What is kaizen and why is it essential to workplace health and safety?
Our Strategic Incident Analysis (SIA) training is based on the principles of Incident Cause Analysis Method (ICAM). It is a series of strategies for understanding why an incident occurred, how to prevent it from happening again and how to use the knowledge gained to continually improve workplace safety. It is this last aspect of SIA that concerns us today – the principle of continual improvement, or ‘kaizen’.
Kaizen is the Japanese word for “change for the better” or “improvement”. Kaizen has been practised in Japanese business for over sixty years and integral to the word – if not to its literal translation – is the idea of continuous improvement. The principle of kaizen was made famous in the western world via a book on the subject by Masaaki Imai and has been most famously practised at Toyota. It is now used by businesses of all kinds around the world.
With its focus on always striving to make processes, procedures, and work environments safer, kaizen is central to any robust format of incident investigation. It is about looking at the individual processes as well as at the big picture, being alert to possibility and opportunity, and being committed to more than just ticking boxes and filing away an incident report once it’s finished. With kaizen, nothing really ever finishes. There is always possibility for more change – hence continuous improvement.
Other key features of kaizen:
- It often involves small, inexpensive changes rather than huge overhauls
- Changes must be monitored – not just implemented and left
- It’s fluid – changes can be further adapted as required
- It involves everyone in the workplace – from the CEO to the line workers
- “every defect is a treasure” – that is, every mistake is a opportunity for improvement
- It humanises the workplace – that is, it doesn’t focus on efficiency at the expense of worker wellbeing but recognises that wellbeing is essential to productivity.
Benefits of kaizen include:
- More efficient processes and systems
- High quality products and services
- Better customer service
- Improved workplace morale
- Better employee engagement
- Cleaner, safer workplaces
Kaizen and workplace safety
Kaizen connects powerfully to frameworks for workplace safety, such as Strategic Incident Analysis, in a number of important ways:
- Kaizen empowers employees to participate in building a safe workplace. It gives workers the agency – indeed, the responsibility – to address safety issues immediately. Having an appropriately trained health and safety representative (HSR) and a health and safety committee (HSC) can be a useful way of developing an engaged and active workforce who feel like they have a voice when it comes to workplace safety issues.
- Kaizen requires constant engagement. Results and data must be monitored and analysed so that changes can be made as required. Similarly, work health and safety is not a static thing – it is a constantly developing set of processes and generating of ideas that resonates perfectly with the concept of kaizen.
- Kaizen works in conjunction with other methodologies that are essential to SIA i.e. the 5 whys technique and the swiss cheese model. Together these models seek to identify and address areas of weakness in a system and they depend on the involvement of everyone in the workplace, not just senior management.
Work health and safety training
Masaaki Imai believes that education and training for all employees is fundamental – he’s our kind of guy! One of the best ways to empower and engage employees is to make the conversation and action around creating a safe workplace everyone’s business and making that happen effectively involves quality training. Work health and safety training has a wide range of benefits, but in the context of kaizen and its role in SIA, there are two in particular we’d like to point out:
- Training demonstrates to employees that you take them seriously enough to invest in them
- Training shows employees that you value what they have to say about workplace health and safety
Engaging your workforce in an ongoing commitment to creating a safe workplace and training them to be alert to opportunities for continuous improvement i.e. kaizen, is key to our Strategic Incident Analysis course. Keen to know more? Give us a buzz today.
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