How the 14 Toyota Way Principles Can Improve Health and Safety Performance

Toyota emblem

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Why the Toyota Way?

Much has been written about how the Toyota Way can provide solid gains in quality and process performance. In 1998 Toyota could build a vehicle in half the hours it took GM or Ford. In 2016, Toyota produced the largest number of vehicles in the world (OICA, 2017), and today Toyota has the distinction of being the most reliable auto manufacturer in the world (Consumer Reports, 2017). Honda, Chrysler, Porsche, GM, and just about every other major automaker have adapted some form of the Toyota Production System (Lancaster, 2017).

Despite this measured success, very little has been written about how the principles of the Toyota Way can be applied to safety management systems. This article aims to bridge that gap and provide suggestions to improve safety performance and culture in any environment. The two pillars, “Continuous Improvement” and “Respect for People” (Convis, 2004), will guide the exploration of the following fourteen principles.



The 14 Toyota Way principles applied to Workplace Health and Safety


1. Create a culture that places value on long-term goals, instead of short-term financial gains.

Nowhere is the concept of the Toyota Way more relevant to safety performance than this principle. Taking shortcuts such as purchasing inferior tools, neglecting employee training, or delaying a much-needed repair can save money in the short-term but will inevitably lead to long-term problems. Ensure  decisions are based on long-term goals. Include safety metrics on employee performance goal-setting and reviews. Budget appropriately to do the job right the first time. The short-term cost may seem high, but this approach will pay dividends in the long-term.


2. Streamline processes to avoid extra steps/material handling, bringing root causes to the surface.

Design a value-added production system that avoids repetition, delays, and unnecessary steps. Reduce extra steps to limit exposure to potential hazards, limiting the risk of injury or illness. Identify any barriers that would hinder streamlining to determine the root causes. Focus on creating an efficient flow in all processes, between departments, and throughout the organizational culture.




3. When possible, use “pull” systems to dictate demand; avoid warehousing and over production.

Aim to achieve a system where production is driven by customer demand. Strive towards establishing a lean organization. Reduce warehousing and overproduction to minimize the potential for incidents. Be responsive to shifts in customer demand to limit the possibility of overworking employees and overstressing managers and supervisors.


4. Strive towards providing a balanced workload across the organization.

On many construction projects, a common sight is five “white hats” standing around, watching one worker in the trench. To avoid this type of scenario, actively strive to improve workload balance through job or task rotation. This can reduce musculoskeletal injuries, incidents, absenteeism, and mental stress. Job or task rotation may initially seem cost-prohibitive as there could be some expense involved with training employees on multiple roles. However, the long-term result of investing in employees will more than offset any short-term cost.


5. Give workers the responsibility and authority to stop unsafe acts or conditions and hold them accountable. Get things right before proceeding.

Temporarily suspending work in order to address an unsafe act or condition can prevent unfortunate incidents from occurring. Train and coach employees to understand that there is nothing inherently wrong with stopping production. Encourage workers to exercise their right to refuse in a productive manner that results in a better work environment for all. Proceed with work only when all workplace parties have agreed on a reasonable solution.


6. Capture valuable knowledge and experience from workers by allowing them to create their own standardized tasks.

One key aspect of standardization is employee involvement. An authoritarian approach to standardizing is likely to have a negative effect on safety culture. Empower workers to contribute to the procedure writing process. The widget turner is the expert of his or her task, not senior management and not the safety department. Provide assistance with formatting; be aware that some employees may be able to write their own procedure, while others will require assistance.


caution tape7. Use simple visual aids to indicate hazardous conditions. Make housekeeping a priority. Create simple, visually appealing safety communications.

Signs, labels, and various colours of caution tape can all be used to indicate specific hazards or conditions. Effectively communicate the value of housekeeping, sorting, labeling, and standards. Missing tools, equipment, or materials may encourage employees to take short-cuts or use the wrong tool for a job. A proactive maintenance routine can help identify problems before they become incidents.


8. Make the technology work for the people, not the other way around. Thoroughly test new tools, equipment, and devices with employee involvement before making decisions.

Before introducing new processes or changing existing ones, engage the workers in a discussion about the process. Production employees are often the last to find out about a new piece of equipment being introduced into the workplace. Workers should be the ones requesting new technology, based on their needs and recommendations from safety professionals.


