed out an assembly problem as we were pulling apart the line balance. He had cuts on his wrist that were in the process of healing. I instinctively surveyed other hands nearby and saw that several of the men bore similar cuts on the wrists, some fresher than others.

This is when the penny finally dropped as I hurried over to one of those large jemmied-open crates I mentioned earlier. The nails were still protruding into the inside of the crate. As the operators were reaching in to gather parts, they were sustaining some nasty scratches. This was a factory where a reluctance to complain was probably borne of a desire not to lose an unusually good job within the area. In any case, it's wasn't solely their responsibility to point out problems. It was ours to look for them, to pay attention to detail and take away the aggravations of the job.

My laziness of thought had been to forget the purpose of 5s, the importance of safety, to not put the men of a manual assembly line at the centre of the improvement activity. The takeaway - please look at the people doing the work for evidence that your business is jeopardising their health.

Fast forward 10 years to the picture below - Andy's trousers. This time, I picked up the fact that he was often having to stretch across a burred metal ledge - leaving his thighs sore when he got home. I picked this ups on Day 1, probably because of my Shanghai failing.

trouser worn by rubbing against a sharp edge

Skill 2 - Build Safety into habits

Since almost walking into the path of the Forklift truck mentioned above, I have developed a Toyota safety habit when crossing a gangway. Look left (and point left), look right (and point right). If it's clear say "Yoshi" and then walk across. "Yoshi" broadly means "let's go". If you couple this with a determination to walk in right angles around the factory (i.e sticking to marked gangways), you won't be tempted to cut across cells and risk trips, slips or distract people working.

Skill 3 - Develop your Gemba Walk / Area Patrol eye sharpness

As you walk the factory on a daily basis, sharpen your eyes to find a balance of Safety, Environmental, Quality, Delivery, People (SEQDCP) problems early. This skill of identifying ABNORMALITIES before they become PROBLEMS has to be learned. We can help you there with our award winning SempaiGuide digital lean toolkit - Area Patrol module.

SempaiGuide - a digital lean toolkit to improve factories

Be safe out there people.


212 views0 comments


bottom of page