Safety Walk – Gemba Style

Have You Done Your Safety Walk?

One of the most important goals of any facility should be to keep the employees and the company as safe as possible. In most cases, all the basic safety requirements will already be in place, including things like fire suppression systems, evacuation routes, safety signs and more.

When a facility is in compliance with all the main regulatory requirements related to safety, they may think that they can just go into ‘maintenance mode’. When in this mode, the company will inspect equipment and repair or replace safety items as they get old, but they don’t really do much to encourage continuous safety improvements.

Performing Safety Walks

As part of the maintenance mode for safety, most facilities perform what is called a safety walk. The traditional safety walk has one or more people walking through the facility looking for anything that may not be in compliance with the safety regulations. These walks typically focus on processes, procedures and compliance items that aren’t being properly followed.

These types of walks are an important activity, as they will help ensure the facility remains in compliance with OSHA regulations and other key safety considerations. While a typical safety walk is great for staying in compliance, they really do very little to help actually improve the safety of the facility.

This is because they are only looking at the machines, processes, equipment and environment, and not the people who do the actual work. If you want to foster an environment of continuous safety improvement, you really need to take a safety walk to the next level.

Walking Gemba Style

Taking a Gemba safety walk is one of the best ways to make improvements to the overall safety of your facility. If you are not familiar with the term Gemba, it is a Japanese word that basically means the shop floor, or ‘where the work is done.’

The term is commonly used when discussing lean improvements, which is essentially a system of continuous improvement, so it fits in perfectly here. The following are a few key differences between a traditional safety walk and a Gemba safety walk:

  • Traditional walks focus on processes. Gemba walks focus on people.
  • Traditional walks maintain safety and compliance. Gemba walks look to make improvements.
  • Traditional walks involve mostly management. Gemba walks involve the front line workers.

The bottom line here is that a Gemba safety walk and a traditional safety walk are really two entirely different activities. Both of them can be very valuable to the facility, but you should not overlook the benefits of performing them both. While it may be possible to perform them both at the same time, it is typically a better practice to keep them separated so you can focus on achieving the goals individually.

Planning a Gemba Safety Walk

Before you begin your first Gemba safety walk, you will want to plan out exactly what you are going to do, and what type of information you are looking to gain. This will help ensure that you don’t miss any important areas, and that you get the most benefits possible from each walk.

Most of the planning will really only need to be done once, and then you will repeat it with each future walk. You may have different areas of focus each time, or make small adjustments based on different situations in the facility, but the overall activities involved in the walk will be quite similar each time.

Every facility will need to make their own list of activities that need to be performed on a Gemba walk. The following is a fairly simple example of what types of things you may want to include, and how to plan for them. You can create your own list, or edit this one to get the results you are looking for:

Area of FacilityActivityWho is InvolvedGoal
Receiving DockReview activities performed by team when new shipments arriveSupervisor of Receiving Dock, Key team members from each shift. Safety ManagerIdentify safety concerns. Identify differences in performance between shifts. Get insight from employees
Machine #1Monitor how each part is made. Ask for insights from all employees.Supervisor of area. Safety manager. All employees who work on this machine.Review the procedure followed at this machine. Identify safety improvement opportunities
WarehouseMonitor all activities throughout shift and throughout the warehouse area.Anyone coming or going into the warehouse. Warehouse manager. Safety manager.Identify activities of employees to expose safety concerns.

Of course, there will typically be many other stops on the Gemba safety walk. Some of the items will only take a few minutes to complete, and others may require significantly more time. The important thing is that you have a good estimation of how long it will take, and you never rush through the walk.

In addition to planning how long it will take for you, it is also important to schedule the right amount of time with the departments you will be visiting with. Since these Gemba safety walks are focused on the people throughout the facility, you will be typically be taking them aware from their normal work.

This is why it is so important to set up these walks well ahead of time with everyone involved. When properly planned and scheduled, you will minimize any interruption to the work that needs to be done each day.

Taking the Gemba Safety Walk

Once you have your Gemba safety walk planned out, it is time to actually head out to the floor. When you leave your office, you should make sure you have everything you need with you. Typically, this will include the following items:

  • Tablet or Laptop – It is almost always a good idea to use a tablet or laptop to gather data while you are on a Gemba safety walk. This will make it easier to use the data later, and less likely that it will be misplaced.
  • Schedule – You want to stick to your schedule as much as possible, without rushing through anything. Having your schedule with you will help you to stay on track and get things done. This is especially important if you are going to be walking through multiple areas in a given day.
  • Previous Notes – If you have already done Gemba safety walks in an area, make sure you bring notes from the previous walk. This will help you to identify specific areas that you may want to look at more closely.
  • Safety Equipment – Of course, if you are going to be walking through any areas of the facility that require personal protection equipment, make sure you bring that with you too. In addition to helping you stay safe, it will also set a good example for the rest of the facility.
  • Other People – Depending on your level of expertise and the types of areas you are walking through, it may be beneficial to bring members from other teams, or even outside consultants. Having an expert with you during the walk can often allow you to identify dangers that would have otherwise been missed.

Anything else that you feel you may need while walking through the facility. The main thing is that you don’t want to have to walk back to your office or other area to get something that you need. This will help ensure you stay on schedule, and avoid unwanted distractions while performing the actual Gemba safety walk in your facility.

While you are on the actual walk, make sure you are taking down notes about everything you notice that may be important. Depending on your personal style, you can just take brief notes about key items, or you can take the time to take down very detailed notes about all the safety issues you observe.

The important thing is to make sure you are taking the right type of notes so you will have the information you need to make improvement plans once the walk is completed. When the walk is finally completed, you will want to take those notes and organize them into a format that will make them more useful.

Organizing Data from the Gemba Safety Walk

This is one of the most important steps in the entire process. Without proper organization of the data you have collected, it will essentially be useless. There are many different ways that you can organize the data once you have it. Finding the way that provides you with the most benefits is going to help you to make lasting safety improvements.

Most facilities will benefit from taking the data they gather, and entering it into a spreadsheet or other similar tool. This will allow you to review and manipulate the data to display only what you need. For example, you could enter all the data into a spreadsheet, and then have it only display items related to a specific area of the facility when you are meeting with managers from that group.

Take some time to figure out how your facility can best use the data, and don’t be afraid to make adjustments as you go. The way you organize your data can have a major impact on the long term effectiveness of Gemba safety walks.

Planning Changes

Once you have all the data properly organized, it is time to start planning any changes that are needed to help improve the safety of your facility. You will want to set up meetings with the management teams of each of the areas that you visited to discuss what types of changes may be best.

Ideally, you should have some proposed ideas ready to present before the meeting. Sometimes these ideas will be the proper solution, so the meeting can be primarily to plan out how they will be implemented.

Other times, the ideas that you come up with may not be realistic for one reason or another. This is why it is so important to meet with the people from the actual areas of the facility where you are looking to improve safety. They can review what you came up with, and let you know which options will work and which won’t.

Working together, you can come up with the proper approach to any safety problems that were discovered on the Gemba safety walk. Taking the time to plan out what needs to be done, and how to do it will help to improve the results once they are implemented.

Implementing Changes

The final step in any Gemba safety walk is to implement the changes based on the information you gathered during the walk itself. This step may take the longest to complete, but in most situations it will actually be the easiest.

It is fairly easy because all of the planning and scheduling should have already been completed. Now you simply need to work with the employees themselves, as well as any other groups that may be involved, to roll out the changes. For most changes all you’ll need to do is provide the training to the impacted employees, and then have the proper people there to monitor the way they are doing thing.

Remember, with Gemba walks you are primarily focusing on what the actual employees are doing and how it impacts safety. In some cases, however, you may use tools or equipment to help the employees to operate in a safer way.

For example, if you find that employees who work in the warehouse are frequently walking in areas where items could fall or vehicles may be driving, you could use floor marking tape and personal protection equipment to minimize the risk.

Finding the right combination of employee training and equipment improvements will help your facility to operate more safely, and minimize accidents or injuries.

Scheduling Future Walks

Once all the changes have been successfully rolled out, you will want to begin the process of scheduling another Gemba safety walk in the future. Make sure you give it enough time for the changes that were just made to be fully implemented. You don’t, for example, want to do another Gemba safety walk while the employees are just getting used to the previous change.

This could result in you identifying risks that aren’t actual risks at all, but just part of the normal learning curve that comes with any type of adjustment in the facility.

Many facilities schedule Gemba safety walks for different areas of the facility at different times. This way, you can go through the entire cycle of a walk in one area, and then immediately begin again in the next. By the time you work your way back to the first part of the facility, they will have implemented the changes and gotten used to them.

You can set up your Gemba safety walk schedule something like this:

Area of FacilityPlanning WalkGemba Safety WalkSafety Improvement PlanningImplementation of Changes
Zone OneJanuary 15thJanuary 25thWeek of Feb. 5thFebruary 15th
Zone TwoMarch 20thMarch 30thWeek of April 10thApril 20th
Zone ThreeSeptember 10thSeptember 20thWeek of Sept. 30thOctober 10th

The further in advance you are able to plan out each step of the Gemba safety walks, the more prepared everyone can be. Since you will be working directly with the employees, they will likely need to have at least a few weeks notice to ensure they can get all the work done, while still dedicating any needed resources to the walk.

Depending on the type of facility, and the type of changes that need to be made after a given walk, you should allow at least a couple of months after walking through a given area. If there are major changes made, you may want to give the area even longer to make the necessary adjustments.

Of course, this is primarily possible in large facilities and those that have the resources to have a dedicated safety manager. For smaller facilities, it may be better to just do one full Gemba safety walk per year, if that is more realistic.

Using Gemba Safety Walks Properly

One last note about Gemba safety walks that all facilities should keep in mind is that this is a process that is meant to be continued long into the future. When done properly, and regularly, it will help you to identify safety concerns that would have otherwise gone unnoticed until there was an accident or injury.

Most facilities find that the first few times they go through a Gemba safety walk, they are able to identify a number of significant issues that they can fix. The more they do, however, the harder it is to find major safety problems. This allows them to begin focusing on making smaller changes that will make incremental improvements on the overall safety of the facility.

This is the ideal way to ensure your facility is able to keep operating in the best, and safest way possible. The more times you perform this type of walk, the easier it will become and the more safety improvement opportunities you are likely to spot.

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