A Safety Gemba Walk can help manufacturing companies run more smoothly, efficiently, and safely while building the entire team's trust in the organization. In this blog, we’ll discuss how to do a Safety Gemba Walk and how leaders can properly implement them to yield the best results.

What is a Safety Gemba Walk?

A Safety Gemba Walk is essentially a safety walk that has been merged with the Gemba method, which allows organizational leaders to observe daily work processes, engage with employees, and identify opportunities to improve safety practices and procedures. 

The main goal of the Safety Gemba Walk is the continuous improvement of safety and risk mitigation in the workplace. Organizations achieve this by focusing on opportunities to improve safety while streamlining efficiency and intuitive practices. Rather than focusing on compliance violations, Safety Gemba Walks go deeper. They concentrate on understanding the “why” behind the safety procedures in place, allowing SMMs to identify potential areas for improvement.

Why Are Safety Gemba Walks Important in Manufacturing?

Safety Gemba Walks enable the company's leadership team to see their manufacturing processes at an operational level and talk to the people with the most accurate insight into the workplace safety hazards — their workers.

While walking the floor, leaders are encouraged to ask questions, interact with workers at their stations, and build trust. They should be looking for transparent feedback from employees and give them an opportunity to voice any safety concerns or improvement ideas they may have. 

A Safety Gemba Walk that is properly implemented and executed with sincerity can increase employee buy-in for workplace safety, enhance morale, and aid in the growth of a workplace safety culture.

How to Do an Effective Safety Gemba Walk

Leaders can follow these ten steps in order to conduct an effective Safety Gemba Walk.

1. Prepare Your Team

Many team members may not be familiar with Safety Gemba Walks, so leaders should educate them about what it is and what to expect. They should emphasize that the purpose of a Safety Gemba Walk is to remove obstacles that make the job unsafe, more difficult, and/or less efficient — the purpose is not to criticize their work. 

By talking about the Safety Gemba Walk before it happens, everyone — leaders included — should feel more at ease about the process. Setting a date and time and sharing it with employees should also help everyone feel more prepared. This type of preparation should lead to more open and honest interactions between workers and leaders, which the Safety Gemba Walk requires for success.

2. Have a Plan

To yield the most effective results, leaders should implement a structured plan for the walk and stick to it. Part of the Safety Gemba Walk planning should include looking into past documented safety concerns or significant red flags leaders should keep an eye out for. Another part of the plan should include preparing a set of questions to optimize the time spent on the walk. 

Here are a few suggestions to help leaders formulate the most useful questions:

  • Before the walk, talk to managers and safety representatives about their biggest safety concerns.
  • Look at past incident reports for examples of safety issues.
  • Look at outdated safety inspection checklists and notes to understand how safety policies have evolved. This may also illuminate areas that have experienced shortcomings or areas that have been neglected.

Once done, leaders will be well-armed to forge a set of thoughtful, poignant questions that they may ask while on the walk.

Another critical part of the plan is ensuring every person on the walk has access to appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the manufacturing environment. Without the requisite PPE, members of the walk may put themselves in harm's way, sending mixed messages to workers about safety best practices.

3. Follow the Value Stream

One of the primary purposes of a Safety Gemba Walk is for leaders to examine the value stream in detail and discover its issues through active communication.

To find the areas with the most significant opportunities for improvement, follow the value and inspect the gray areas between people, departments, and processes. The areas where handoffs occur between one entity and another often hold opportunities for the greatest improvement. Efficiency and policies are more prone to fall between the cracks during these handoffs.

Invite employees to suggest the processes, work areas, or shifts that would benefit from a Safety Gemba Walk. Two reasons to do this are:

  1. Employees on the front line have the best vantage point of the processes, safety risks, and other areas that could use review.
  2. By engaging employees at all levels of the organization, leaders create buy-in and make employees feel like they are part of the solution.

4. Focus on Processes, Not People

Before embarking on a Safety Gemba Walk, remember that it is not the appropriate time to conduct an employee evaluation. Leaders shouldn’t use the walk to evaluate employee task management. Instead, leaders should focus on observing and understanding the organization's processes.

