For those who work in a vivarium it will come as no surprise that storage rooms could use a little less stimulation and a little more discipline.
When it comes to enrichment equipment, rat tunnels and dental balls can get tossed in the same storage bins as stainless steel rattles, wooden blocks and prefabricated chew toys. One species’ devices comingle with another species’ devices. Small items are buried under larger objects. It’s no surprise inventory loss can be high in some institutions.
Given the cost to laboratories and the strain on staff in keeping track of all this clutter, not to mention the importance to animal welfare, there’s ample motivation to establish some order of these supplies. Casey Coke-Murphy, the environmental enrichment coordinator at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Division of Animal Care, offers one way to accomplish that goal, which she described during her presentation at the 64th American Association for Laboratory Animal Science meeting in Baltimore Oct. 27-31.
For the past two years, Vanderbilt’s mixed-species facility has been applying LEAN Six Sigma (LSS) management strategies to reduce waste and increase operational efficiency in their environmental enrichment program, with measurable success. Coke-Murphy says the team saved around $1,300 in the first fiscal year.
The idea for using LSS came to Coke-Murphy from a colleague who had successfully used LSS at his last job, including using a pegboard to catalog and organize tools. She thought the idea might work for environmental enrichment (EE) equipment if they could find a designated space for all the devices. As luck would have it, a room became available in the mixed-species facility that could accommodate the EE devices for the more than 10 species housed in that facility. They were able to consolidate EE storage from five rooms into one near the cage wash. They installed a 72 by 48 inch clear plastic pegboard (see image below), a countertop with built-in shelving, and floor-to-ceiling metal shelves from Home Depot.
A leaner program
Here’s how Coke-Murphy’s team applied the ‘5S’ methodology from LSS.
- Sort. All the EE devices were sorted by species and tagged as “stay,” “go,” “broken” or “unknown.”
- Set in order. All the EE devices tagged “stay” were placed in labeled bins. All “go” or “unknown” items re-evaluated for a repurposed use or thrown away.
- Shine: Guidelines for cleaning and storage of EE were created along with a “broken” bin
- Standardize: Bins and the pegboard were labeled
- Sustain: An EE point person position was created to assist the lab in managing the space and EE devices
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) has been the leader in applying LEAN management tools to its seven animal facilities across three campuses. (They are looking into using Six Sigma as well). MGH explored LEAN a decade ago and became the first in the country to use it comprehensively. Donna Jarrell, director of the Center for Comparative Medicine at MGH, said applying LEAN to their enrichment area has empowered staff to triage behavior issues. They can manage the rotation and inventory of all enrichment devices, and provide feedback on what is and isn’t working.
The staff is more engaged in understanding animal behavior, rather than just “throwing a toy in a cage,” she says.
As for Coke-Murphy, using LSS has, quite literally, paid off for staff and animals alike. The extra money was used to buy CD players, nature sound machines and other higher-end devices.
Now that’s enrichment!