Measuring Safety Performance: Beating the Challenge

25 April 2017

Safety management

Measuring safety performance is easier said than done—especially for companies using contractors. That’s because measuring safety performance isn’t a question of just carrying out periodic inspections and reviews. Nor is it a question of using just workplace accidents as a yardstick for measuring safety management performance. It’s more complicated than that. With no easy solution for measuring effectiveness, many companies struggle to install a measurement system that goes beyond measuring injuries and illnesses, compensation costs, or lost time injury rate.

But failing to measure a safety system’s effectiveness is asking for trouble. It not only undermines your safety system but also hurts your ability to control risk. Poor measurement is a key reason why safety isn’t a priority at many companies. Tactically, measuring a system’s effectiveness provides critical information on how well a system operates, identifies areas for remedial action, generates feedback, and builds motivation. More importantly, it provides a solid basis for continuous improvement.

Strategically, measuring a system’s effectiveness creates a safer workplace. That might not seem like much to some managers, but it matters when you dig down deeper. In addition to improving workers’ safety, creating a safer workplace improves efficiency, productivity, and employee morale. More importantly, it cuts compensation costs. Businesses spend over $170 billion a year on costs linked to workplace incidents. These expenditures come directly from a company’s profits. Anything that cuts these costs boosts the bottom line. So, creating a safer workplace makes sense—especially if you use your fair share of contractors.

Measuring Safety Performance is Multidimensional

Safety management

Measuring safety performance requires a multidimensional effort. So, if you want to assess safety effectiveness at your company, you’ll have to take a holistic approach—one that incorporates the following:

  • Leading Indicators — They focus on future events used to drive and measure safety activities for preventing and controlling injuries. In other words, they measure a company’s culture and its management system’s integrity and performance. Leading indicators include things like safety training, employee perception surveys, safety audits, safety inspections, and behavior sampling.
  • Lagging Indicators — They focus on measuring progress toward compliance with safety rules and regulations. Put another way, they measure workplace incidents in the form of past accidents and injuries. They include things like the frequency and severity of injuries, lost workdays, and total compensation costs. Lagging indicators tell you how many people got hurt and how badly, but not how effective your system is.
  • Performance Targets (Goals) are based on good data, in-depth analysis, an understanding of risk improvement, sound baselines, and the causes and preventability of accidents. Often, they focus on a company’s safety management processes. In addition to including things like reductions in lost time and medically treated injuries, good performance targets can include the number of audits opened/closed and time, the percentage of PPE compliance, and employee participation rate.
  • Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) are objective and easy to gauge and collect, reliable and immediate indicators of performance levels, cost-effective to gather, and owned and understood by the organization.

KPIs include things like:

  • The number of injuries per year
  • Amount of training delivered compared to the original plan
  • Environmental indicators
  • Investigations closed within so many days
  • Attendance levels
  • Days lost per FTE
  • Number of specific illnesses

Building a safety system that incorporates these elements takes it out of the realm of being just a list of rules and regulations and boosts adoption.

Measuring, Evaluating, and Improving Performance

Managers have a variety of tools and methods to measure, evaluate, and improve safety performance. They can use safety audits and surveys, safety occurrence reports, and safety investigations to measure performance, to name a few. They also can use safety reviews, which are ideal when introducing new technologies, implementing new procedures, and structural changes in operations; and internal safety studies, which are well suited for assessing things like system deficiencies. Companies need to tailor these tools and methods of measuring effectiveness to meet their specific needs.

Companies also have a wide variety of tools they can use to improve safety performance. For example, prequalification of contractors in the hard hat industries is critical. So is safety training. But savvy companies are using technology to boost and measure safety performance, including wearable technology (smart helmets), tablets, smartphones, robotics, sensors, automation, and drones. Companies are also using Cloud computing or SaaS solutions to boost safety performance, such as onboarding software. These solutions provide contractors the specialized safety training they need before starting work.

Establishing goals for measuring effectiveness provides a blueprint for implementing a safety system. It also provides help in directing a company’s resources to achieve an outcome. When establishing safety goals, identify measures that indicate an effective program and that emphasize activities needed to reach these goals. Safety goals can include things like reduce recordable injuries by 10 percent over the next five years or provide 12 monthly safety training programs with 90 percent attendance over the next fiscal year.

Establishing a Safety Culture

Safety management

Adopting a consistent safety management process is imperative if a company wants to improve safety performance. Without a consistent ongoing effort, a company will fail to eliminate performance gaps or cut compensation costs. Also critical to improving safety management performance is establishing a safety culture and getting everyone on board. The first step in this process is to get ownership and senior management buy-in. Without it, a safety management culture will never take root.

Below are eight key steps to creating a safety culture and getting buy-in company-wide:

1. Find a compelling reason for creating a safety management culture. Then tell everyone about why you’re making changes. It encourages adoption.

2. Identify champions for the program. Make sure they’re visible and can articulate reasons for the changes. It also helps to build trust among the managers, supervisors, and employees.

3. