Safeguard Analysis

Improve process quality through environmental, health and safety performance excellence

by John R. Dew

Does your organization need to improve product and process quality while also striving toward environmental, health and safety performance excellence? Did you know that by studying a process just one time, you can concurrently improve quality and environmental, health and safety performance?

Safeguard analysis offers a practical way to ensure that reliable safeguards are designed into activities to achieve product and process quality, avoid environmental insults, and protect the health and safety of employees.

Four steps to safeguard analysis

To conduct a safeguard analysis, assemble a team of those who perform the work, a supervisor or team leader, and the organization's quality, environmental, health and safety staff. Stress the importance of attending every meeting, as each member must receive exactly the same information as his or her teammates.

Step 1. Draw a flowchart or diagram of the work process or work from an existing flowchart. A visual model of the work flow is a necessity. Do not simply read a procedure.

Step 2. Ask what can go wrong from quality, environmental, health and safety perspectives.

What has gone wrong in the past? What has gone wrong in similar operations? What hazardous materials does the work involve? What materials could create an environmental insult? What type of variation in the process could cause quality problems? What data do you have that would cause the team to be concerned about a potential problem or that indicate an opportunity to reduce or eliminate a waste stream? Consider the probability and seriousness of each concern.

Step 3. Determine the effectiveness of the current safeguards. Is there reason to suspect that existing safeguards are weak? Have there been any near miss accidents? Is the process and product quality making the organization uncomfortable? Can a single error lead to a serious accident, environmental insult or failure in quality?

Step 4. Design additional safeguards into the process to provide greater assurance that mistakes and problems do not occur. Beef up weak safeguards and document the improvements in appropriate drawings, procedures and training initiatives.

Hierarchy of safeguards

Not all safeguards are equal. Some are highly reliable and require a great deal of effort to circumvent, while others are shallow and easily avoided. Let's take a brief look at six different types of safeguards.

Physical safeguards. Machine guards, dikes placed around chemicals and buffers erected around equipment are all physical safeguards that keep problems from occurring. Safeguards such as locks, doors, ropes, and walls that keep people from accessing areas and equipment are most reliable.

Distance and time. Placing ob-jects out of easy reach or setting limits on how long a person can work are the next most reliable safeguards. A reliable safeguard can easily be created by installing
electrical cables close to the ceiling, for example.

Labels, signs and alarms. Pro-viding employees with information and feedback about avoiding particular mistakes can help to improve employee health and safety, quality and environmental performance.

Measurement and inspection. Statistical process control, chemical tests, dimensional inspection, and many other forms of data collection and verification provide safeguards to assure that work is performed within tolerance limits and that the process's capabilities are fully understood.

Training and education. It's important to assure that qualified people are performing a job; however, training is a weak safeguard due to the limited recall ability that anyone has in performing a complex task over time.

As a safeguard, training's effectiveness can be improved using controlled operator aids. The use of detailed lesson plans is imperative. Too often, trainers are guided by a simple list of topics they are to cover with employees.

Administrative policies and procedures. As the weakest form of safeguards, policies and procedures are only as strong as the organization's culture of adhering to them. Unfortunately, organizations whose cultures are weak in this aspect tend to rely on policies and procedures the most for their safeguard needs.

Safeguard analysis provides an integrated method for assuring quality, environmental, health and safety performance excellence in any organizational setting. Performing safeguard analysis is usually an inexpensive step, helping an organization avoid costly quality, environmental and health and safety problems in the future.

JOHN R. DEW is the director for continuous quality improvement at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. He earned a doctorate in education from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Dew is an ASQ Senior Member and the chair of ASQ's Energy and Environmental Division. He can be contacted at jdew@aalan.ua.edu.

If you would like to comment on this article, please post your remarks on the Quality Progress Discussion Board, or e-mail them to editor@asq.org.

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