Conducting A Safety Kaizen To Build Engagement In Your Safety Program, Is It Effective?

As previously discussed, employee engagement doesn’t have to be a big event. In fact, short but frequent engagement can often be more effective depending on the company. And Kaizen fits this category.

So let’s talk about Kaizen-how to apply it to safety and whether it’s effective.

What is Kaizen?

Kaizen is a continuous process of making improvements to business operations. The goal is to make things more efficient. This word and idea originated in Japan, and the term Kaizen literally translates to “change for the better” which is done when using Kaizen for lean business management.

This improvement process is done by pooling a group of people from different departments to solve a single problem.

This group of people then discusses this assigned problem and relevant questions related to it in order to understand the root cause and make the necessary changes needed to address it. Once they’ve done that and gained positive results, the Kaizen ends. It is possible to simultaneously conduct Kaizen with different groups of people depending on how large the company is.

Applying Kaizen to Safety

Kaizens are very similar to safety committees. They both are made up of a group of people who solve issues and improve processes. And like Kaizen, safety committees want to produce measurable results. The only difference between these two is that a Kaizen aims to only solve one problem at a time, while a safety committee is in it for the long run, solving all safety-related problems along the way.

So, the question is, can you apply Kaizen to Safety even though there is already a committee? Yes, you can. A Kaizen can be done even if there is a committee.

In fact, conducting a Kaizen whilst having a dedicated safety committee would be very effective not only for improving company safety but also improving employee engagement. Kaizens can help build a great safety culture because they are done in a short but frequent manner and conducted by different sets of people each time. And as proof of this, there are a lot of companies that have been doing a combination of these two, and the results are amazing.

A Case Study of PPE Glove

One of the documented success stories of Kaizens in Safety is a company who needed to solve their laceration problem resulting from employees not wearing their gloves. So, the safety committee selected a few people and then created a Kaizen to solve it.

The member of this Kaizen then sat down to brainstorm. Talked about the possible root causes of why people were not wearing gloves. Then, they conducted trials for each solution they’d come up with, documented each step they’d taken, and then tracked for improvements. They ended up solving the issue and drastically reducing the number of lacerations due to glove usage. In fact, the results were so amazing that even the management team was convinced. So, immediately after the success of this Kaizen, they worked to create another one.

Take Action

So, why not try it out? Build a Kaizen and then see how it goes! You might be surprised at how effective it can be and how it’s also a great way to engage your employees.

Conducting A Safety Kaizen To Build Engagement In Your Safety Program

Safety Brye: [00:00:00] I am sure that you have heard the term kaizen. Well, maybe, I'm not sure. But this lean manufacturing technique can be used in safety too. Let's look at a different way that you can get employee engagement. Let's get to it.

Hey there, safety friends. Welcome to the Safety Geek Podcast. I'm Brye Sargent CSP and 20 years safety professional after spending years training safety leaders across the globe for a large corporation and creating safety programs from the ground up over and over again. I am now sharing my processes and strategies with you at the Safety Geek.

You will learn how to manage an effective safety program that increases your management support, and employee engagement, all the while helping you elevate your position and move up in your career. If you're ready to step into the role of a safety influencer

[00:01:00] and leader, you're in the right place. Let's get to it.

Hello. Hello. Hello, my safety friends. How are you doing? And happy Mayday. I don't know about you. Every time it's May 1st. I'm always like, it's mayday, even though we don't really celebrate it. But if you're wondering what Mayday is, cuz I did actually look it up before I recorded is it's the midway point between the solstice and the Equinox.

So it is mayday. So dance around the May pole if you want to. But today I wanted to talk about Kaizens. And let me tell you my first experience with a kaizen, or when it was first brought into my attention, and that was with my ex-husband actually, he was a supervisor for a cabinet manufacturer, and they did kaizens regularly. Like they literally did one right after the other.

[00:02:00] To do lean manufacturing. So he would describe how, you know, they would get a group of employees together and their goal was to reduce the manufacturing time from this point to this point of the process because he ran like an assembly line of cabinet manufacturing.

So it was like they took each part of the process and they were like, okay, we need to get it down by two minutes. Right. So they would get employees together. And they would kaizen over several sessions and then they would try things out to get the time down, and they would do that through their entire manufacturing line, and then they would start over from the beginning again until it got to the point that they were just as lean as they could be and they just couldn't get anymore.

