“How Six Sigma Can Improve Your Safety Performance”

Six Sigma is the evolution of statistical quality improvement processes that have been used extensively to improve manufacturing and other process-related industries. How good is Six Sigma? It is a statistical measure of variability or standard deviation. The Six Sigma process calculates to 3.4 defects per million opportunities. Needless to say, that is near perfect execution of a process. Although not often used in the safety arena to full potential, Six Sigma tools can help produce significant and sustainable improvements in safety performance, injury reduction and associated pain.

Total Quality Management
To gain an understanding of Six Sigma, it is helpful to have some historical knowledge of the original statistical improvement tools or the Total Quality Management (TQM) concept. Original quality pioneers such as Walter A. Shewhart, W. Edwards Deming and Kaoru Ishikawa worked with Japanese manufacturing companies in the 1950s to significantly improve the quality of products. The original concept, TQM, has been defined as a management philosophy that produces continuous improvement of products and processes.

One of the most powerful tools that came out of TQM is the Plan/Do/Check/Act (PDCA) continuous improvement wheel. In this concept, plan to do something, do it, check for the effectiveness and, if it’s not performing as planned, act upon that by making changes. Then, on an ongoing basis, “turn the wheel” or plan, do, check and act again. This produces continuous improvement. The concept of PDCA is still just as powerful today as it was when first proposed.

A safety application of PDCA at both a strategic and an operational level is shown in the following diagram.

Six Sigma – Quality on Steroids
Although TQM provided significant quality improvement for users, there were still opportunities to improve the concept. That is why Six Sigma came to be. The Six Sigma management concept was originally developed by Motorola USA in 1986. In 1995, Six Sigma became more visible when Jack Welch made it a focus of business strategy at General Electric. Today, the Six Sigma concept has become the standard process for quality improvement in many industries. The objective of Six Sigma is to improve the quality of processes by identifying and removing the causes of defects. In safety, these process defects can be unsafe behaviors, incorrect procedures or equipment failures, all of which can result in injury.

A Formal Improvement Process
The original TQM used a number of statistical tools, but there was no formal process for integrating all of these tools and developing a complete process improvement solution. Six Sigma uses DMAIC, a clearly defined five-step improvement process that consists of the following:

• Identify the process and define the scope of the project.
• Clearly identify the inputs and outputs of the process.
• Evaluate the measurement systems and resulting data.
• Determine cause-and-effect relationships.
• Identify the root cause of the defects.
• Develop and implement improvements.
• Test effectiveness of improvements.
• Implement a system to sustain the improvements.

Define Stage – What Are We Working On?
In the Define Stage, clearly identify the scope of the project or what it is that needs work. Also determine what the target performance should be. It will be necessary to understand what process is failing and resulting in what kinds of injuries.

One of the Six Sigma tools that is typically used in the Define Stage of the DMAIC method is the SIPOC. This tool is typically used in the manufacturing process where it is important to identify the suppliers, inputs, processes, outputs and customers. The diagram below shows the use of this tool in a very simplified version of the line construction work process.

By applying this tool to safety, one can see how some of the suppliers and inputs – which are normally not considered to have an impact on safety – can indeed have impact. For example, the SIPOC tool helps demonstrate that the people who design the project, design the standards or determine the specifications of the materials should consider safety implications when doing design work.

Measure Stage – Is the Data Correct and What is it Telling You?
In this stage, the data being used is extensively assessed and interpreted. First, ensure that the data is valid and accurately measuring the desired subject. This can often be an issue when analyzing behavior observations. Behaviors such as use of safety glasses are easy to document and address. More controversial items, such as adequate cover-up, are not always documented and addressed. As a result, when combining all of the observation data, since some of it is not valid, the overall observation results may not reflect actual performance.

Often in this phase, charts and graphs will provide directional information stating that performance has improved or degraded, but this may be misleading. Many charts and graphs reflect averages, and important information can be lost in averages. There are a number of tools used in this stage to identify whether it is truly statistically improving or if it just looks better on a chart. Tools that are used in the Measure Stage include histograms, Paretos and process capability.

Analyze Stage – Identifying the Root Cause
In the Analyze Stage, use the data collected and validated in the Measure Stage to determine the root causes of the process defects or injuries. A few of the tools that are used in the Analyze Stage include Cause & Effect Fishbone Diagram, Five Whys and Correlation Testing. The fishbone diagram is familiar to most people because of its extensive use in identifying the root cause of accidents. The importance of this stage cannot be understated because if the root cause is not validated, the corrective measures – tied to that root cause – will not provide the desired results.

