The Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing, Inc. plant in Columbus, Ind., is a busy, bustling place.
At full capacity, 1,300 workers are crowded into the million square-foot facility, navigating tight rows and busy cells, pumping out a new, custom-built Toyota lift truck every 3:40 on its main assembly line alone.
It's a safe plant, as you'd expect from anything in the Toyota family. But that's no easy task to achieve.
The narrow lanes of the facility are choked with crisscrossing lift trucks and automated guided vehicles loaded with engines and machine components, while 250 welders throw sparks into the atmosphere. Complicating the environment, among those 1,300 workers, TIEM has had 550 temporary employees pass through the facility already this year.
It's a situation rife for injury, rife for disaster. Yet it seems to consistently prevent most issues. In fact, safety there seems to actually be improving.
More surprising, that effort is maintained by an EHS team just five members strong, when fully staffed.
The environment at TIEM would present a challenge for any safety team, of course, but Dixon Churchill, manager of environmental health and safety at TIEM, takes it all in stride.
His EHS department has developed a system that vastly expands the reach of his small team and puts health and safety into the focus of everyday production.
That system, he explained to our EHS Today tour group we kicked the 2014 Safety Leadership Conference, combines safety with the tried and true Toyota Production System.
"We do something called K-Hyp," he explained. "That's short for 'kaizen' and 'How's Your Process?'"
The system, he said, brings safety and wellness into the morning meetings right along with all of the quality and efficiency metrics you would expect.
At the 6:30 meeting every day, managers pass around a clipboard to each team member, asking them to for input on any safety issue or injury or improvement suggestions they may have, asking them, of course, "How is your process?" By 8:00 that morning, those managers will have met with each worker individually to discuss their issues and develop a solution, whether it's for a sore elbow or a slip risk.
"We are looking for ways to improve safety, quality and productivity all at once," Churchill said. "So we merged both sides of it into one daily discussion."
The effect of this is two-fold, explained Tom Lego, customer center manager at Toyota Material Handling, who led the tour.
First, the system empowers the individual workers to take an active role in developing a safer, better system for their daily production tasks.
But it also empowers managers across the floor to take a more active participation in the EHS conversation.
"While these leaders are certainly responsible for the overall objective of meeting their production numbers and quality numbers on a daily basis, this system puts safety numbers very much on the forefront of that team," he explained. "The safety department delivers them all kinds of information, so they can practice the idea of yokoten—sharing best practices to make sure that what we learn from it is applied as widely as possible."
And that, he says, keeps the whole safety system continuously improving right along with the critical manufacturing processes of the plant.
Onboarding Safe Recruits
Another powerful tool in this process, Churchill noted, is the standard six-day training every new hire – permanent or temp – passes through before taking over their stations.
"Our orientation process includes three full days of classroom training," he said. "We have 11 different classes we do in that orientation process, including environmental classes. And we supplement those with side-line dojos where they can observe the specifics about the tools and processes they are going to be doing. "
The most impressive part of that system, however, has to be the "Safety Dojo."
In the center of the plant, is an enormous cell dedicated solely to safety training.
Entering through a zen-style gate, the cell is lined with PPE, instructions, charts and training gear. It provides new recruits the opportunity to get hands-on with the protective gear and signage they will encounter on the plant floor.
It also adds an interesting element to the training program: Before new workers know what they will be handling or how anything actually works in the plant, they are taught how to handle it and how to go about properly approaching their process. This way, safety training actually precedes process training, which ingrains the former indelibly into the job.
And that doesn't stop at training.
Every year, Churchill explained, every member of the TIEM staff revisits their dojo training to reinforce that early education and correct lapses before the start.
Combined with the K-HYP system, this not only expands the reach of EHS through all levels of the organization, but it ensures that everyone it reaches is, in some way, an EHS expert.
"Dixon [Churchill] has a small team," Lego says, "but the idea is that he has empowered and taught everyone in this plant everything they need to know to keep the safety culture improving. Leaders here have grown up in that system. They know how to keep it going."