It's like you're ringing the sponge, you can't get any more out of it. They're as lean in as efficient as they can be. So that was like the first time that I had ever heard the term, and that's when my fascination with it grew because I started researching it. And it actually came from Japan, and that's where the

[00:03:00] term is from. And Kaizens were used in like car manufacturing and things like that. And then a couple of years ago, I was taking a project management, it was a postgraduate course at the University of Massachusetts. And during that course, the professor talked about kaizens in project management as well, because kaizens are great for problem solving and for figuring out how to do things better, which you know, is basically like in project management.

So that's kind of like the beginning and the end. The book ends of how I knew about kaizens. But in safety, I've actually seen them used, but not necessarily the term of kaizen used. So they would do these small group problem solving sessions, but they didn't necessarily call it a kaizen, and maybe they didn't follow the exact practice that they follow in Japan for it. But I just love the term of Kaizen being used as like a small group problem solving

[00:04:00] and looking at it to improve our processes. And to figure out how to do things better. Right? And when it comes to safety, that's what we do. That's what safety is all about. It's about continuous improvement and always making sure that we're being efficient and safe and that, you know, if there is a hazard or a problem or an unsafe behavior, we figure out how to eliminate that and we wanna improve our safe work practice.

So using kaizens might actually be something that is helpful in the process. And if you're struggling to get like your safety committee off the ground, or if you're struggling to get buy-in from your management team, for your committee or for your employee participations, kaizens can actually be a very good first step, and this is the first time I've seen them used in safety. This is what they were using it for is that they couldn't get buy-in for a

[00:05:00] committee. They couldn't really get really good employee participation for their committee, so they created a small problem solving group, is what they called it, and it was kind of like a committee. It's essentially the same as a committee, except it doesn't have that long-term commitment.

You're like, no, I'm gonna bring these people together and we're gonna solve this problem. And they see it all the way through. So what's really the similarities between a Kaizen and a safety committee are that you wanna make sure that you have members from all of the different areas, and you wanna have a limited number of members as well.

You don't wanna have a huge group problem solving. That never works because what happens is you get too many cooks in the kitchen. Too many ideas. This is actually something I see as a problem in management teams, is they have like way too many chiefs. So when you're doing a kaizen, you wanna keep it small and

[00:06:00] succinct, but you do wanna have representation from all the areas related to that problem, as well as the areas that may be affected by the solution, okay?

Or the possible solution. You still get people from all the different areas, just like you would a safety committee, and you wanna have that limited amount of members. Now, there is no exact number of members, but I personally would probably keep it between six and nine, just so that way it was a manageable group of people.

And the biggest difference between a Kaizen and a committee is that you are bringing the Kaizen group together just to solve one problem and one problem only. So you identify what the problem is and then you get a group of people together and go, this is the problem. Solve it. Right? And they see it all the way through until the kaizens disbanded.

[00:07:00] So from the problem to the idea, to the testing, to the implementation, to measuring the success that they've actually solved the problem. They see it all the way through, and then they're done. Their responsibility for the kaizen or for the small group problem solving is done. So that's the biggest difference between a committee and a kaizen, and this is how it could kind of help you out, is because if you are struggling to get that support for the committee, sometimes it's cuz they don't see that the committee is gonna be useful.

So when you're starting with a kaizen, it's immediately useful because you have a problem and they're solving it. So if you do this enough, it can help get you that support that you need and not just support from your management team, but support from the employees. So that way they're actually participating and they see that they're being effective in the process.

So that's where this can help you out. So I wanted to share with you today, because I've seen this idea a couple of different ways. I've seen it in small problem solving

[00:08:00] groups, but I've also seen it in manufacturing. And then I have seen it in safety in VPP sites as well. So I wanted to share kind of like a case study, although I wasn't really involved in it.

I just read the case study after the fact, and I talked to the committee and I saw the results after the fact. And that is where one group used this method to solve a PPE glove problem. So we all know the struggles with getting people to wear their PPE even though like they had plenty of laceration hazards and things like that and people were nicking their fingers, people still would not wear their PPE.

So at this location, what they did is they got a group of employees together and they said, you know, the problem is people are not wearing their PPE and we have an increase in lacerations because of it. Now they're minor

[00:09:00] injuries. Nobody was like cutting a finger off or anything. But that in general, you know, is a bad thing because as we all know, frequency leads to severity.

So what they did is they gathered a group of stakeholders, let's call them people that had skin in the game with this problem. It could have been people working in the manufacturing. It could have been people in purchasing, it could have been people in the management team. They gathered a small group of employees and said, here's the problem.

