By definition, standardization is the process of developing and implementing standards to help optimize process repeatability, quality and most importantly safety. It’s an easy concept to understand but difficult to achieve. Many factors contribute to making standardization a challenge.

  • Clinging to long-standing cultures that hinder adoption to corporate philosophy.
  • Acquisitions that bring different approaches inconsistent with corporate policy.
  • Following an acquisition, line managers having grown accustomed to doing things their way usually experience difficulty adapting to a uniform set of practices unlike their own.
  • Higher priority standardization issues that directly impact production, profits and operations. Admittedly, safety is normally not a critical driver in the standardization process for most organizations. 
  • Strong leadership, although critical in driving standardization, cannot guarantee success. A systematic and planned approach is required. Three vehicles crucial to driving an effective standardization implementation include:
  • An internal auditing program;
  • A lean program; and
  • Effective communication.


Internal auditing program

This is the most effective tool in the arsenal for standardizing across multiple facilities. The most successful auditing programs address OSHA regulatory and compliance requirements as well as corporate’s safety plans, policies and programs. A comprehensive internal audit checklist allows a company to audit each facility to the same standards. Most audits incorporate, as a minimum, the following safety elements:

  • Training and training comprehension;
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE);
  • Maintenance (hoists and lifts);         
  • Machine/tool guarding;            
  • Hazard identification and elimination;             
  • Employee rights and responsibilities;
  • Gas cylinder storage and handling;
  • Forklift operations;
  • New hire orientation; 
  • JSA and LOTO development;
  • Incident investigation;           
  • Housekeeping/5S;
  • Contractor management;
  • Visitor guidelines and emergency preparedness; and
  • Hazard awareness and hazard communications.

When overseas, exceptions may be required if conflict exists between OSHA and in-country regulatory and compliance requirements. These audits should be performed by the same person(s) in order to minimize auditor inconsistencies. An added benefit to internal auditing — you get what you inspect not what you expect. Any organization attempting to achieve OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program certification would also benefit from having an internal audit program.


A lean program

Regardless of the moniker, a lean program is an underutilized tool for standardization. Historically used to eliminate waste, drive process improvement and enhance customer satisfaction, successful companies implement safety as part of their formal lean program. Typical functional areas incorporated in a lean program include:

  • Standard work flow;
  • Quality;
  • Kanban;
  • Equipment;
  • Supply chain;
  • Teamwork (safety); and
  • 5S (housekeeping).


Under each of these functional areas and similar to the internal audit program, a checklist of requirements must be effectively
demonstrated by each activity. The most effective lean programs create three or more increasing levels (bronze, silver, gold, platinum) of difficulty in each functional area to help drive continuous improvement. 

Incorporating teamwork and 5S allows an organization to formalize safety training, housekeeping, incident investigation, contract management, etc., as mandatory criteria. Incorporating safety into the lean program elevates safety management into the hands of plant leadership and not solely on the shoulders of the plant safety specialist.


Effective communication

There is no standardization tool more valuable than effective communication. A communication plan articulates expectations, reinforces policy and provides a vehicle to ensure expectations are met. It also sends a consistent and frequent message that is never misunderstood.  Suggested communication methods include:

  • Monthly conference calls with all facility safety leaders; using a reporting template provides consistency, allows reporting of critical metrics, acts as a vehicle to address safety issues of note and keeps the attendees focused on the pertinent information.
  • Weekly electronic communications serve the purpose of emphasizing policy changes, reinforcing initiative and articulating priority tasking of the group leader. Weekly communications also provide sufficient frequency to drive the standardization issues.
  • Individual site visits, independent of the annual audit.
  • An annual summit meeting provides a forum for the group leader to introduce new strategy and recognize top performers and for the team to collectively exchange information on best practices. Teamwork, synergy and camaraderie are invaluable to developing a strong organization.


Combined with a healthy dose of effective leadership, these three drivers — an internal auditing program, a lean program and effective communication — will propel any multisite organization to achieve its safety standardization goals.