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Last week, VelocityEHS made it possible for attendees of its CEU Conference to be eligible to receive continuing education unit credits (CEU) at each of its six sessions. Principal Solutions Strategist Rick Barker conducted the session “Using Quality Tools for Ergonomics and Safety,” where he highlighted tools and tips for improving operator interviews and team brainstorming sessions.

If you missed it, no problem! Read the summary below or watch it on-demand.

Step 1: Define the Problem

You’ll need to define the problem before you can solve it! Activities that help you define the problem include but are not limited to the following:

  • Observe the operator performing the work and consider trying the task yourself. Don’t be afraid to do the task incorrectly. In fact, operators may be encouraged to speak more freely if they know you couldn’t do the task perfectly yourself.
  • Conduct an effective operator interview. Go into the interview with the mindset that you are “asking the expert.” The operators are the experts of their jobs. Some good questions are, “If I could do one part of your job all day, what would it be and why?” Or “What solutions didn’t work in the past and why?” “Are some variations more difficult than others? If so, why?”
  • Complete a process map. Make sure you identify the steps that make the job more difficult but may not be required in some variations. It does not need to be formal.
  • Use risk assessment methods. They can help reveal where the greatest contribution of risk is coming from. A good example of this is the Advanced Job Assessment in the VelocityEHS Industrial Ergonomics software.

Step 2: Complete a Root Cause Analysis

The root cause analysis helps you clearly identify the true problems within a task. It is important to keep the causes that are being identified within the scope of changes that can be made. Consider choosing one of the following root cause analysis tools:

  • The Cause-Effect Diagram (Fishbone) shows the main problem on the far right, and groups contributing factors by what they are affecting. It can be very helpful when the number of possible causes is large.
  • The 5 Whys technique works by defining a problem, asking why, answering, and continuing to ask why until the true cause of the problem is revealed. There can be more than one answer to a why
  • The Interrelationship Digraph works by placing factors in a circle and drawing arrows between factors that have a cause/effect relationship. Focus on the factor with the most outgoing arrows

Step 3: Identify Solutions

Identifying solutions includes brainstorming and sorting through the ideas.

  • Brainstorm solutions centered around a specific cause you found in Step 2. Don’t stop with the first good answer. Brainstorming variations can help spark ideas. Brainwriting helps everyone write down and process their own ideas. What Would “X” Do (WW”X”D) helps team members create ideas based on a specific employee’s perspective. The person can be fictional or part of your team. Rapid Ideation helps get as many ideas out there as possible. Round Robin helps refine an idea by having the next person in the circle build upon the previous idea(s).
  • Sorting and selecting ideas is an important step after brainstorming. Affinity Diagrams help to group ideas with similar themes. Priority Matrices help to determine the best solution by placing ideas on a matrix with one axis being low- to high-impact, and the other axis being difficult- to easy- to-implement (e.g., money, people power). Force Field Analyses help to determine the best solution by rating the strength of the pros and cons of an idea and displaying them visually.

Step 4: Effectively Communicate the Project

  • Storyboarding/A3 involves concisely explaining the entire project on an 11″ x 17″ piece of paper, including the defined problem, identified causes, identified solutions, and results.

These are all tools that can be used to help you solve a problem, which may include ergonomics, process, flow, or quality concerns. Keep these tools in your toolbox, and when you need them, choose the tools most appropriate for the problem at hand.

The Session Q&A

Q1: Is there an ideal size for the problem-solving group (5-7) or even ideas on who should be involved (operator, maintenance person, safety, etc.)?

A1: Research usually suggests around 6 to 8 people from various groups. Two to 3 people aren’t quite enough, especially if they are the same people involved each time. At the same time, a group of 15 people is usually too large and unmanageable; if you feel you need to include this many people, hold multiple brainstorming sessions. Of course, people who actually do the job should be involved. Additionally, depending on your specific organization and the area where the problem occurs, you may want to involve people from purchasing, maintenance, and/or engineering. It’s best to have about half of the voices in the session do the job or be very familiar with the job; remember, the operators are the experts.

Q2. Can these risk assessments be done virtually since most of our H&S staff are working from home? If so, how do you capture all the risk indicators?

A2. It depends on what type of risk is being assessed, and what tools are available. If you need to assess risk of someone working in his or her home office, you can have them complete a self-assessment. It gets more challenging if you are remote and you are trying to do a risk assessment of an activity occurring in the factory. In this case, you may need someone present in the factory who can answer questions and record video for you.

Q3. Would you be able to share a risk assessment for the home office to capture risks, as we are all seeing a significant increase in shoulder/neck and back injuries?

A3. There is a VelocityEHS product that is specifically built to solve that problem. Visit the VelocityEHS website to learn more.

Q4. Are there specific tools for solving specific problems?

A4. Yes, target the tool that is going to best help define the problem, narrow the cause, link causes and solutions and/or prioritize solutions. These are all tools for your toolbox. The more tools you have, the more likely you will have the right tool to help solve your problem.

Q5. If I identify the problem in the workplace, can I use the 5 Whys to solve it?

A5. Yes, the more clearly you can define your problem, the better off you will be. The Fishbone diagram is best for solving problems that are more broad, while the 5 Whys approach is great for specific problems.

Q6. How many times should I review my risk assessment?

A6. This depends on how many you have and how many resources you have. In an ideal world, you should review them annually or have job-change triggers in place that remind you to review them.

Q7. Do I have to review my risk assessment if there is an accident, near miss, or incident?

A7. Reviewing your risk assessment should be one of your starting points. You want to find out if there was something you missed in your original risk assessment that led to the incident or if your countermeasure failed. This can help you understand what happened, and what aspect of the job improvement process failed.

Q8. We have an employee who struggles with speaking publicly but does well in one-on-one settings or very small groups. How can we help this employee be more comfortable in a Round Robin?

A8. You can combine Round Robin with Brainwriting to allow the employee more time to process his or her thoughts. You can emphasize that you want short answers from everyone. Finally, you can allow people to pass and come back to their ideas later in a one-on-one setting.