Friday, 4 December 2009

Visual control for safety example (1)

One of the most common applications for visual control is in the area of safety; specifically, to highlight a hazard. A common example is seen in the photo below. These steps are found outside the Tiong Bahru MRT station. Because of the jagged shape of the steps, there is a danger that people in a hurry may trip over them. Hence the edge of the steps are painted in bright yellow colour to highlight the unsafe condition.

However such visual controls devices are not very useful if they are not well-maintained. The other day, I was at the Ghim Moh wet market when I saw a delivery man trip over this low ledge in the floor. Fortunately, the man who was carrying some goods did not fall down. As you can see from the photos below, the paint on the floor has faded. The visual control device has lost its effectiveness.

You may say that this is a very minor problem. But, one principle we often emphazise when it comes to 5S and Safety is that it is always the small things that count. Many serious accidents are caused by minor shortcomings the workplace. If you are not convinced, ask this gentleman.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Even schools need 5S

My friend Peh has posted an article in his blog about 5S here. It is written in Chinese but the gist of it is this:

"Japan is a developed country. Visitors Japan are impressed by their cleanliness, discipline and first class service. They excel in many areas especially in the management of 5S.

In contrast, here in Singapore, 5S is not well regarded. Bad housekeeping practices can be seen everywhere including our educational institutions. If our kids are regularly exposed to such messy surroundings in school, when they grow up and join society, they will adopt the same standards."

In contrast Japanese students are indoctrinated with good 5S disciplines in schools. Read about it here.

Friday, 28 August 2009

What a waste (2) – Ice cubes

I notice that in Singapore, whenever we order a cold drink at a hawker centre or food court, it’s a common practice to get much more ice cubes than we really need. Much of this ice is simply discarded later. Overall, this results in tremendous amount waste of energy and water for our country; not just to produce the ice, but to transport it and preserve it.

With the ongoing concern for the environment and efforts to go ‘green’; I think we can do something to reduce this wastage. For example:

1) Launch a campaign to persuade Singaporeans to take their drinks without ice. Often when we order canned drinks, they already come chilled anyway. Why not save yourself 10 cents and help save the earth?

2) Launch a campaign to educate drink stalls to serve less ice. I suspect that in some cases, such as fruit juices, they give you more ice so that they can cut down on the amount of juice they serve.

3) Come up with a practical way to recycle the ice cubes. Of course I do not mean to re-use the ice cubes for drinks. One area I can think of is to re-sell it to the fish mongers at nearby wet markets who require large amounts of crushed ice. Here’s how. Every food court and hawker centre should be equipped with a large ice box. The cleaners should rinse the leftover ice cubes and store them in the ice box. The next morning, if it is a hawker centre next to a wet market, the fish mongers can help themselves to the ice. Maybe they can be charged a nominal fee.

In fact, last month I put forward this suggestion to Reach. They relayed it to the relevant ministry which then gave me an acknowledgement and a promise to look into it. It’s been more than a month and I have not heard again from them. I doubt I will ever hear from them again :(

Monday, 13 July 2009

Tomorrow will be better than Today

In 1988, when I was working as a (quite young) management consultant with the National Productivity Board (NPB), I was assigned to Tat Seng Paper Containers Pte Ltd as a part-time productivity manager. At that time, NPB had a scheme called Promis. Promis stood for Productivity Manager in SME, a term coined by our then chairman, Mr Mah Bow Tan. The idea was to let promising SMEs engage the services of a productivity manager even though they were too small to afford such a full-time staff. I think I spent two days a week there for about a year.

Anyway, when I was there, the first thing I did was to organize a series of productivity talks for all the employees. The four topics that I chose were:

a) What is Productivity?
b) The importance of Good Housekeeping
c) Cost Reduction through Reduction of Waste
d) Quality Awareness

Together with the productivity committee, we then launched a company-wide productivity movement called 3Ps. 3Ps stood for Productivity Promotion Through Participation. (通过参于活动提高生产力)
(By now you must be quite amused at how fond we government officials were of using acronyms. Sorry, you’ll have to bear with it because there’s more to come.

From the April 1988 edition of Productivity Digest

The 3Ps programme I introduced was further made up of 3 initiatives (each beginning with the letter S).
These were:

a) The 5S programme
b) Safety promotion
c) Staff Suggestion Scheme (SSS)

To cut a long story short, we decided to launch our 3Ps programme with a Big Clean Up. We chose a Saturday which was just before the Chinese New Year to do this. The GM, Mr S M Loh, myself and our Japanese advisor, Mr Suzuki made short speeches. This was followed by some refreshments and the Big Clean Up. Everybody, including the GM rolled up their sleeves to clean up the factory.

Whilst the cleaning action was going on, we played a song over the public address system that I had specially chosen for that occasion.

