Visual Noise

Visual noise is anything that may distort, transform, block or add to what we see.  This is one of the factors that contributes to industrial mistakes.  Visual noise can be anything from too much posted (useless) information, to too many alarms and blinking lights.

2015-07-29 17.07.04

5S gone awry, or information campaigns that fizzled out and were never cleaned up are the most common source of the excess posted information.  Take the photo of the sink, labeled “WATER”.  I’m pretty sure this was a joke, but you can seed from the damage around the sticker that it has been there for some time.  I observed the sign there over several years.  (Note: I’m pretty proud of catching an actual drip in the photo, showing actual water.)

Information campaigns, and 5s signage comes and goes in most companies.  I am all for both, but – those signs need to remain relevant or be removed.  I recommend that as part of the monthly safety audits, a signage audit needs to be conducted.  Outdated information needs to be removed, useless 5s signage needs to be removed.  Leave only what is relevant and current.  When looking at a visually clean environment, it is easy to see what is out of place.  Leaving old information, starts the clutter, and then it continues, until it is hard to tell what is useful in the work place, and what was just left there accidentally.  The purpose of 5s is a place for everything, and everything in is place. Not to pass an audit from some corporate … individual.

Next in the visual noise is the actual clutter.  Workplace clutter is often a safety hazard.  But beyond that, it is actually a time and money waster.  If items are not stored properly, they cannot be found when needed.  This wastes time looking for the item, and incurs costs when extra materials are purchased because the ones on hand cannot be located, or have been damaged due to improper storage.  The cost of clutter is well worth the time it takes to ensure that clutter does not happen or is dealt with promptly.  Clutter can start with poor maintenance practices.  I often see leftover screws, bolts, wire bits left after a repair.  This shows sloppy workmanship and a disregard for the colleagues who work in the area.  It doesn’t take long after one worker, in a hurry, leaves a mess behind, for everyone to start leaving messes.  It is noticeable the first time leftovers and trash are left, after that it becomes a snowball effect and within months, the workplace looks and feels dirty.  Lighting and requiring clean up as part of the work order are good methods to overcome this issue.  Periodic audits of completed jobs will help everyone understand their part in keeping the workplace organized, clean, and safe.

The last source of visual noise is engineered into the work place.  Machine alarms become visual noise when they mean nothing.  Anyone ever encountered high, and high-high alarms?   When flashing lights and audible alarms mean nothing, and are ignored.  Once you start ignoring some alarms, it is easier to ignore or miss meaningful alarms.  The workplace needs to be properly designed so that alarms and trips mean something.  A reset and go on is not acceptable.  I have seen instructions like “do not reset more than 3 times in one hour”.   Who is counting that?  Are 4 resets in 2 hours acceptable?  Make alarms meaningful and have an action plan associated with them.  Operations and equipment should run within the boundaries of acceptable.


When the operation or equipment parameters go above or below the control limits, it is time to act.  Setting alarms within the control limits that do not require action, adds to visual noise.  Setting alarms that are not meaningful to the operation, or the health of the employees or equipment is pure visual noise.  Make all alarms mean something and there will be fewer mistakes.  When there are fewer mistakes, there are fewer accidents.

Over reaction to alarms and postings is just as detrimental as under reaction.

Eliminating visual noise from the work place creates a safer, more productive workplace.  Visual noise can come from posted signs and materials – including an excessive usage of color, physical clutter, and poorly designed alarms.  Conduct a review of the workplace, poll the colleagues who work there every day, and see what they notice and what they do not notice.  Question the position of every item, and every alarm.  Regular audits of the work place will remove visual noise which will make the work environment more productive.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: