Kaizen or ‘continuous improvement'

In the May editorial of the Annals of Work Exposures and Health (formerly The
Annals of Occupational Hygiene) the author claims that successful companies
constantly innovate to ensure they are profitable; the Japanese call this
‘kaizen', which we translate as ‘continuous improvement'. It is plausible that
a side-benefit of process development is the reduction in workplace exposures:
new equipment may be less noisy than the earlier versions, the emission of dust
may be reduced by new machinery with better containment or more effective
ventilation, or automation may completely remove the need for direct worker
involvement in the production. Continuous improvement emphasises a process of
small incremental changes that are continuous, collaborative, and accumulate.
Workers and managers should both play a role in making the changes through a
problem-solving engagement.

TThe author pronounces that it is time to change our occupational exposure
paradigm from compliance with occupational exposure limits (OEL) towards
kaizen. The only real purpose of evaluating compliance is to punish those
employers who expose their workers to dangerous environments. However, our goal
should be to reduce the risk for the working population, overall. If we can
engage with employers, who if they are to be successful must practice some form
of continuous improvement, to more directly include risk management measures in
their innovative thinking then we could accelerate the general decline in the
working population exposure and risk. This sort of scheme would require simple
advice for employers, such as the control banding tools, to nudge them in the
right direction. However, Regulators could also make use of other intervention
strategies that might be more effective, for example providing employers with
low-cost finance to modernise their equipment or commission research and
development to promote new safer technological solutions, as is being promoted with nanomaterials.

Employers would need to commit to regularly measure the exposure of their
workers, pool the data across sectors and publish the aggregate results so that
society could judge their performance. This may sound challenging, but as Hans
Kromhout points out in his letter, this is exactly what the silica producers in
Europe have been doing through their NEPSI scheme (www.NEPSI.eu). There is some
evidence that this scheme has had a strong positive effect on the decrease in
exposure to respirable crystalline silica in Finland, although a fuller
independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the whole scheme is needed. Of
course, we still need OELs to ensure that those employers who expose their
workers to intolerable conditions can be punished. The German approach of
setting tolerable and acceptable levels could provide an excellent framework
within which to operate, with the tolerable value being legally enforceable and
the acceptable value the target to strive towards through kaizen.

More info

AplusA-online.de - Source: Annals of Work Exposures and Health