Safety walks are an essential part of any business’ safety management toolkit. As a supervisor, manager or business owner, monitoring productivity, maintaining facilities and equipment, and observing working conditions is vital.
Besides traditional safety walks, the lean safety Gemba walks give organisations another option on how to conduct workplace observations. Let’s compare and discuss the two.
Safety Walk vs. Gemba Walk - What’s The Difference?
Safety walks are well-known and commonly used in safety programmes. A safety walk is when the company manager, supervisor or safety inspector observes the work environment and working conditions.
Safety walks are akin to safety audits and inspections. They places focus on whether the facility and workers are compliant to a checklist or system. The checklist might include questions relating to workers PPE (personal protective equipment), availability of safety equipment like fire extinguishers, checking the state of other equipment and machinery, and additional things that need fixing.
Essentially, the safety walk is all about compliance - “Is the business adhering to safety conditions?”
The Gemba framework challenges the safety walk’s focus on compliance. The Japanese word, Gemba, refers to the place where people work or the workspace.
“Gemba Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous improvement designed for enhancing processes and reducing waste.”
Thus, a Gemba walk is a journey through a workspace in order to improve its functions and reduce waste. Unlike traditional safety walks, Gemba walks focus less on compliance and more on sustained improvement to create greater value.
The Gemba walk can involve a group, your entire team, or it can be conducted by be the supervisor alone. The option to include a group in the walk provides more perspectives on issues and their solutions, as well as spreads the safety culture from a practical perspective. This supports the improvement sentiment of Gemba walks.
Further, managers can choose to conduct Gemba during work shifts. This way, they can note how people work, engage with workers on their views and discuss their thoughts on workplace safety. Again, this opens up perspectives that can promote development.
So, in contrast to a safety walk’s observation and compliance, Gemba walks prioritise engagement and improvement.
Why Use Them?
Whichever one you choose, they both have benefits that can transform safety in your workplace by identifying risks and bringing more focus to safety issues. In addition, they encourage a culture of reporting incidents and addressing safety observations.
Compared to traditional safety walks, Gemba walks' benefits include:
- Connecting management to workers’ issues
- Opening up a dialogue with workers
- Highlighting new approaches to issues
- Eliminating waste
- Showing care from management
These benefits of Gemba promote a safety culture in which everybody can contribute their ideas. Workers can feel heard and supervisors can become more aware of vital issues. Most importantly, safety isn’t limited to a set checklist or rare inspection. Rather, it is discursive and continuous, expanding improvement beyond ticking a box.
Traditional safety walks are an important part of safety management and compliance. But, incorporating lean practices through Gemba walks is very beneficial as well. Gemba walks not only focus on making sure everything is safe, but they place emphasis on improvement, which benefits all involved.
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