Lean management is a simple approach to running a business/organization in an efficient manner by incrementally improving and tweaking certain processes. The aim of this practice is to maximize customer value and reduce waste at the same time. In some parts of the world and within certain business circles, this practice is simply called “Lean.” Here is some more information about this topic:

A Brief History of Lean Management

According to the Lean Enterprise Institute (LEI), the first person credited with introducing Lean Management Practices at the workplace on a large scale is Henry Ford. Some of the other people who had tried various forms of Lean Management before Ford include Eli Whitney and Frederick W. Taylor. In simple words, Ford streamlined the process of manufacturing the Model T car by arranging workers, machines, parts, and tools in a continuous system. The problem with Ford’s Lean practices is they could only work in a “straitjacket” work environment. They were not well suited for dynamic work environments.

In the 1930′s, Kiichiro Toyoda and others at Toyota came up with the modern concept of Lean Management. They achieved this by inventing the Toyota Production System (TPS). After the Second World War, this group of innovators and tinkerers at Toyota perfected the art of “manufacturing to order” rather than “manufacturing to fill warehouses”. This is because they realized products piled in warehouses without buyers were no more than wastage. It made financial sense to base production targets on actual sales. This style of production eventually became known as Just-In-Time (JIT). JIT is the precursor of modern lean management practices.

Current Lean Management Practices

Unlike the lean practices discussed above, the modern approach is slightly different. According to an article published by the Journal of Operations Management, Lean practices now encompass work teams, Just-In-Time, quality systems, as well as supplier management procedures. In addition, it is a philosophy of continuous improvements. Over time, various Lean Management approaches have emerged. These include 5S, Value Stream Mapping, Overall Equipment Effectiveness, SMART Goals, Bottleneck Analysis, Total Productive Maintenance, Kaizen, Continuous Flow, Root Cause Analysis, and Standardized Work.

Wastes Associated With Lean Management

The core concept of Lean Management is reducing wastage as much as possible. For this reason, it is worth looking at various wastages associated with Lean Management. Such wastages may include:

• Overproduction: The problem with overproduction is it creates excess inventories as well as extra storage space and extra employee requirements.

• Overprocessing: This means employees exceed actual/normal requirements when working on products.

• Unnecessary motion: This involves employees leaving their workstations and moving around aimlessly.

• Unnecessary downtime: A good example of this is when employees sit idly waiting for raw materials or orders from their bosses.

• Unused employee creativity: This happens when an employer fails to encourage or foster an environment where employees can pitch new ideas.

Lean Management and Occupational Safety

Lean Management can be applied to various business processes including safety. It is important to note that “Lean” is not a program. Instead, it is a way, philosophy, culture of thinking and executing tasks at the workplace. With this in mind, there are two main approaches to occupational safety: reactive and proactive. The reactive approach involves instituting safety measures after an incident has occurred at the workplace. A proactive approach involves instituting safety measures to prevent injuries or fatalities. This is where “Lean” comes in handy because its aim is to improve working conditions while reducing wastage. You can think of it as a proactive safety approach.

There are various ways you can use lean Management to improve safety at the workplace. To begin, Jennifer McKelvey, a Vice President at Behavioral Science Technology (BST), reckons that elimination of waste improves safety because employees do not have to engage in unnecessary actions that would leave them exhausted/prone to make mistakes that could cause injuries or fatalities. Secondly, carrying out regular safety climate surveys can help. A study carried out by a researcher from the Louisiana State University found that safety climate surveys could improve the overall safety of workers and visitors at a workplace.

The term “safety climate” refers to attitudes or perceptions workers have about the importance of safety. Factors that could negatively affect a workplace’s safety climate include work pressure, risk perception, competence of supervisors, commitment of top management to safety, and regard/disregard of known safety guidelines (such as OSHA guidelines). Thirdly, you must implement training or equipping workers with the skills required to improve workplace safety. This is an important Lean initiative because safety in the workplace revolves around employees. If they do not know how to prevent incidents, they are likely to engage in actions that could endanger others.

Finally, it’s important to standardize best practices in a work area. Some of the common and popular tools used for this purpose include signs, placards, job cycle charts, and checklists. In fact, focusing on standardized work is another aspect that McKelvey believes can have a positive impact on workplace safety because it enhances process stability. If employees cannot complete work as defined, it signals instability or productivity problems that management should scrutinize carefully. Fifthly, reverse communication. In most organizations, communication is like one-way traffic, from management to employees. However, the main problem with this approach is employees who may know about safety hazards are unlikely to volunteer this information.


Lean Management has undergone several evolutions since the beginning of the 21st century when Henry Ford and Kiichiro Toyoda used this practice to streamline manufacturing processes. The current Lean practices borrow heavily from the work done by these pioneers. The good news is that you, too, can use Lean principles to improve workplace safety.

Learn More

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