Lean Management: An Overview

What is Lean?

Lean principles were originally created in Japan with an aim to increase workplace efficiency by identifying and eliminating waste within the manufacturing industry.

Introducing a lean system of work into your organisation means you can start removing waste from processes, people and equipment and ensure the right things are in the right place at the right time. This can help reduce production times and costs which in turn improves quality. The biggest benefit to your business is that work will be simpler to understand, carry out and manage.

It’s important to communicate and share your goals of continuous improvement with employees so they are fully aware of what your business is trying to achieve and why. Educate your employees on the new processes, identify what is to be done, by who and ensure schedules are clearly visible and updated regularly.

Eliminating LeanWaste

The tools associated with “lean” will be familiar to production management and include Five S and Kanban but also The Toyota Way, which focusses on streamlining the work process by eliminating waste. The main wastes identified are:

  • The moving of products not required to perform processing
  • The holding of inventory not being processed
  • Staff or equipment being moved more than necessary for processing
  • Interruptions to the process
  • Production outstripping demand
  • Inspection for and fixing of defects

Overlap from the production techniques into matters including quality and the associated standards such as ISO 9000 may be seen. Consider the last waste stream alongside the comment made by Deming, the “father of modern quality,” that “you do not inspect quality into a product, you build it in”. Other compatible links may be found with the various ISO Standards many seek accreditation for.

Integrating Lean with Safety Management

One technique for integrating lean with safety management is SI-PI (safety integrated process improvement). This involves collaboration between safety and production staff. This requires each to have considerable proficiency in the others discipline. Examples of SI-PI could include:

  • Savings on PPE by considering exposure safeguards during process design
  • More rapid commissioning of a production line due to adequate initial consideration of process safety

The points above may have the appearance of being covered by the process behind the CE marking procedure. However, the emphasis on risk assessment specifically focussed on guarding issues, which was part of the 1998 review of the Work Equipment Regulations, would seem to question the degree of reliance that can be placed on the presence of a CE mark on machinery.

When considering the waste streams identified in the production techniques mentioned above common ground may be identified with safety aims. For instance, it is wasteful to under-utilise the expertise of shop-floor personnel. While safety requirements include the need for co-operation and consultation there may well be scope for greater dialogue, resulting in increased understanding of workplace risks. This in turn can result in increased safety performance by replacing “work rounds,” devised by process workers to overcome a problem, with a more effective, better designed solution.

Interruptions or waiting may result in morale issues among staff and may be made even worse by the subsequent need to speed up to catch up with production deadlines, potentially resulting in over-exertion or unsafe practices. Smoothing the process has clear safety applications.

Defects in product are closely related to interruptions as the need for time-consuming over-inspection can affect morale and the generation of rework creates delay. Such work may also be non-standard, adding further risks to the process.

Unnecessary movement at the workstation creates increased cycle time and has ergonomic implications which may result in increased fatigue and the greater possibility of injury. Such injury itself may represent further delay where this affects key workers, in turn requiring the use or recruitment of less competent workers, further increasing risk.

Excessive product transportation increases the movement of pallet trucks, forklifts, etc, bring an increased risk of collision, spillage or damage.

The holding of excess inventory also creates workplace congestion, impeding the movement of staff and their escape in in an emergency situation. Where combustibles are involved this may further increase the fire risk.

Employee Buy-In

The concept of lean safety may also assist in securing employee buy-in to process improvement. There are many demands on staff in terms of training, certification and numerous other aspects of work which means that yet another initiative may be seen as something else to add to the list. However, if safety is embedded into the refinement of the work process it may be better received since it has demonstrable benefits for workers in terms of improvement in safety and the work environment. Since workers know what the process actually looks like and the necessary work-rounds to make it work their input is vital and collaboration will encourage them to feel they are more valued.

“Kaizen” translates as “continuous improvement” and ties in closely with the identification and elimination of waste advocated by 5 S and Toyota systems, as above. It also has a mimic in safety technology in terms of the analysis of accident statistics and the identification of trends, combined with ongoing audit and review of systems and documentation leading to further improvement and refinement.

5 S Principles

A practical application of the 5 S principles may take the form illustrated below:

Sort – Remove unnecessary items and dispose of them properly

This could involve the use of red luggage label tags during a workplace walkabout. These can be attached to items which seem to have no obvious use, such as a powered hand-tool which has lain on a shelf for years. If it has not been used for such a prolonged period, does it have any value? The tag may highlight the need for a department manager to justify its continued storage.

Set in order – Arrange all necessary items so they can be easily selected for use

This can be illustrated by the use of shadow boards for tool storage and require these to be placed in the same easy-to-find location immediately after each use, ideally in clean condition.

Solution_Fit-PPEShine – Clean your workplace completely

The identification of leaks in machines, their repair and subsequent cleaning makes identification of further faults more quickly identifiable, reduces waste due to fluid loss, eliminates slip or hygiene risks and creates a better workplace which helps promote higher standards.

Standardise – Standardise the best practices in the work area

Each identical work task should be carried out in the same manner as detailed in a safe system of work with identical controls, as detailed in a risk assessment, including aspects such as specific PPE.

Sustain – Sustain the gains of the lean process

Having implemented the previous categories, evidence of sustainability may become clear by visual indicators such as adherence to clear floor lining for designated use, leaving walkways unobstructed. Other evidence will include predictable storage of items awaiting despatch or equipment to be used in the process. In short, an orderly workplace free of confusing clutter.


There may appear to be factors in lean safety which are already covered in normal safety practice but lean encourages a further examination of such practice. It may also assist with buy-in from both management and workers. Management who may feel they have enough demands on their time without a further safety initiative may come to understand safety as a way to process improvement. Workers who feel they are inundated with production criteria to be complied with may see lean safety as process improvement with benefits in health, safety and welfare aimed at them.


Disclaimer: The information provided through Legislation Watch is for general guidance only and is not legal advice. Legislation Watch is not a substitute for Health and Safety consultancy. You should seek independent advice about any legal matter.

Post A Comment

Fields marked with * are mandatory.

I have read, understood and give consent to your Privacy Policy (click here to view).