Two safety experts say the profession should be measuring what it does, but frequently the measures used depict the past rather than predict the future. And they offer a 10-step program to refocus the focus.
It’s been said that, deep in his or her heart, every safety professional would like to be out of a job.
Not literally, of course. What they really want is to run a safety program that’s so effective that they never have to deal with the consequences of workplace-related injuries or illnesses again.
Recently, addressing a conference sponsored by ASSE and a number of other safety and training groups, two Indiana University experts offered a 10-step program to do just that.
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Earl Blair and Barry Spurlock based their recommendation on the premise that leading indicators of workplace safety, such as analysis of the safety management system, are more effective than trailing measures, such as injury and illness or lost-workday reports, in building a safety program. That’s because leading indicators measure trends that point toward what will happen in the future, while trailing ones simply measure what’s happened in the past. As such, they’re not necessarily a snapshot of happenings to come.
As an example of what this meant, Spurlock spoke of a plant he visited with zero lost workdays for a year, a trailing indicator of seemingly sterling safety performance.
But, as Spurlock watched, he was astonished as a forklift scurried by with a worker perched precariously on the upraised forks. The lost-workday report was more an indicator of luck (so far!), explained Spurlock, and not of overall safety performance.
To measure an organization’s path toward such performance, Blair and Spurlock suggest these steps: (We’ll cover 5 today, and the remainder in tomorrowAdvisor.)
Prioritize what you’re measuring. Choose what you can measure. And if you don’t use leading indicators now, start assembling your program with trailing measurements, including injury and illness records. Track what happened and where in the facility it happened. See if you can determine trends that show things getting better or worse in the various areas. If they are–either way– find out why.
1. Prioritize what you’re measuring. Choose what you can measure. And if you don’t use leading indicators now, start assembling your program with trailing measurements, including injury and illness records. Track what happened and where in the facility it happened. See if you can determine trends that show things getting better or worse in the various areas. If they are–either way– find out why.
2. Measure according to level in the organization. Different levels look at safety in their own ways, so you need to assess their performance on safety differently. Senior management will likely focus on past records, and your goal is to see how attentively they do it. Workers, however, should be focused on measures of activities they carry out to keep the job safe, such as how many training classes they attend.
3. Measure the value of existing safety controls. And don’t just look from a compliance standpoint, but from one of effectiveness. Do current protections actually work to prevent harm? Are they accepted and used by the workforce, and if not, why not? Is it a matter of discomfort with the equipment or cultural blocks, such as a “macho” attitude that shortcuts safety? “Safety managers are wasting their time if they skimp on this step,” the experts advise.
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4. Develop a list of 3-5 simple measures for each activity. For example, when evaluating safety meetings, ask how often they start on time and what percentage of workers who are supposed to attend actually do. Create subjective measures of how attentive workers are during the meetings.
5. Identify the degree of employee engagement. This is done, the experts explain, with a mix of leading and trailing data. The leading data could include degree of participation in safety-related activities and exercises, while the trailing measure could include incident records, which reflect how well the safety program has “taken”.