Key Safety Metrics

Jan 18, 2012 5:19:00 AM | Posted by Gene Niewoehner

You can tell a lot about a company, by taking a quick look at their annual report and website. In today’s economy, it’s the results that count — that’s easy to understand —but leading companies take a more holistic approach to measuring safety. If you can only find results or lagging measures, look elsewhere; the lagging measures are functionally useless when it comes to evaluating a company’s future success. Instead, look for companies that provide results along with proactive or leading measures. When you find one, you’ve likely found a company known for its product or service quality, customer service, productivity and financial success.

There are many ways to measure success, but I believe quality, service, productivity, financial, and environmental, health and safety are all linked through a company’s systems and culture. Break one link, and the company will experience setbacks.

Still, many organizations focus solely on the results: recordable injuries, frequency rates, severity rate, lost days, etc. These do have advantages: they motivate management, they’re accepted standards, they’re used by government agencies and have industry associations. But the disadvantages far outweigh the pros. The lagging measures are reactive, easily manipulated, may be biased by third parties and have low statistical significance, making them difficult to establish trends. When incidents do occur, managers often put it down to a “one-off / freak” event.

So how much longer do we have to listen to high-level managers speak of safety in terms of the number of injuries and injury cost? And why don’t organizations report leading measures?

Thousands of individuals have written articles on how to best measure a safety program’s success. Yet we still have to convince our leaders that the best safety metrics measure is one that ultimately develops personal ownership and accountability for the safety of all employees (and their families). Unless you know a friend or coworker who had an injury, do you really care when your company reports number of injuries? More than likely the answer is no, and you continue to go to work without ever being aware that every day your actions — or lack thereof — have put you at risk to make the list.

America needs visionaries — people who take the leap of faith and drive improvement from the bottom up, and not the top down. In a culture of leading metrics, employees are allowed and expected to take the necessary time and use of resources to correct and resolve issues that would normally lead to unsafe acts and unsafe conditions. They help create new, permanent, safer habits, minimizing both injuries and risk potential.

The underlying principles are pretty simple. By eliminating the fear of retaliation or retribution, we can provide positive motivation for all employees to increase their awareness throughout the workday. This in turn will increase recognition of potential risk and displace unsafe habits, so accidents and injuries are minimized and eventually eliminated.

As we develop these principles, it is important to distinguish between three types of metrics; those which improve our ability to recognize hazards, those, which focus on the behavior of employees, and those, which measure management activity. It is also important to reduce the administrative burden. In today’s fast paced world, any system must be extremely user friendly, simple, minimize the commitment of time and paperwork – efficient and effective or accept the risk of failure.

Examples of indicators:
1. Our ability to recognize risk — This may include near-miss reporting, JSA / JHA compliance and percent of activities or projects that are subject to detailed hazard analysis and risk assessment. Only when employees recognize the potential will they take further actions to mitigate those risks.
2. Employee behavior — These must include positive interactions and a focus on how strong, rather than how poor, safety performance is; involving your employees in improving safety; creating a safety culture and achieving "ownership." Examples may include audits, process reviews and observations with data collection and analysis focusing on PPE use, training effectiveness, proper tool use and following best practice procedures.
3. Management activities — There can be a significant drawback to the above-mentioned indicators. They’re focused solely on and aimed at changing the behavior of employees, not managers. Yet managers are ultimately responsible for health and safety, and are in the best position to lead by example and take action where necessary. Leading measures for this group should capture and report on activities that measure the safety-related activity of management such as percent of your workforce who has received specific safety training, participation in safety talks, and number of safety audits, reviews, observations and risk assessments.

The bottom line: In my experience, being proactive when measuring safety and using leading indicators will change your culture for the better. Lead by measuring what can be modified and your safety program will improve. What do you think?

Topics: Project Management , Asset Effectiveness , Safety , MAVERICK , Sustaining Services