9. Grow leaders from within that embody the company culture. Leaders must fully understand their roles and responsibilities and become role models that exemplify the company’s values.

Corporate culture must be ingrained from the beginning. Train employees to perform their jobs safely and effectively. Coach leaders at all levels of the organization on how to value the workers as an integral part of the safety management system. Train supervisors to properly coach their employees. Success is based on the team.



10.  Reinforce company values through training and coaching. Strive towards a cohesive team where everyone feels a responsibility for each other. Be consistent with discipline.

Invest in people and facilitate great teams. Where possible, train every member of a team in such a way that they will be able to perform any task that the team is required to perform. This will help them understand the challenges their co-workers face on a regular basis. Ensure supervisors understand the demands of each task they manage. Create an objective discipline process and apply it consistently across all departments and levels of the organization.


11. Challenge partners and suppliers to grow with the company. Invite them to safety meetings and discussions to help them understand the difficulties faced by workers.

Engage external stakeholders through committee meetings, job planning, investigations, and training. Collaborate with partners and suppliers by sharing best practices, safety news, and lessons learned.  Provide feedback on the products and services received from these parties and allow them the opportunity to suggest creative solutions that will enhance your cooperation.


12. Encourage senior management to see for themselves. Have them spend time on the shop floor, in the kitchen, or out on a service call to accurately understand the processes.

Without experiencing a situation firsthand, leaders can have trouble understanding all the influencing factors. Senior management should make an effort to observe the processes for themselves in order to make better decisions and lead more effectively. Think and act based on verifiable data. Consider problems in the context of all possible control methods (engineering, substitution, administration, and personal protective equipment). Communicate clearly with stakeholders and enlist the wisdom and experience of others in gathering data.


13. Conduct thorough root cause analysis of all issues, consider many solutions, work slowly towards consensus, and implement corrective actions quickly.

Engage in an in-depth analysis of all issues, and then determine the underlying causes. Use data gathered through multiple sources, and consider a wide range of solutions. Build a consensus by involving the workforce in deciding which solutions to attempt and how to approach implementation. This process should include the joint health and safety committee, worker representatives, safety professionals, and suppliers/partners.


14. Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.


Continuous improvement is at the heart of the Internal Responsibility System in which we work. Measure success with new and existing procedures, and don’t be afraid to make changes. Every team member has a responsibility to continuously improve. Workers and supervisors must request, attend, and participate in training, committees, inspections and investigations. Trainers must gather constructive feedback from students and improve the delivery and content of courses. Managers must evaluate the effectiveness of the entire system and prioritize improvements. Periodic system audits can be helpful in ensuring continuous improvement of the entire safety management system.



Act for Success


The effectiveness of these fourteen principles on quality and production has been well documented. Take some time to honestly consider how your safety management system performs on each of these principles. Reflect on your company values. Is your safety system designed with these values in mind?


Change must start at the top. Focus on developing trust, engaging employees, and investing in the future. The pot-of-gold at the end of the rainbow is a more collaborative corporate culture; a lean, value-added safety system; and hopefully a reduction in workplace injuries, illnesses, and loss!



About the Author

Aaron Poutanen CRSP is a safety professional with over 13 years of experience in occupational health, safety, and environmental management, training, and auditing in the heavy civil and airports construction industry.

He has attended Safety Culture Implementation training in Philadelphia, PA and has lead grassroots safety culture teams through workshops across Canada.

He currently owns and operates Sisu Safety Consulting Ltd., based in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada. He can be reached at





Consumer Reports. (2017, October 19). Car Brands Reliability: How They Stack Up. Retrieved from

Convis, G. (2004). Foreword. In J. K. Liker, The Toyota Way (p. xi). Madison, WI: McGraw-Hill.

Lancaster, J. (2017, January). How ‘The Toyota Way’ Has Revolutionized The World. Retrieved from

OICA. (2017, October 10). World Motor Vehicle Production: World Ranking of Manufacturers. Retrieved from


  1. I like it. It’s succinct informative and well laid out. People won’t feel overburdened or that checking out this information will be too time consuming. All in all, well thought out.

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