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The Ergonomics of Lean

I suppose that falling terribly behind with writing blog posts is pretty much of a good sign. It means that we’re working hard, not being able to give the necessary priority to what could maybe be considered as a ‘necessary’ waste i.e. it adds no value to the customer, but life is less fun without it.

In any case, apologies for the long break. I have been busy, both teaching and learning from others. I’ve also become terribly unlean (i.e. fat) during a period of all work, no exercise, and an end of year break entirely dedicated to enjoying myself. I agree what they say about a work/life balance, and it’s about time that I actually got to do some work.

I was prompted to put pen to paper (or fingers on the keyboard) by a conference I intended last night on the coexistence of Lean and Eronomics. Basically there were a couple of ergonomics consultants, a job I can understand rarely gets the limelight, who decided to bring together a handful of companies from a local area, a group of ergonomics students, and some poor isolated chap to basically give Lean a bashing and explain how totally incompatible it was with a safe working environment.

Needless to say, the latin blood got flowing and there were some fairly hefty exchanges, and just one individual who came out of it with any degree of sanity and self-respect. It was a local company manager, at the head of 50 people making mechanical parts for the aerospace industry, who’d come along to present his experience of Lean implementation. The stare he gave the Lean consultant, who’d given a fairly good overview on how Lean was everything but a toolbox, was worth being there for by itself. He’d only ever known the tools, and it was doing him a power of good.

The stare he gave the ergonomist was even better (”if anyone here is thinking about entering industry then you’d better get used to hard work”). He was also the only one who explained that, by giving authority and responsibility to his team to take whatever actions they considered necessary, there was no way that they were doing to implement working practices that needed corrective actions from ergonomists.

However, there were enough stories in the room to prove that not all managers are like him, and that all too often the ‘Lean’ implementation is a way of disguising a workplace organisation decided by the management and imposed on the workers. And there are enough of these around to keep ergonomics consultants busy for the foreseeable future.

As an eye-opener, it was a good refresher after too much time locked away being busy and stuffing my face. However, it is now 2011, and the blog is back!

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