The Most Important Muda Walk

By Ron Pereira Published on May 19th, 2010

We lean advocates often talk about going to gemba, or the place the work is done, in order to see what is actually happening.

We also refer to the process of walking in order to seek out waste as going on a muda walk. Muda, for those that don’t know, is the Japanese word for waste.

This is great. Seeking out waste (i.e. motion, waiting, transportation) is important. Very important.

But, believe it or not, it is far from the most important thing you can do during a muda walk.

No, the most important opportunities you can seek out during muda walks are safety issues. You see, without a safe working environment nothing else matters. Nothing.

So, if you don’t already do this, be sure to keep a look out for any and all safety opportunities during your next muda walk.

Here’s a short list of 5 things to keep a look out for.

  • Personal Protective Equipment – Are all associates, including managers, wearing the correct PPE? The requirements will vary by industry but some of the most common PPE are safety glasses, hard hats, ear protection, and gloves.
  • Cheater Bars – In most situations the use of “cheater bars” or short pipes placed onto the end of a wrench or tool in order to increase leverage are not safe and shouldn’t be used. There are ways to make this safe – such as to permanently attach extensions made of common materials.
  • Electrical Hazards – Your local safety experts will be able to guide you on the specifics for your location… but if you ever see 12 electrical extension cords tied together chances are you’re witnessing a serious safety hazard. Likewise, any other electrical safety concern should be addressed immediately even if it means stopping production.
  • Machine Guarding – Make sure all machine guards are in place and functioning correctly. Often times machine operators will defeat safety interlocks in order to speed things up. This is very dangerous and can lead to serious problems – including death.
  • Ergonomics – One of the most common reasons for back injuries and muscle strains is improper lifting. So, if you witness employees lifting more than they should be – or using a poor lifting technique – be sure to coach them, and the entire workforce, accordingly.

What else?

Do you seek out safety opportunities during your muda walks? If so, what things do you look for?

  1. Phillip Martin

    May 19, 2010 - 7:04 am

    My organization began performing “Lean Assessments” for about the past six months. We have approximately 140 factories manufacturing everything from solar panels, textiles, electronics, clothing, vehicular overhaul furniture and we also have services (primarily call centers) and recycling factories. These “Lean Assessments” contain 13 categories with an average of 8 line items per category. These assessments involve interviews with management, supervisors and the workers. The largest and portion of the assessment is the actual walk through. We attempt to walk the processes and the building(s). As you have mentioned, locating those safety issues is so important that Safety is it’s own category within the assessment. After all, how productive is it to lose workers due to injury, not to mention the costs involved with workers compensation issues. I agree with you 100%. Until your article, I assumed it was common practice to search out safety issues in our discipline.

  2. Tim McMahon

    May 19, 2010 - 9:22 am

    Ron, safety is the most important aspect of what we do. Quality folllows quickly behind. As with a lean methodologies we transition from reactionary to prevention. During the waste walk looking for unsafe behaviors is equally important. It is think line of thinking that leads to safe or unsafe actions. I did a post related to this that is worth a review. http://leanjourneytruenorth.blogspot.com/2010/01/coaching-for-safe-behavior.html

  3. Jon Miller

    May 19, 2010 - 2:36 pm

    Walking through a plant recently I leaned over to take a drink from the drinking fountain. A jet of water far too powerful shot up and nearly put my eye out. The water hit the concrete wall and ran down to create a small puddle. I pointed out this safety hazard. Observing later, it was clear that the people at this company knew to put their mouth right up against the fountain nozzle so that there was no chance of the water hitting the wall. Sometimes it takes a clueless consultant walking around to trip a hidden near miss.

  4. Nelson R. Espinal

    July 29, 2010 - 9:10 am

    I work for a relatively small company that manufactures fine crafted custom cabinet doors. We have 3 plants in the West Coast and 1 plant in the East Coast which is where I currently work out of. We started our LEAN journey about 3 years ago and we started having what we call “GEMBA” walks a few months ago. Our Gemba walks consists of our VP, Plant Manager, Building Manager and a member from our Continuous Improvement Team such as myself, walking up to a cell and having the supervisor report his progress for the week.

    Today it seems more like a “non-value added” activity. The supervisor simply reports his Safety record, Productivity, and TQM (Total Quality Management) results. How can we make these Gemba walks valuable? It didn’t take long for me to realize that what we do today is not really a GEMBA walk, its more like a show and tell for the supervisor. Any advice on how your organizations perform Gemba walks? I would be very interested in hearing some of your comments on what works for you.

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