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How do we bring back our employees safely to this “new normal” while preparing for a potential second wave of COVID-19?

How do we overcome the fear? The anxiety? And (it must be said) onboard employees quickly so that we can return to effective and efficient operations? No one needs to outline the impacts that the current pandemic is having on our economy- but as we turn to restarting, the challenges are just as daunting. Leveraging the disciplines of Lean, especially 5S plus Safety (6S) can be the answer.

For those of us that work with this method, it makes perfect sense and will be the foundation for that restart. But for many industries, the anxiety and struggle will be real without a standard discipline to fall back upon. 6S is a framework or a mindset of tools to not only create efficiency and value, but addresses workplace organization and includes cleanliness and hygiene. With safety at its core, it is a process that proactively sustains itself. It is adaptable to any environment and industry as it has been successfully applied to offices, healthcare, factories, kitchens, classrooms and labs.

During the April Go-Lean-Six LLC Lean Peer Group I outlined how 6S aligns well with the CDC and OSHA guidelines including the Safety Hierarchy.

· The first step in the process is to “Sort” out unnecessary items in an area. “Sorting” provides a starting point to sustain cleanliness by removing items (exposures) that are not needed. The immediate impact is that these unnecessary items no longer need to be cleaned and maintained as the country continues to understand potential re-infection until a vaccine is developed. It also supports general health and safety as a foundation for the rest of the process.

· The next step is to “Set-Items-in-Order” or Straighten. This process sets items back into the area considering how the employees work and how the items are used. The items that are used the most are placed closest and most effeciently for the people that use them. Ergonmoics are also considered as well as the flow of the process. This is a powerful step in the process for gaining effeciency as well as safety. This step would also consider the guidelines for providing hand cleaning and trash receptacles and encouraging their use. It helps us work through social distancing in common areas as well as work areas. As we have come to understand, just placing cleaning supplies and posters around is just not enough. This powerful step in the 6S process helps us address human behavior by introducing mistake proofing and the safety hierarchy.

· The Shine process historically tended to be viewed incorrectly as “just housekeeping”. This part of the discipline provides for us to “see” in a different way; to see when the clutter starts to return, to see what needs to be cleaned, to see when sustainment begins to slip away and poor habits return. It also provides a physical means of assessing equipment to ensure they are in good working order. In the case of COVID and other health hazards, it supports the routines we need to follow and the habits we need to create.

· Standardize creates visual cues and proactive, positive mechanisms to reinforce the use of hygiene items, social distancing, and cleaning. Our ability to create these mechanisms to reinforce proactive behavior will be key to sustaining the ‘curve’. It will also alleviate the concerns of workers as they actively engage in the process. Technology to include Ultra-Violet lights and automatic cleaners are also an important part of this process. How do we mistake proof human behavior?

· During Sustain, we engage the workforce, ensuring we do not backslide into another series of outbreaks, and we are prepared for the future. Engaging the workforce is empowering. We recognize that, together, can meet this challenge. Standardized audits, checklists, routines for daily cleaning and measures are all appropriate and support our efficiencies much needed efficiencies.

· Overarching is Safety. Safety has always been inherent to the process. It is underlying to our ability to be effective and efficient. Our “new normal” will challenge our norms and leveraging the 6S process with safety in mind will help us meet these challenges.

That is the power of a standard discipline in a framework. 6S has always been foundational to continuous improvement, teamwork, and value and can be leveraged in these difficult times.

a cleaning station with wipes and sprays

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