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Award-Winning Safety Starts at the Top

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Contributed by Charlie Sedlock, Director at Hamm Waste Services—Winner of SWANA’s 2017 Sustainable Materials Management Best Innovation Award & Overall Safety Award

Safety matters. Does it matter to you?

Ensuring employee health and safety should be a no-brainer for any organization—both inside and outside of the waste industry—but it’s shocking how often it gets undervalued or simply overlooked.

Safety needs to be management’s top priority, and making sure all employees can go home at the end of the day is paramount. But beyond that, safety is also good business; having protocols in place boosts job performance and satisfaction, increases productivity, creates happy customers, and makes your business profitable.

Formula One racing legend Jackie Stewart once said, “It takes leadership to improve safety.” Nowhere is this truer than in the implementation of a sound safety management program. It all starts with management commitment and the creation of a safety philosophy, clearly stating goals and objectives, and putting in place clear strategies and processes that make waste services safer, more reliable, and more efficient.

But creating a safety culture, or enhancing an existing program, doesn’t need to be a daunting task. There are many resources and systems readily available that most organizations can implement with relative ease, and one of the best is the 5S methodology.

Originated in Japan, 5S is a visually oriented workplace organization method that fosters productivity and safety improvement. It focuses on ergonomics for tool and supply placement and reducing exposure and ergonomic risk.

The 5S method is based on the notion that working in disorder is considered neither productive nor safe. It uses five Japanese words: Seiri (Sort), Seiton (Simplify), Seiso (Sweep), Seiketsu (Standardize), and Shitsuke (Self-Discipline). The words describe how to efficiently and effectively organize workspaces, store needed items, and maintain an orderly environment. Because safety is a core component of the methodology, and the end goal within the context of the 5S methodology, some argue that safety should be the sixth “S.”

In 2017, Hamm Waste Services won the Best Safety Innovation (Sustainable Materials) award from SWANA for implementing the 5S methodology in its Lawrence, Kansas Material Recovery Facility (MRF). Based in Perry, KS, Hamm provides integrated waste management services (collection, transfer stations, landfill, and a material recovery facility) to customers in Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

The Hamm MRF processes and markets single-stream recyclables for surrounding cities and counties. MRF operations present a unique and challenging environment in which the facility operator must juggle the variables of material quality and volume, automated machines and systems, rolling stock, and many personnel—all of which must be managed safely.

As part of its movement toward lean processes and increased safety at the MRF, Hamm implemented 5S to improve housekeeping and organization. It reduced employee exposure to rolling stock, intensified employees’ focus on safety and operational processes, and helped minimize workplace safety risks.

Through a Residual Risk Reduction assessment technique, we were able to assess the overall effectiveness of 5S, qualify and quantify hazards, and provide an upstream measure for program success. In total, the 5S methodology reduced occupational hazards and exposure in the facility by more than 50%.


Implementing the 5S Method

The 5S methodology is essentially a disciplined and thoughtful housekeeping activity wherein your team can “tell at a glance” what is right and what is out of place.

Proper implementation begins with a focus on training. Managers and employees alike need to be educated early on about the importance and benefits of the program. It won’t be successful unless you get buy-in from all stakeholders.

Keep it simple and easy to understand, and focus the initial implementation on only one phase of your operation (e.g. organizing a specific work station). After you have conducted a status audit and taken photographs of the “as-is” state of a particular area, develop an implementation plan and lay out a clear schedule of deliverables and responsibilities to keep you on track. Conduct periodic audits to monitor progress.

In the examples below, you will see how parts of the system were developed and implemented at the MRF.

To ensure the program plan stays on track, use a large wall-mounted 5S “score card” to document, monitor and measure results. Located near employee meeting areas, it helps communicate the importance of 5S on a daily basis, and it continually shows where improvements can be made.

Because the 5S solution is easily replicated and can be applied to common occupational hazards in a wide variety of operations in the waste industry (e.g. collection, landfill, MRF or maintenance shop), it has a great deal of the potential for application across multiple programs or work sites.

Another advantage we discovered through the 5S methodology implementation is that it creates a robust foundation for current lean practices, Six Sigma projects, and prevention through design efforts, all of which furthers Hamm’s focus on safety and exposure reduction.

5S Cleaning Stations in the Hamm MRF

From small waste collection operations to large national waste firms, 5S can be implemented successfully in any size organization to produce cleaner and safer work areas. When a work area is clean and organized, tripping hazards and other dangers are eliminated, and it creates a more pleasant environment for workers. But taking a disciplined and accountable approach to safety and organization produces many other benefits too:

  • Less wasted time searching for tools and supplies—when tools and materials are accessible and orderly, workers need less time to “go get” and less time to search.
  • Required floor space is dramatically reduced—spare parts storage and the warehouse are safer and more efficient.
  • Machine breakdowns are reduced—clean and well-maintained equipment breaks down less frequently.
  • Improved self-discipline—the visual nature of the 5S system makes abnormal and unsafe conditions noticeable.
  • Improved culture—people like to work in a well-organized and clean environment.

Reducing risk and keeping employees safe with tools like 5S should be the top priority of any organization. But that mindset starts with management.

Leadership must make sure every employee goes home at the end of the day so they can enjoy time with their families and live their lives. As such, it’s imperative that we set the tone and lead the charge, continuously stress the processes and benefits of safety programs, and ensure everyone in the organization is aware, empowered, involved, and committed to change.

If we do that, employees will be safer, job satisfaction will rise, and productivity will increase. It’s a win-win for everyone.


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