Once upon a time, measuring safety success was simple. We looked at our previous years’ accident rates and measured them against the current year’s. If the numbers went down, then our safety efforts were successful. Sometimes we also measured against similar specialty and same-size companies, and we were also successful if our rates fell into the upper deciles or quartiles.
Those “numbers” were key to many things, not the least being the company bonus program. Our bosses’—and to an extent our own—bonuses, were pegged to numbers showing that we were one of the best-in-class operators. But do those numbers really give us a true indicator? I argue that it gives us a false sense of achievement. Times have changed, and to be successful we must meet the needs of the new workforce and the expectations for the safety program’s success.
A different metric
Many safety leaders have moved on to measure leading indicators to determine success, rather than traditional lagging indicators. There are still those who live by the numbers, primarily for the reason that lower numbers equal success. I believe we can live in both camps. We just need to change the paradigm of what success means.
Paradigm shift is the important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. In this case, it means moving from being “reactive” to a more “proactive” approach to measuring safety.
Focusing on leading versus lagging indicators is not a new idea. Folks have been looking at leading indicators such as the “behavior-based safety” concept and trying to tie those indicators to accident prevention for years. How can you apply it to measuring the success of your safety program?
It’s All in the plan
Using established tools such as work site observations, focused safety meeting topics, training techniques, safety audits and employee perception surveys or focus groups can help you develop a strategic plan to prevent incidents rather than just react to them. In the last few years, some organizations have started to develop safety plans around serious incidents and fatalities (SIF) and seek to identify predictors of potential incidents.
For example, look at a particular job and analyze it from the perspective of ergonomics, possible engineering controls or work procedure adjustment based on a potential for SIF. To support that determination, use the lagging indicator of a trend analysis on a particular injury rate of a specific job. Doing that gives you the opportunity to incorporate what you know into what you can do to prevent a future incident.
You may say that that’s all well and good, but how does that measure my safety program’s achievements? Success is defined by many indicators, such as management commitment, supervisory leadership and active employee engagement, which results in creating program champions that promote good safety practices and support the company goal of zero incidents.
All too often, we look past our most valuable asset—the employee—when trying to figure out possible solutions to potential incidents. The answer may be as simple as asking them, “What do you think we can do to improve this work procedure that will maintain your safety and complete the job properly?”
You’d be surprised that something as small as asking for ideas on improvement will go far. It will set the tone internally that there is a serious commitment to improving and protecting the workplace and worker with their input.
Folks have written whole books on SIF. My intention here is to bring forth the idea that there are many ways to measure safety success, and just using the old way of looking and reacting to the numbers will not produce the outcomes we hope to achieve.