How Lean Methods Can Improve Safety: Creating a Safety Culture 

two men in PPE working in an electric room

Ian Sueser & Jeremy Oliver | September 22, 2021

As our company continues to grow, we are constantly striving to pursue a better way. The result is smarter, faster, safer work. We are committed to agile standards and use our three-legged stool model to demonstrate that innovation and agility go hand in hand. The three legs—safety, productivity, and quality—support the stool's top: client success and satisfaction. Each leg is equally important for achieving successful lean projects. Below, we'll discuss the first leg of the stool, safety.

How to Address Safety

Our zero-injury culture demonstrates a better way to achieve safety. During detailed planning, we engineer out hazards and always seek the tools and technology that will keep our crews working safer. However, eliminating hazards may not be an option, and it's easy to depend on PPE as a solution. PPE is important, but we make it the last line of defense. Is it something that we need? Absolutely. But is it where we stop? No, it can't be.

It's imperative to ask questions. What is the hazard, and can we eliminate it? Is there a substitution? One example of these questions in action is the common problem of drills twisting wrists. Instead of addressing only the behavior and usage of drills, we removed the hazard by finding a better drill with a sensor that shuts it off when a binding is detected.

Changing Our Mindset

To be a lean organization, you must continually look for a better way. This mindset leaves you open to new possibilities. We recently studied the methods of Navy Seals. During the Navy Seals' "hell week," they do an exercise called "surf torture," an intentionally intimidating name. After rigorous training, the Seals must endure frigid water. One Seal decided to change his mindset on surf torture. He recalled that many star athletes would sit in therapeutic ice baths after training. He changed his thinking of the "surf torture" and other "hell week" activities to benefit him, making everything easier to endure.

We've applied this philosophy in our safety program. If you change your mindset, you change the game. We stress the "why" behind what we do—to make our lives better. Instead of saying, "I have to tie off at six feet," we encourage team members to think, "I get to tie off at six feet." This mindset is key to making lean methods a success.

Behavioral-based Safety

Rules and policies are a necessary baseline, but they shouldn't be the sole focus. Behaviors go much deeper. It's getting people to do the right thing and avoid risky behaviors, no matter what the rules are. They will choose to tie off at four feet instead of six because it's safer. Our zero-injury, behavior-based culture means doing what it takes to get home safely every day and making sure those around us do, too.

Read about the other two legs of the stool in our next blog.