Does Safety Add Value?

As the function of Safety matures from a largely compliance based discipline to a continuous improvement based activity it’s important to recognize precisely the role of safety in the context of Lean, Six Sigma, or Quality Operating Systems, and central to that understanding is the concepts of waste and non-value added activity. Both these terms probably seem fairly familiar. We all have some idea of things in our lives that constitute waste but for the continuous improvement professionals. waste has a fairly specific definition. For people working to improve the capability of a process waste refers to the unintended outputs of a process that do not add any value to the products or services being delivered. Any process can be broken down into three components: Inputs, Transformations, and Outputs







The Basic Process The basic process works like this, we start with things, we do stuff to these things and we end up with things that have changed in some way. A process is like a recipe, and the inputs are our list of ingredients. But unlike a recipe our process will also contain a list of tools that we will need and a description of the physical environment (most good cookbooks assume you know that you will be working in the kitchen or at least at a barbecue grill). The process transformations are the physical forces acting on the inputs that change them in some way and create outputs. Every input changes in some way—dishes get dirty, workers get tired, kitchens get hot, appliances get a bit older and more worn (albeit sometimes imperceptibly). In fact, every input, whether man, machine, materials, and the environment, changes during our process. After the inputs have been changed transformed they become outputs, but not all outputs are desirable. And because they aren’t desirable the customer won’t pay more for them. Since the intrinsic value to the customer is unaffected by the transformation these outputs are described as non-value added activities, or more commonly, waste. Some waste is unavoidable (people tire, machines wear out, the environment heats up, etc.) while other forms of waste can be eliminated easily. Let’s take a look at a simple example, popping popcorn. We start with ingredients, equipment, a procedure, and someone to actually pop the popcorn:




 • A pan• A lid for the pan

• Cooking oil

• Unpopped popcorn

• Salt

• A Stove

• Natural Gas

• An electric starter

• A popcorn recipe

• Butter

• Salt

• A bowl

• A cook

• A kitchen

• A countertop

• Oxygen

• Lighting

• Heating


• Lighting

• Burning

• Melting

• Popping

• Cooking

 • A hot greasy pan

• A hot greasy lid

• Cooking oil residue on the wall and kitchen surfaces

• Popped, salted, and buttered popcorn

• Un-popped popcorn kernels

• Spilled salt

• A hot stove

• Consumed Natural Gas

• An electric starter that is slightly more worn than before

• Spilled Salt

• A dirty bowl

• A hot, tired cook

• A hot greasy kitchen

• A greasy countertop

• Consumed Oxygen

• Consumed electricity

Even though we only wanted one thing (buttered and salted popcorn) we had 16 (or more) outputs, and since we derive no benefit from these things they are waste. All of these outputs cost us money, whether directly in the case of wages or materials, but also indirectly in the case of money spent on cleaning products etc. But let’s assume for a moment that our popcorn chef accidentally burned himself. Do we derive any benefits from that injury? No and so it too is waste. If we insisted that the supervisor watch the popcorn chef and provide observations on his behavior and feedback on the safest way to do the job would that be something for which the customer would cheerfully pay? No. How about a incident investigation? Would a customer pony up for that? No. In fact, there is no safety activity that the customer will pay for in this scenario and why should they? Safety is not a value added activity, and frankly, any safety activity that doesn’t have a direct impact on the safety of the workplace is a waste. Now before anyone freaks out, there are a lot of non-value added activity that are necessary, and even desirable, including training, marketing, sales, and yes, safety. But the less a function changes the fundamental nature of the goods or services produced it is far more likely to produce waste. Let’s continue our example of the popcorn chef. If there are two companies providing popcorn and one has a less efficient process (that is, one has a lot more waste in his process than the competitor) the less efficient company has higher costs associated with brining its popcorn to market than its competitor. In order for the less efficient company to make the same profit as its competitors it will have to make up that cost somewhere else, either by paying lower wages, using inferior ingredients, raising prices, or skimping on cleaning supplies or work in a dirty kitchen. As the company with the inferior process continues down this path, its customers are far more likely to react negatively. Customers will not pay more for an inferior product or service simply because you can’t get your act together. They are far more likely to take their business elsewhere. Functions that improve the efficiency and capability of a process, while not value added activity, eliminate waste in the process and in so doing lower operating costs and allow the company to invest in marketing, training, safety, recruiting the best talent, upgrading materials and dominating its industry. For many safety professionals, it can be difficult to see how what they do impacts the bottom line, but by looking for ways to eliminate waste—in the core operational processes and in the Safety function itself—we can cut costs in ways that everyone can agree will benefit not just the company’s bottom line, but also the worker’s job satisfaction and quality of life.


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