SMRT staff get green light to drive work flow improvements

An area at Tuas Depot where train parts are serviced and maintained. SMRT introduced the Japanese concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, at the depot a month ago.
An area at Tuas Depot where train parts are serviced and maintained. SMRT introduced the Japanese concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, at the depot a month ago.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Just days after announcing better starting salaries for employees, rail operator SMRT said yesterday it also wants to give staff greater opportunity to make improvements in their own work.

The firm said that it introduced the Japanese concept of kaizen, or continuous improvement, at the Tuas depot and City Hall MRT station a month ago, and plans to scale up the use of the business model.

Kaizen, practised by companies such as Toyota, empowers staff to suggest and make small improvements in their own areas of work, thus resulting in larger gains in a firm's efficiency and productivity.

SMRT's chief corporate officer Gerard Koh told reporters: "This, in turn, will improve work quality and directly impacts the reliability of our trains... It makes staff feel accountable and helps in the ownership of the work they do."

At the Tuas depot in Tuas West, for example, a wash station used to clean train wheel components has been relocated, to minimise the need for staff to carry parts around, improving safety and efficiency.

Mr Aqeel Kaskhy, a team leader from the wheelset unit at Rolling Stock Workshop, said that, with the change, the unit's 13 staff have each shaved about 20 minutes off the time spent every day transporting wheel components to and from the wash station.

This amounted to 260 minutes, or more than four hours, saved every day.

Mr Koh said it took depot staff six days to remove and clean a train's components, and, if efficiently done, this could be reduced to between five and 51/2 days.

Following staff feedback, SMRT also plans to relocate the queue line for the passenger service centre at City Hall MRT station so it does not block the flow of commuters walking through fare gates.

This will be done in the next few months, Mr Koh said.

When asked if the introduction of Kaizen could help tackle the "deep-seated cultural issues" in a small proportion of SMRT's workforce - a matter raised by chief executive Desmond Kuek last year as one of the reasons for its reliability problems - Mr Koh said this was not the case.

"I won't say it's addressing a cultural problem. The staff do give feedback... they are quite proud of their work. They know the impact of what they do on reliability and commuters," he said.

Last October, the MRT tunnel between Bishan and Braddell stations flooded, shutting down a large segment of the North-South Line for over 14 hours, affecting 231,000 commuters. Investigations found lapses in the maintenance of flood prevention systems, with work records being falsified by staff.

Last Saturday, SMRT announced it was raising starting salaries, by more than 10 per cent in some cases, and will offer five-year re-employment contracts to attract and retain staff. The company also said it plans to add 2,500 more employees to its 11,000-strong workforce over the next three to five years.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'SMRT staff get green light to drive work flow improvements'. Print Edition | Subscribe