Improve Stage – The Corrective Measures
After completing the Analyze Stage, potential corrective measures often become evident. During the Improve Stage, it is most important to test the potential corrective measures to see if they will address the root cause. In the safety arena, that does not mean to wait and see if another injury occurs. The root cause needs to be prevented, not the injury. In the case of eye injuries, the identified root cause may be the employees not wearing safety glasses or employees wearing improperly fitting safety glasses. In this case, the Improve Stage would include a process for fitting glasses and providing them to employees. In this stage, pilot trials or other forms of testing effectiveness can be used.

Control Stage – Make it Sustainable
The primary objective of the Control Stage is to monitor results and ensure that the expected improvements are being achieved and sustained. One of the biggest challenges, especially when implementing safety improvements, is ensuring that those improvements will be sustained. Far too often, events or injuries occur and upon analysis, corrective measures were recommended and implemented several years ago for a previous event, but are not working or are not in place for various reasons.

One reason for this could be that a good process was not in place to sustain corrective measures. Actual examples include:
• A safety improvement memo was sent out, but there was no follow-up to ensure that people implemented it.
• A new, safer tool was specified and purchased, but the older, unsafe tool is still found throughout the system. In the case of safety glasses, the employees are no longer using the ones they were fitted with.

Another reason may be that the original corrective measure did not correct the original root cause. This should have been identified when testing the effectiveness of the corrective measure in the Improve Stage.

Of all of the stages in the DMAIC process, I feel the Control Stage is the most important and most overlooked.

This represents only a small example of the tools and methods that are typically used in the DMAIC process. There is no question that use of Six Sigma and the DMAIC process requires trained facilitators to assist in providing desired results. The results, though, can be substantial if the process is properly followed. If an organization has access to someone with these skills, they can be very helpful in identifying the root causes of injuries and developing sustainable corrective measures. Appropriately utilized, Six Sigma can be an important component in creating an injury-free workplace.

About the Author: Ted Granger, CSSBB, CUSP, is an independent safety consultant affiliated with the Institute for Safety in Powerline Construction. He provides training, lectures and safety consulting services. Prior to his current role, Granger served in various managerial positions during his 37-year career at Florida Power & Light Company. These included T&D operations, human resources, logistics and safety, where he utilized his Six Sigma Black Belt certification. He can be contacted at tedjgranger.


Do You Gemba?

“Gemba Walk”

by in Learning is Change

Gemba is rarely found at an executive desk. Instead, you’ll find it on the shop floor. Or in the marketing department. Or at a customer’s place of business.

Gemba. Mention it outside lean manufacturing circles, and you’re likely to draw a blank stare.

So, what is gemba? In short, it’s the place that matters most. It could be a crime scene: In Poe’s The Tell-tale Heart, gemba is that heart thumping under the floorboards. In sports, it’s wherever the ball is. In business, it’s the place where real value is created, the place where the rubber meets the road, so to speak. In other words, gemba is the beating heart of your organization.

And as a manager, owner, or CEO, it’s where you should be, at least some of the time.

Walking the Gemba Walk

Gemba is rarely found at an executive desk. Instead, you’ll find it on the shop floor. Or in the marketing department. Or at a customer’s place of business.

Wherever gemba is, go there. In lean manufacturing, this is called the gemba walk. It’s the best way to see, firsthand and unmediated, what works and doesn’t. It’s the best way to get the information you need to make the best possible decisions – usually in the most efficient possible manner.

Think about The Tell-tale Heart. Did the police officers sit at their desks, mentally working out the cause of the shriek heard in the dead of night? No; they did their footwork. They got up, went out, and found the gemba. They asked questions. They learned. And they got what they were after.

There are three essential elements to the Gemba Walk and they are:

Go See: (get to the Gemba)

  • Is the purpose aligned with the overall change?
  • Is the process designed to achieve the purpose?
  • Are people engaged to achieve the purpose and are they supported by the process?

Ask Why: (how we understand the technical or process side)

  • Opportunity – look for symptoms rather than prescribing solutions.
  • Waste – eliminate redundancies, overproduction, and others of the eight wastes.
  • Problem – confirm what we are trying to achieve and why can’t we?
  • Kaizen – seek patterns, forms, tools and routines

Show Respect: (engage the “Hearts and Minds” of the people doing the work)

  • Respect people
  • Rely on people
  • Develop People
  • Challenge People

Some resources that will help you dive deeper into these concepts are:

Source: Industry Week®

Click Link for: Gemba Powerpoint Presentation: The Gemba Walk

“What Drives Wedges Between Management and Workers?”