Leaders should be transparent with their workers and let them know ahead of time that they plan to ask many questions about their work processes. However, "right" answers are not the goal. Instead, employees should aim to give honest and complete responses. Leaders should explain to their workers that it is imperative for them to understand the problems with the current system so that they can implement positive changes to make the workplace safer.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

As previously mentioned, leaders should have plenty of questions prepared for their walk. They should also phrase their questions in an open-ended manner to help uncover additional, pertinent information such as why their personnel perform operations in the way they do and how employees feel about these operations.

To frame questions open-endedly, begin the sentence with an interrogative: who, what, where, why, when, and how. Examples of some open-ended questions that may help inspire additional queries include:

  • What are you presently working on?
  • What is the designated process for this kind of work?
  • What safety protocol do you follow to protect yourself during this process?
  • Do you have the necessary tools to complete the process effectively/safely? If not, what would help you?
  • What problems or challenges do you run into with the established process? 
  • Whom do you speak with if there is a problem?

6. Document Your Observations

As leaders make the Safety Gemba Walk, it's essential to document observations and findings. Digital notes are best for efficient later-date follow-up, implementation, and impact tracking because they can be easily accessed and shared throughout the organization. Handwritten notes can get lost in the shuffle of daily operations and provide little opportunity for follow-up unless converted to a digital format and shared with implementers.

7. Don't Suggest Changes During the Walk Unless Absolutely Necessary

This step might be difficult for many people, but it's crucial not to jump to solutions during the Safety Gemba Walk. Leaders often have an innate desire to make improvements to their organization on the spot; however, it’s important to wait to suggest any changes until the Safety Gemba Walk data is thoroughly reviewed. 

Of course, an exception to this rule is if a leader observes blatant violations of OSHA standards, such as employees ignoring life-saving procedures like Lockout/Tagout or employees not wearing the proper PPE. In these cases, leaders should have their workers stop what they’re doing and find a solution for the immediate future. If the issue requires a substantial change, like replacing an old machine, they should stop work in that area and find a long-term solution.

8. Mix Up the Schedule

Schedule Safety Gemba Walks at different times during operations to see how processes may vary during different days and times. Conducting walks on a varied schedule will give leaders a more accurate and cohesive look at their operations as different factors may come into play on that given day.

9. Follow-Up with Employees

After analyzing the results, leaders should share what they have learned and invite others to make suggestions. Leaders should then let the team know what subsequent steps will be taken and when to expect them.

Leaders should share the improvement plans with the rest of the organization to establish transparency and show commitment to fixing the safety issues found during the walk.

10. Gemba Again

It's important that leaders periodically revisit the corrective actions to see how departments have implemented them and to determine if they solved the issue(s) at hand. The frequency of walks is unique to each organization, depending on goals, team size, facilitators, and outcomes. Safety Gemba Walks may be carried out weekly, monthly, or quarterly.

How Does CMTC Help SMMs Establish Safety Procedures and Improve Workplace Safety?

CMTC’s goal is to make sure that the companies we work with understand the applicable safety standards and continuously keep employee safety top of mind. We provide smaller manufacturers with the resources of larger companies. Our manufacturing experts analyze any unnecessary risks from an industrial safety standpoint and advise on potentially hazardous situations. And, when they are found? Our team will explain how to remediate the hazards to ensure that safety gaps are closed, and compliance is maintained with all regulatory and legal requirements. Learn more about CMTC’s Health & Safety Services here.

About the Author

Gregg Profozich

Gregg Profozich is a manufacturing, operations and technology executive who believes that manufacturing is the key creator of wealth in the economy and that a strong manufacturing sector is critical to our nation’s prosperity and security now, and for future generations. Across his 20-year plus career in manufacturing, operations and technology consulting, Mr. Profozich helped manufacturing companies from the Fortune 500 to the small, independents significantly improve their productivity and competitiveness.

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