Figure this out. Let's come up with a solution that's gonna solve this problem. And they brainstormed different ideas as a team, right? So this is generally like meeting one problem, brainstorm solutions, right? And then maybe you take all of those different solutions and you prioritize them as to what you're going to try first.

And then their next step was to test out different ideas. So they didn't wanna just take one and say, that's what we're doing. They actually took multiple ideas and they tested them out. Now at this facility,

[00:10:00] they had multiple buildings, so they actually tested it by building and had each building do a different solution to see what worked best.

But if your facility isn't that large, you could do it by area. So maybe if, let's say we're talking PPE gloves, maybe you have gloves that are worn in one part of the room versus another part of the room. If you don't have that, then you can do it by employee. And this is the way I've always done it in the past, is that when I am testing stuff out, I will either test it by parts of a room.

As long as the work that's being done is similar, but more importantly, I would do it by employees. So I might have like 10 employees each, do a different thing over a period of time and then measure the results and then switch up what they're doing and then measure the results as well. So that way I'm getting more data to decide which one worked best.

So overall, you just wanna test out all the different ideas to come up with a winner. Which solution worked best. And sometimes you can even test out a combination of

[00:11:00] solutions, but make sure if you test out a combination, that you're also testing it without the combination and then saying, is it really making that much of a difference?

So recently I had a location that did some tests where they did the first test was all separate and they saw some results. And then they did a test with two out of the, I think it was four or five locations, two did a combination. So then we looked at all the data and we were like, you know, the people that did it as a combination did not get that significant of a difference.

And the people that just did this one thing, if you did this one thing, this got you 85% difference. But the people that did the combination, because they depended on each of them, ended up getting like a 30% difference. So it just wasn't that big of a deal. So sometimes when you're tracking your data, you wanna make sure that you're tracking it in all different ways and that you're collecting the results

[00:12:00] separately as well as together. And you're looking at it objectively and you're saying, you know, even though, like in this recent case, I was all for the combo, I was like, let's just do it all, you know, throw spaghetti at it and solve this problem. But that ended up being a waste of money and a waste of time, and it ended up not working because, believe it or not, in that case, it was administrative controls that worked better than engineered controls craziness.

The engineer controls the employees were actually like breaking the devices to get past the safety features. As opposed to administrative controls where they're just held accountable as to not touch the devices that worked. It's like just do the administrative controls. Why spend all the money doing this engineering control when the administrative control was giving you 80% of the result?

And what happened? Just to, just to digress, what happened with the engineer control? They were depending so much on the engineering control that they

[00:13:00] were not putting as much effort into the administrative control. And that's why I think it didn't work. They just were like, Hey, we got these engineering controls in place and it's all good.

It's like, no, you need the administrative, so that's behavior for you. So anyway, all right, so let's get back to our case study with our PPE glove. So they tested it out. In this case it was different building. And they came up with a winner, and then they took that winner to their management team to get approval and they said, okay, this is what we did.

This is the results. So we see this is the return on investment, right? So because we're starting with a problem, they knew the actual cost and then they could see what the results were gonna be. They can actually see their return on investment, and then they got approval. And then this kaizen wanted a step further.

It's like, yeah, they did solve the problem, but they went a step further, which was to develop a rollout plan, which was training everybody on the new

[00:14:00] PPE sharing the fact that it was employee led, right. And that employees were involved in the selection, sharing how it was tested to make sure that we identified the best PPE for them to be wearing, not we the team did.

And then they created this whole rollout plan. And this is something I actually teach inside of Safety Management Academy, is that when you are rolling something out, you wanna make sure that you do it as like a launch. That there are, you know, psychological triggers that you're using ahead of time, and that you're launching it in a really thought out way.

So that way when it does get launched, it's actually receptive. Like it's more receptive. And then after they launched it, they then measured their success. They then got data back going, yes, this is working. Because sometimes when you test something out, you're testing it on a small scale. It seems to work, but then when they put it to their 7,000 employees, it didn't work, you know? Or it may not have worked. In this

[00:15:00] case it did. And then once that was over, they ended the Kaizen and this Kaizen, and they didn't call it that either. I'm not sure what they, I think they called it like the PPE committee or something, but this small group problem solving. It worked so well that they continued and it reminded me of the cabinet making company where they basically just kept one kaizen after the other, after the other, after the other.