Charity WorkersApril 5, 2014

John Dyer, President, JD&A — Process Innovation Company

Forget the fancy slogans. Provide employees with the tools, materials and support they need to get to the root cause of problems and permanently improve the process. A vast majority of the employees want to do a good job, want to feel proud of their work and their company. The question is: Do we give them a chance to succeed?

From Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points: Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

In order for lean and Six Sigma to be successful, workers at all levels must be engaged and supportive. This requires a certain level of trust to exist between management and the workers. However, in some companies, a rift forms that can be difficult to bridge.

Few of these companies have abusive managers or purposefully treat their employees with disdain. However, the rift remains and may even be growing larger. There are several potential reasons for the creation and expansion of this wedge between management and workers. One of these reasons is covered by Dr. Ed Deming in his 14 points (See point listed above).

In surveys, most company leaders tend to put this point in the “not applicable” category and really have no idea why it is even on the list. However, Dr. Deming spoke often about this point and listed it as one of his biggest pet peeves.

The following example may help shed light on why this point may be hampering your improvement efforts:

Carl unlocked the back door of the plant and precisely at 5:45 a.m., opened the panel to the circuit breaker box and flipped the switches to provide power to the lights and machines. He prided himself on precision, which might explain why he enjoyed his job as a machinist. Well, he enjoyed his job until about three years ago when things began to change. A new management team had come on board, and they seemed to be focused on short-term profits. Carl understood the need to make a profit but there did not seem to be any concern for the long-term viability of the company. Oh well, two years and 15 days until retirement. He just hoped the company would stay in business that long.

Carl headed over to the machining center where he had been assigned and noticed that three more bins of rejected parts were sitting in the area awaiting quality disposition. “Looks like the second shift had a rough night,” thought Carl. “Not surprising, given all of the problems around here.” After locking out the machine, he opened the doors to inspect the cutting tools. There was noticeable wear on the inserts, and he decided to replace them.

“Hey Carl,” said his supervisor as he walked toward the machining center. “How are things this morning?”

“Not bad,” replied Carl. “Looks like second shift had a rough night.”

Yeah, I may have to recommend that the operator be fired if he does not get his act together,” said the supervisor. “Hey, what are you doing with the cutting tools?”

“Looks like the inserts need to be changed,” said Carl. “They are pretty worn out, and I am thinking that may be why the second-shift guys had problems.”

“You know our policy on changing out the inserts,” said the supervisor. “We have to get approval from the plant manager since they started to cut way back on our expenses. I really don’t feel like bothering him right now so put the cutting tools back and do what you can to make them work. Oh, and be sure to attend the all-employee meeting later this morning. I believe they are launching some sort of new quality initiative.”

Carl shook his head as his supervisor walked away, and he started to put the cutting tools back into their holders. The other night, he’d decided to look up online how much one of these inserts cost the company. “Eighteen bucks,” thought Carl. “I am saving the company $18 by not changing these inserts.” He knew that one scrap part off his machine cost the company close to $100.

One of the quality Inspectors walked up just as Carl was about to start up the machine. “Good morning Carl,” said the inspector.

“Hey Jim, are you here to look through the rejected bins of parts?”

“No, we will get to those later. I just came from our incoming inspection area, and we just received another shipment of material from that new supplier. I don’t know how much money we saved, but the stuff we are now getting is just awful.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Carl. “I have to shut the machine down on a regular basis to unjam parts. Sometimes I have to run several additional passes due to the differences in hardness in the material.”

“The supplier is certified and this is all we have on hand, so we are told we need to try and make this junk work,” said Jim. “I have no idea how the parts passed their inspection.”

“Oh, while you are here,” said Carl, “I am having problems with my gauges and need someone to take a look at them.”

“Weren’t they calibrated a couple of months ago?” asked Jim.

“Yeah, but that is not the problem,” said Carl. “Remember several years ago when we did repeatability and reproducibility studies on our measuring system? Well, I think it might be time to do one of those again. When I measure a part several times, I can get different outcomes. Also, when I measure the parts that were passed by the second- shift guys, I get different results and probably would have rejected some of them.”

“Hmm. Well, maybe I could get someone on that sometime next week,” said Jim. “Or maybe next month. I don’t really know for sure when. Ever since they cut back on our resources, we have not had time to do much other than disposition rejected parts.”

“Well, maybe things will be changing. I understand there is a big meeting today to launch a new quality program,” said Carl.

“First I have heard about a meeting today,” said the inspector. “I better go find out what is going on. See you later, Carl.”

