Komatsu plant shares safety culture with peer manufacturers

Komatsu Newberry

Komatsu Newberry

OpExChange members attended a plant visit to Komatsu in Newberry, South Carolina last week. Colleagues from facilities across South Carolina joined for an interactive session and plant tour.

Komatsu America is a leading manufacturer of heavy-duty equipment with markets in construction, mining, forestry, and forklifts for material handling. If you travel down I-85 and the Gateway project in Greenville, you’ve undoubtedly seen their equipment in action. Komatsu America was recognized in 2018 by EHS Today as one of the safest companies in America.

Scott Greene, the Director of Operations in Newberry, hosted the OpExChange event today to share some of their best safety practices as well as some substantial energy improvements made to improve their carbon footprint. We also received a full, interactive plant tour and a good peek into their management culture and employee engagement.

Dan Russell, the site plant manager, opened the meeting with a presentation on Komatsu America and the Newberry Manufacturing Operations (NMO). A video of “We are Komatsu America” is available on YouTube:

The 240,00 square foot facility broke ground approximately 20 years ago. Production volumes jumped nearly 400% in 2011 as the product mix changed to mid-size wheel loaders and 2-ton and 3.2-ton industrial forklifts. Production volumes have increased at an average rate of about 5% per years since 2011. They currently employ over 200 employees at this plant.

The Komatsu team made presentations on their Safety Culture with deeper dives into their near miss program, risk assessment activities, and employee committees. They also shared how they have achieved significant reduction on their energy consumption and their carbon footprint.

Their six-tiered safety program at NMO consists of:
1. Near Miss Culture – every single near miss is reported and investigated, using an A3 format. Employees are never disciplined if they report a safety issue, but they are expected to report everything.
2. Safety Dojo – Approximately 1,000 square feet of the facility is dedicated to the Safety Dojo. This training room consists of interactive displays and training stations. Each team regularly holds meetings and training sessions in the dojo.
3. Risk Assessment/Safety Patrol – Every operation has a risk assessment performed. The team demonstrated their unique methodology of applying a numerical risk number to every operation. Similar to the risk priority number of an FMEA, this technique uses the factors of injury severity, possibility of occurrence, and frequency to near danger. Safety “patrols” are conducted regularly by all levels of the organizations. This is part of their 6S program.
4. Point & Call – Whenever a pedestrian or forklift comes to an intersection, they not only stop and look but they also point in each intersecting direction and call out as well. We saw this practice in action during the plant tour. Each intersection is marked with visuals to remind individuals of this commitment.
5. Training – Daily toolbox meetings and monthly training sessions are utilized to train on safety.
6. Safety Circle Activity – Komatsu America and Komatsu Limited (Japan) host an annual contest for safety improvements. Winning team members present their A3 format presentations in both Chicago and Japan.

Komatsu’s safety record improved significantly over the past 10 years. Lost time accidents prior to 2010 averaged 1.8 per year. In the last five years, there have been zero lost time accidents and recordables have plummeted by 67%.

During a recent safety benchmarking session with BMW, one of the BMW colleagues asked Scott what was the secret to their safety success? Scott replied, “We get off our butt, go out on the production floor, watch what’s going on, and we react to what we see.” This sentiment holds true to the lean principle of “Go to Gemba!” An engaged management team is an essential component to an engaged and safety-conscience workforce.

All Komatsu sites were challenged by Komatsu Limited to reduce their CO2 emissions by 24%. The team shared how they achieved a 61% reduction in their power bill and a 55% reduction in their carbon footprint. They accomplished this by using a data logger to perform a Pareto distribution of energy consumption and applying countermeasures.

The Komatsu NMO team is a socially responsible group. They are heavily involved in the community and encourage team members to participate. They provide meaningful kitting and light assembly work daily to the PRIDE group from Newberry County Disabilities and Special Needs Board (

After the plant tour, the group then went through a +/- exercise to share/discuss observations. Although the Komatsu tour was excellent, the team was able to provide some suggestions for continuous improvement. (This a benefit hosting sites receive from the OpExChange - a group of knowledgeable experts to offer suggestions.)

At the conclusion of the meeting, Scott encouraged the attendees to reach out to him if they would like any further information or wanted to arrange some benchmarking visits. He also provided the team with the presentation from today and some of the tools presented. This is truly in the spirit of the peer-to-peer collaboration of the OpExChange!

The OpExChange is a peer-to-peer network of companies in South Carolina dedicated to learning and growing together. Member companies host events at their facilities and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to member companies that provide access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If you are interested in joining, contact Mike Demos or visit for more information.

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