That's what this company started to do with safety, is that that problem was solved. What's our next problem? And then they would start a whole new group with all new people. Right? And when you do it this way, it's so easy to measure the ROI of the project. And when you can do that, it makes it really easy to sell it to the management team.

Makes it really easy for them to, for you to say like, look, this last Kaizen saved us, you know, $50,000 for me to take these six employees out of production for a few

[00:16:00] days or a few hours a week, over six weeks. However, you work your meetings and it pays for itself. So you're showing that the Kaizen will pay for itself.

And then even if you wanna take it a step further, you can occasionally do one that is increasing efficiency. You could do one that is increasing quality, and that way it is spreading out the theory of doing this throughout the entire culture of the organization, and then once again becomes the way that you do business.

Right. So personally, I think that this is how safety committees should run as well. A lot of people have safety committees where it's just the safety manager show and you're giving data and you're just having discussions. But I love the idea of giving safety committees improvement projects. Like there's an expectation that this committee is going to implement an improvement project.

And giving them a set period of time. So the one that I saw that worked the best was like one improvement project a quarter. The committee was

[00:17:00] required to do that on top of their other duties that they regularly did. But I honestly think that that's one of the best ways that you can run a committee.

Now, what I want you to think of too is that you don't have to have either or you don't have to have, you're either doing kaizens or you're doing committees. You could do both. It doesn't have to be either or. And just think about the power of when you combine both of these methods. If you have a safety committee that is engaged, that's really doing good work, right?

Maybe they're doing inspections and assessments and accident investigations, and they're reviewing policies and procedures, right? And then alongside of it, you have this kaizen that takes problems that the committee is finding and solving them. And then maybe even bringing it back to the committee and going, here's the idea that this was our winner.

What do you think? And that becomes the first approval step before it goes to the management team. I think that they would work very good hand in hand. I also think, going back

[00:18:00] to what I said before, that Kaizens work really well when you're struggling to get management support and just using it as a problem solving group and showing the ROI.

And then over time you can then get support for your committee. And they also work really well if maybe committees just don't work for your workforce. I mean, sometimes people are just so, like, we want employee engagement, so we're gonna have a safety committee in this formal committee. Sometimes that just doesn't work.

Maybe your people work better in small groups solving problems, and if that's the case, then go with the flow. And I think that that would really work. So I would love for you to try this out on your next problem or issue. You know how you do something, right? Like let's say you implement a policy or procedure, a safe work practice, and it seems to be working, you have measurable results, but two months later things tend to fall apart, and then you go back in and you fix it again, and then two months later it

[00:19:00] falls apart. So that problem that is consistently bubbling up to the top, this would be a great way to tackle that. So if you have something that you're struggling to solve, take a step back, develop a Kaizen, and see if that'll work for you, and make sure you share the results with me. Because I would love to know if this works for you.

I just love the idea of Kaizens and I've seen them work in other places so well, and I love the fact that a couple years ago when I was taking that college class, that they even brought it up there too. So it's pretty cool. I think it's a great idea and more of us should do it. Alrighty, my safety friend, that is what I have for you today.

I will chat with you next week. Bye for now.

Hey, if you're just getting started in safety or you've been

[00:20:00] at this for a while and are hitting a roadblock, then I wanna invite you to check out Safety Management Academy. This is my in-depth online course that not only teaches you the processes and strategies of an effective safety management program, but how to entwine management support and employee participation throughout your processes.

Are you ready to finally understand exactly what you should be doing and ditch that safety police hat forever? Then you have got to join me and your fellow safety scholars over at Safety Management Academy. Just go to to learn more and to get started. That's and I will see you in our next Students only live session.

Bye for now.

Highlights From This Episode:

  • How To Use Kaizen In Safety Management
  • Utilizing Kaizen In Safety Can Improve Employee Engagement
  • Kaizens Can Be Used For Problem-Solving And Process Improvement
  • A Competent Safety Committee And Kaizen Can Give Positive Results

Links Mentioned:


I believe that this is the best way for Safety Committees to operate. They should always have a short-term project they are working on.

And I hope that you get good ideas on using Kaizen to enhance employee engagement and get support from the management team.

I love to hear your thoughts about this episode. Please leave them in the comment below.

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Hi, I'm Brye (rhymes with sky)!  I am a self-proclaimed safety geek with two decades of general industry safety experience.  Specializing in bringing safety programs to a world-class level and building a safety culture, I have trained and coached many safety managers, just like you, on how to effectively manage workplace safety in the real world.   I would love to help you too.

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