Implementing Gemba Walks to Identify and Address Hidden Safety Risks
Blog | May 8th, 2023

Implementing Gemba Walks to Identify and Address Hidden Safety Risks

Gemba or “Gembutsu” is a Japanese word that means “the real place”, or where the actual work in a manufacturing setup happens. A Gemba walk refers to walking through the shop floor to observe the processes, interact with employees, and identify areas of improvement to increase productivity. It is also an effective tool to identify opportunities to improve workplace safety.

Safety leaders and inspectors can use Safety Gemba Walks to “observe” how daily tasks are performed and recommend improvements to make them safer. The aim of the Safety Gemba Walk is continuous improvement and risk mitigation.

This is a proactive approach to safety management where the focus is not so much on enforcing compliance but on “why” follow safety procedures and how they can be implemented better.

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Benefits of Gemba Safety Walks

The shop floor in a manufacturing company is filled with hazards such as machinery, sharp and heavy tools, material handling equipment, electrical switches, and so on. Therefore, a walk through the workplace for assessing safety is critical to improve workplace safety and reduce incidents. Gemba Safety Walks allows the leadership team to see how the manufacturing processes are carried out at the operational level and engage with the people to get insights into common safety hazards and worker behavior. This can help uncover hidden safety risks and address them in a timely manner before it becomes a full-blown event.

The walkthrough is not like strolling silently through the shopfloor but an interactive process where the leader must observe as well as ask questions to the workers. The aim of the questions is to understand and build trust and not to blame or accuse the worker.

It should encourage the workers to share safety observations without fear of retribution and allow them to express any concerns or recommendations about workplace safety.

A Safety Gemba Walk also reassures employees of the commitment of the leadership to employee well-being. This increases their morale and increases their participation in establishing a safety culture. It also makes workers open to changes, improves collaboration and teamwork, and nurtures a culture of openness. Operations can be streamlined across different levels of the organization in a cost and time-effective manner.

Best Practices of Gemba Safety Walks

Each company will have its own process for Safety Gemba Walks. But there are some best practices that are applicable across the board. These include:

  • Schedule the Gemba Walks: Gemba walks are not surprise visits aimed at catching workers making a mistake! They must be scheduled beforehand and the workers at the site where the walk is scheduled must be informed of the visit and its purpose. This reinforces the feeling of trust and makes employees feel respected. They will be more at ease and continue with their routine activities as always, providing the observers with an authentic view of how day-to-day operations are conducted.
  • Prepare Questions: The two main activities during the Gemba Walk are observing the processes and engaging with employees to understand the operations, risks, and opportunities for improvement. The right questions must be asked to generate better insights. Therefore, being prepared with the right questions will help elicit relevant and meaningful answers. Techniques such as the ‘5 Why’ can also be applied to get the relevant information.
  • Observe and Don’t Interfere: The Gemba Walk is about observing and gathering information only. This is not a time to change any activity on the spot or point out deviations. This can make workers feel they have been criticized and break their trust. The focus should be on reinforcing the idea that the Gemba Walk is for observation only to identify areas for improvement.
  • Document Observations: Recording the observations is important for continuous improvement. Remembering all that was seen and discussed later is not possible and some critical observations may slip the mind. The documentation helps the top management review and make insightful, risk-based decisions. It is also critical for compliance.
  • Work with Checklists: Checklists are a great way to list down all critical tasks so that nothing gets missed out during the Gemba Walk and serves as a guide to observe, ask, and record.
  • Following Up with Actions: The Gemba Walk can be meaningful only if follow-up action is taken based on the observations. Continuous improvement is at the core of the Kaizen philosophy and methodology. This also makes recording the observations important so that it helps decision-makers identify critical areas, implement necessary mitigative measures, and improve the safety of the site. Based on the observations, identify high-risk areas that need immediate action, determine the control measures, implement them, and train workers in the new process.

Automate the Gemba Walk Process with ComplianceQuest’s EHS Platform

Gemba Safety Walks are conducted for a purpose: continuous improvement. This helps make the workplace safer, improves employee loyalty, and increases efficiency and productivity. While manual management of Gemba Walks has been the norm for a long – the access to software solutions improves the effectiveness of the walks. It helps ensure the walks are conducted as planned and scheduled, improves documentation, and enables collaboration between teams for greater efficiency.

ComplianceQuest is a cloud-based EHS platform built on Salesforce. It is aligned with all major safety-related regulations and helps organizations become more compliant and efficient. Some of the features of ComplianceQuest EHS that can improve the outcomes of Gemba Walks include:

  • Schedule Gemba Walks based on data: Continuous improvement requires continuous review of the worksites. The Gemba Walk is not a one-time activity and should be conducted periodically. The periodicity can be based on factors such as the risk profile of the activities, the number of incidents recorded for that site, the skill level of the workers employed there, and so on. Therefore, it needs to be scheduled accordingly and the walk conducted as planned. CQ allows the scheduling of the walks and alerts all the stakeholders so that they can be prepared.
  • Anytime, anywhere access to checklists, documentation, and safety observations recorded: The checklists and questions to be asked can be created and stored for easy access during the walk. These can be accessed on the mobile and even if there is no network connection at the site, it is synchronized whenever there is connectivity. Observations and answers can be recorded on the mobile and accessed from anywhere, anytime, based on permission and authorization for collaboration and follow-up action. Pictures and videos can be added, enabling more thorough reviews for better decision-making.
  • Task management and status tracking made easy: Decide on the mitigative measures to be implemented, assign tasks, and entrust responsibilities from within the system. This helps in tracking progress and ensuring that the recommendations are implemented to improve a particular site's safety performance.
  • Documentation, training & post-walk corrective actions: The recording of the observations and answers during the Gemba Walk, the creation of tasks, and the tracking of progress improve compliance. They help identify gaps and schedule training to equip the employees with the necessary skills to make their work site safer. In case of recurring issues, they help to capture the pattern, do root cause analysis, and initiate corrective and preventive actions.

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