Special Topics in Safety Management

Maintenance and Safety: The Toyota Way

Toyota’s massive Kentucky auto plant has integrated maintenance into its overall safety scheme. Here’s how they did it, and how you can, too.

Yesterday’s Advisor began a discussion on the role of maintenance workers in workplace safety.

These workers are positioned at a kind of crossroads of safety, our article maintained. As they literally get inside the machinery of production, they’re perfectly situated to issue early warnings of safety issues starting to develop, and to take early action to reverse the problems. But poorly managed or trained, maintenance workers can do more harm than good … by improperly caring for the machinery or even disabling safety features such as machine guards in reassembly.

To see one organization that’s gotten the role of maintenance in safety right, visit Georgetown, Kentucky, home of the giant Toyota plant that builds 400,000+ Camry and related models sold in the U.S. each year. According to reporting in BLR’s twice-monthly print newsletter, OSHA Compliance Advisor, maintenance plays a major role in the plant’s safety program.

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“Our key approach has been to increase proactive maintenance and decrease reactive maintenance for both productivity and safety reasons,” says Ed Welch, the plant’s manager for maintenance and engineering. “Unlike an unplanned (reactive) failure, a planned outage offers an opportunity to restore machinery and the safety procedures that need to be considered.”

To get the most in safety enhancement from the maintenance process, the Georgetown plant:

  • Provides maintenance with special tools for monitoring safe operation, including ultrasound and vibration analysis equipment. These enable workers to detect developing mechanical faults otherwise not apparent.
  • Builds safety discussions into maintenance meetings by having the plant’s safety and staffing director, attend. The agenda, OSHA Compliance Advisor reports, includes a review of injuries that have occurred within the industry and for which OSHA issued citations.
  • Has created policies to help maintenance people work safely and without interruption, by prohibiting other workers from going near machinery down for service, and by having a member of the safety department present for any major repairs.
  • Provides extra training in up to 50 key hazard areas, including confined space entry, mobile vehicle safety, and especially lockout/tagout—and does so no matter how experienced maintenance personnel are. Training records are kept by the safety and staffing department.

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  • Has maintenance personnel wear high-visibility gear, so that when they appear unexpectedly in a work area to conduct an unplanned repair, they’re more easily seen.
  • Seeks to reduce the pressure maintenance workers feel when key equipment is down, and productivity is being delayed. Working proactively goes a long way toward that goal. “Proactive maintenance is less stressful,” says Ed Welch.
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