Yes, you’ve guessed it. The song was 明天会更好 (Tomorrow will be better)

Now here is a quiz question for you. Why did I choose this song?


Productivity is, above all, an attitude of mind. It seeks to continually improve what already exists. It is based on a conviction that one can do things better today than yesterday and better tomorrow than today.

(From the report of the Rome Conference - European Productivity Agency, 1958).

Monday, 11 May 2009

Bring 5S with you wherever you go

When I conduct 5S training, I like to end my session by reminding my trainees that they should bring 5S wherever they go. This is another way of saying that they should not apply 5S only in their workplace but other places as well; such as in public places, roads, car parks and of course the home.

Let’s take public places for example. If you take a good look around, you will find many examples of inconsiderate behaviour such as littering, inconsiderate parking of vehicles as so on. In fact, a number of blogs have surfaced highlighting such “Bad 5S” as I like to call them. Here are 2 such blogs by Stompoli that I read frequently:

1) Be heard, be seen
2) Irresponsible motorists in Singapore

Recently, I too came across a couple of such situations that I would like to share with you here:

This photo was taken along Pandan Loop sometime in November last year.

This one was taken just last week in Tagore Lane.

Friday, 30 January 2009

What a waste (1) – Lost in car park

Last night I visited a friend who lived in Edgefield Plains. I had a rather frustrating experience trying to park my car in the multi-storey car park at Block 107.

When I first turned into the car park, I proceeded to drive to the upper floors to look for the visitors’ lots. The car park was very long, and when I finally reached the end of the 4th level, I discovered that there was no ramp to go up to the next level; and thus far all the parking lots were marked red, meaning they were reserved for residents. Thinking that I must have overshot the ramp, I went down to the 3rd level (it was a ‘one-way street’ type car park), and then went up to the 4th level again. As it turned out, the 4th level was the uppermost level. But still I did not see any white parking lots.

By that time, I was getting quite agitated and panicky as I was going to be late. Thinking that perhaps the visitors’ car park was in another building, or in some open area, I impatiently descended; round and round, floor after floor – did I mention that it was a very long car park?

I went out to the main road, drove around the block and found another entrance with a sign pointing to a multi-storey car park. When I finally found the car park, I realized that it was the same car park, but this was different entrance. Not knowing what else to do, I drove in and then I finally saw it - a sign saying that the visitors’ car park is in Level B1 in the basement. When I finally arrived at my friend’s home, I found out that practically every other visitor had the same frustrating encounter; and to my relief that, several guests arrived even later than me.

This is a classic example of poor design which did not take into consideration the basic principle of population stereotypes. In brief, Population Stereotype is “A seemingly arbitrary choice, or particular option, that is chosen by a large proportion of a given population” (full definition here). For example; look at the tap in this photo. In Singapore, when we want to turn the tap off, or reduce the flow, we would push the lever down. However, in Jakarta, I discovered that their taps are designed to work in the opposite direction. On a number of occasions, I wet my shirt when I tried to turn off the tap in a hurry. It took me a few days to get accustomed to their taps; but by then it was time to return to Singapore.

When you design a system that does not conform to the population stereotype of your intended users, the chance of human errors and accidents will increase.

Coming back to our car park; in Singapore, the vast majority of multi-storey car parks in HDB estates are designed with the visitors’ lots in the upper levels and painted with white paint, whereas the residents’ lots are in the lower levels and painted red in colour. In this particular case, the situation was made worse by the poor signage. My friends and I all did not see the sign telling us to go to Level B1.

This brings me to a subject related to 5S which is Visual Control. Visual controls have a few basic functions; such as:

1) To provide information (e.g. Male/Female toilet signs, warning signs etc)
2) To give instructions especially operating instructions
3) To simplify the task
4) To alert the user to an abnormal situation; e.g. the Empty warning light in your car’s fuel gauge.

Still on the subject of car parks, have you ever been in a car park where you had to go round and round to look for an empty lot? Often you, the driver, would ask your passengers to help you to look out for them. Sometimes, after going 1 full round, you realize that that level is full and you had to go to the next level and repeat the whole exercise. This, you will recall from my previous post, is called Muda or waste.

The good news is that, many car parks in Singapore have introduced a very user-friendly system of visual control. I have seen it in operation at Vivocity and Funan Centre. At the entrance to the car park, there is a prominent sign board indicating how many lots are available on each level. It helps you to decide immediately which level you should go to. At the car park itself, there are green and red lights to indicate if the parking lot is empty or taken. This is really helpful and saves time. In fact the relevant authorities have gone one step further. At strategic locations in the city, they have displays telling motorists the number of parking lots available in the major buildings.

I hope this article has helped you to appreciate the importance of 5S visual control systems. If you think of, or come across good examples of the creative use of visual controls, do share them with readers of this blog. Here’s another example from my friend Mr Peh’s blog.

Thank you.