Applying QMS to Safety

posted in: Plan 0

If Montana’s injury rate matched the national average, it would save businesses $145 million annually.

Improving worker safety isn’t about changing employees; usually it is about system failures that can be corrected. In this, it is similar to lean manufacturing’s view that 94% of all quality problems are caused by the system and only 6% are worker-caused.

If improving safety and quality both involve improving the process, then maybe quality management systems can help improve safety. In particular, a safety incident, even a near miss, can be a trigger for a corrective action procedure, with a goal of correcting the problem and preventing it from happening again. For safety, the procedure might include:

  • *  Tracking incidents and near-misses (internally)
  • * Assigning someone (with authority) responsible for fixing the problems
  • * Setting a deadline for action and following up on it
  • * Performing root cause analysis
  • * Deciding on the actions needed to correct the problem
  • * Performing the actions
  • * Assessing the corrections at a later date to make sure they were effective
  • * Repeating the procedure if the actions weren’t effective
  • * Documenting the process so that trends can be found

Root cause analysis is the key step in the procedure. What is it in the company that makes unsafe behavior look like a good idea? (Insufficient worker training doesn’t count – why are they insufficiently trained?) Frequently it is the system, some procedure or part of the culture, that creates an incentive for the employee to act in ways that are unsafe, usually because it is faster to disregard safety precautions. Finding and changing that something will reduce or eliminate the behavior.

Safety incidents could be fed right into a company’s corrective action program, if they have one; quality management systems don’t strictly include safety and auditors stay away from it. But from a practical standpoint, a safe work place is likely to create higher quality products as well.