Carl ran the machine the best he could but had already filled another bin of rejects when he was told to shut everything down in order to attend the all-employee meeting. He headed to the company auditorium and sat with the other company machinists in the back row. The lights dimmed as the chief operating officer, plant manager and quality manager began the meeting.

“As many of you know,” said the COO, “we have had some real problems with our quality metrics over the past several months. So, I have asked our quality manager to launch a new initiative to promote zero defects!”

The quality manager pulled on a cord that opened a curtain revealing a huge banner with the words “BE A QUALITY HERO!” There was a smattering of applause from the audience.

“Yes! I hope this new slogan will motivate all of our employees to reach great heights of quality improvement!”

Carl raised his hand. “Will we put together the old problem-solving teams?”

“Thank you, Carl for asking such a thought-provoking question. As you know, we are way behind on orders so I don’t think there will be time for quality teams this time around,” said the quality manager.

Carl raised his hand again. “Yes, Carl?” the quality manager said with some irritation in his voice.

“Will we be investing in new gauges or new materials or new tools?”

“Well, no,” said the quality manager, looking a bit embarrassed. “Our budget has been shot due to all of the rejects we are experiencing. So, we decided to take this new approach.”

Carl headed back to his machine after the meeting was over and noticed that a new poster was up on the wall by his work bench.


Carl shook his head in disgust. “I guess all of the poor quality is my fault,” thought Carl. He finished out his shift and went to clock out for the day. “Only two years and 14 more days until retirement,” Carl thought as he walked out the back door.

Every Company has a Carl

There are many employees like Carl working in our businesses at all levels and within every function. Men and women who want to do the right thing and supply a quality product or service, on time and within budgeted cost. However, company’s leaders don’t always provide them the tools, equipment, gauges, materials and support they need to get to the root cause of problems and permanently improve the process.

We have come a long way since the days of Dr. Deming. However, sometimes it feels like we spend too much time training and supporting a select few vs. working to get all employees on board. There are several steps that can be done quickly to begin removing the wedge between management and workers.

Solicit and discuss improvement ideas on a regular basis. This can be a 10-minute start-of-shift meeting, a flip chart set up in the area to capture ideas and a “Problem Log” that allows employees to capture problems with the process or system.

Get input from employees when working on new improvement ideas to help garner buy-in. Sometimes, the ideas the workers come up with may be different and even slightly worse that what the engineers propose. However, we all tend to work hard to successfully implement an idea that we helped create.

Provide effective training to employees at all levels and functions not just the engineers in manufacturing. All functions must participate in order for the improvements to be sustainable. For example, the finance people need to help the team capture the opportunities and benefits, and the sales team needs to understand capacity constraints (See Understanding the Demand/Capacity Curve). Be sure to find training providers that will help people understand the concepts of lean and Six Sigma by simplifying the explanations and engaging the participants (For example, Dr. Deming used a funnel to drop marbles on paper to demonstrate variation).

Seek out people like Carl who can help champion the improvements. Employees who show a willingness to speak up and a desire to improve can help form the nucleus of successful improvement teams.

Note from John Dyer: In his “Red Bead” exercise, Dr. Deming would ask for several volunteers to come up and do a task that was nearly impossible to do without producing some rejects. He criticized them for their poor quality performance even though everyone knew that the volunteers had no real impact. Then, after sufficiently making them all feel bad, he would say, “The company leaders have decided to help you improve your performance. We decided to invest a sizeable amount of money into buying quality posters!” He then showed several posters on the screen as the audience laughed and applauded. This had a profound impact on my view of the way companies treat their workers. What are the messages we send to our employees with our actions? Do we blame the process or system when things go wrong, or do we quickly jump to the conclusion that it is an employee’s fault?

In my experience, a vast majority of the employees want to do a good job, want to feel proud of their work and their company. The question is: Do we give them a chance to succeed?

John Dyer is president of the JD&A – Process Innovation Co. and has 28 years of experience in the field of improving processes. He started his career with General Electric and then worked for Ingersoll-Rand before starting his own consulting company. Dyer can be reached at (704)658-0049 and John_dyer@mi-connection.com. Linked In Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/pub/john-dyer/0/646/75a/

Infographic: Job Hazard Analysis – “How Does It Work?”

Job hazard analysis (JHA) is step-by-step method of analyzing a job or task to uncover its potential and actual dangers. In a JHA, tasks are broken down into a series of basic steps. Each step is analyzed for hazards, and safe work practices are developed to reduce or eliminate these hazards.

This infographic will guide you through the steps of conducting a JHA. For more information, check out BLR’s Job Hazard Analysis Guide.

Job Hazard Analysis

Job Hazard Analysis by Safety.BLR.com


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