The Gemba Safety Walk – Is it a Silly Walk?
Tried and failed or just gotten a tad bored with Zero Harm, BBS and MBWA? It seems the latest silver bullet being peddled by a few Snake Oil Salesmen is the “Safety Gemba Walk”. I’ve only just discovered this trendy new safety concept and still trying to get my head around it so I would welcome the comments of anyone who has had some experience with it.
Gemba is a Japanese word (現場) and by definition means “actual place”: In business, gemba refers to the place where value is created. In manufacturing the gemba is the factory floor. (Wikipedia). I understand that it has been part of the Lean Manufacturing concept for a while and may have included some aspects of safety in it. However it concerns me that safety people have desperately latched on to The “Lean Gemba Safety Walk” as a wonderful new standalone concept.
The proponents all claim that the gemba safety walk is not like other walks that just focus on things, compliance and people observations but rather on the attitudes of people through engagement and this then creates a safety culture??? But of course there are Gemba Checklists and Report Proformas readily available.
One blog I read where says “Walking the gemba is part of “Check” in Plan‐Do‐Check‐Act (PDCA). It is the process of carefully observing to see things are not as they should be. Sometimes there is less walking involved, and more just standing and watching”. It then goes onto say that some things to look for are housekeeping, up to date bulletin boards, good lighting, 5S safety system being complied with etc aaarggghh. Another “Lean” blog said: “You can’t get to zero safety incidents with cheerleading or writing it on the wall and believing, as a leader, you’ve accomplished the purpose”
In all the admittedly limited research I have done there is not one detailed mention of engagement and meaningful discourse with people! The guys on the floor are just gonna shake their heads and mutter disdain when word of the “Safety Gemba Walk” gets out.
The Creative Safety Blog explains the difference between The Gemba Walk and MBWA:
Gemba vs. MBWA
When people first hear of Gemba, they often think it is the same concept as MBWA, or Management By Walking Around. MBWA is the idea that managers should regularly get up, and walk through the areas that they are responsible for. When doing this, they will be more accessible to employees, and have a better chance at identifying opportunities for improvement.
Unlike Gemba, however, MBWA is not very structured at all. Managers don’t have a goal in mind when walking through an area, other than to observe what is going on. A Gemba walk, on the other hand, is much more structured. The leader will be walking through an area with a specific goal in mind. Prior to going to an area, the leaders should identify specific results they are looking to achieve. This could be the elimination of inefficiency, the improvement of a safety problem, or any number of other things. The leaders must always know why they are going to an area for observation, and what they are trying to learn.
Quote from the Lean Safety Blog:
For the last three years I have been leading lean safety gemba walks. Gemba, a Japanese word, is part of the lean community vernacular. It means the shop floor or where the work is done. The word lean has become synonymous with continuous improvement. So a lean safety gemba walk is a walk on the shop floor that focuses on the continuous improvement of safety. The walks have ranged from one-on-one events with senior leaders to guiding large groups of workshop attendees on a journey that changes how they view safety. Lean safety gemba walks have nothing to do with compliance. Rather than focus on “things” the sole focus are the people doing the work. By watching the actions required to complete work tasks it is easy to identify improvement opportunities that will make the work safer and easier. When conducted in a respectful manner, by a skilled facilitator, these safety gemba walks have a dramatic impact on the safety culture of a business. They engage managers and hourly staff in the continuous improvement of safety. Employees now have a chance to make a difference in their safety culture rather than just be compliant with the rules.