How Toyota's dojo boosts its worker safety mojo

April 18, 2016
Tony Miller talks about the value of the dojo to the 1,000 associates working to produce lift trucks at the TIEM Columbus facility.

There's no substitute for hands-on training when it comes to fostering a culture of safety at your plant. At Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing's North American headquarters in Columbus, IN, a safety dojo – the Japanese term for a specialized training center – gives workers practice in safe lifting, alarm response, lockout/tagout procedures, and more. Annual review of the dojo and regular refresher training promotes continuous safety improvement. In this excerpted interview, Tony Miller, vice president of manufacturing and engineering at TIEM, talks about the value of the dojo to the 1,000 associates working to produce lift trucks at the Columbus facility. (Read the full interview here.)

PS: Despite the unemployment rate, finding qualified workers to fill skill positions can be challenging. What sorts of strategies or partnerships are you using to overcome those hurdles?

TM: It’s a challenge finding production engineers with the skill level we’re looking for. Typically we use professional recruiters. Innovation comes in our products and in our manufacturing process. Innovation is not easily copied.

PS: You started hiring temporary associates in 2010, and now about a third of your associates are temporaries, as well. What are some of the obstacles created by having these temporary employees, especially in the area of safety?

TM: When we had a long-term seasoned workforce, we were blessed, and our safety record continued to improve year over year. We’re building on that same foundation and continuing to train. When you start hiring new people all of the time from the temporary workforce, you lose that knowledge base, and you’re at ground zero with 30% of your workforce, and they’re an important part of what we do. It’s a great learning opportunity where we’ve been able to add some onboarding training. We do some hands-on training in our safety dojo. We incorporate additional stretching exercises twice a week. We saw an increase in ergonomic injuries, and the majority of those injuries were in the temporary workforce.

PS: What is a dojo, and what impact is it designed to have?

TM: A dojo is a Japanese name for a training center. The safety dojo has 20 training stations that are very specific to Toyota. Some stations are required by law. They can listen to what a shelter alarm sounds like or what a fire alarm sounds like. There’s a station for ergonomics to show how much weight you’re allowed to pick up as a Toyota associate. One station explains what lockout/tagout is. Every year the dojo is reshaped. The emphasis is put on the weaknesses from the year before. In what areas did we have spikes in injuries? The safety department will analyze that every year and update their dojo training. The executives are actually the first group that will go through that dojo training and give some additional comments about things we think they can improve. As soon as the executives are done, every member of the workforce will have to go through their annual refresher training in a dojo. That’s a newly hired associate’s first stop. The second stop would be the line dojo. It has 10-15 stations, depending on the line. They would learn specifics and hazards of the line and learn about quality.

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