January 28, 2008 | Barb Carr

The Safety “Outsiders” and the “Hidden Factory”

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What reaction does the Environmental Health & Safety Engineer (EH&S) get from your employees? If it’s “oh no”, we better put on our safety glasses when we see her/him enter the work area, you have a “Hidden Factory”. Do you include EH&S in new facility or site designs? If not, you have a “Hidden Factory”. What is a “Hidden Factory” and what does it have to do with safety?

Six Sigma Black Belts and Quality Performance Experts have known about the “Hidden Factory” for years. Basically, you have company standards, policies, and procedures that are required to be used and then you have the cost of poor quality caused by short-cuts and business as usual non-standard practices. The pursuit of performance quality is to identify company requirements, identify how work is “really” being performed, and close the gap between the two to improve customer needs. The goal of any EH&S Engineer should be to recognize this “Hidden Factory”, the why’s behind the short-cuts, and their impact on SAFETY AND WORK COMPLETION. This also starts to close the gap between company risk and hazard assessments.

The EH&S will not be invited to see this internal company view if not she/he is not considered part of the work force. Prior to shutting down a site or work area for a non-risk of life-limb-enviroment violation, the EH&S Engineer should see how to help develop a safer process. Don’t be the outside enforcer, be the listener and helper. From past experience in the military and civilian life, this easy first step has been rare. It is easier to say people should be safe because it is the right thing to do. Recently however, I am seeing a positive change in closing this gap. Just this week while teaching a 5-day TapRooT® root cause analysis course in Edmonton, I had an operations lead in class with two of his EH&S engineers. Planting this first TapRooT® seed will encourage further discussions in the “Hidden Factory” for this company.

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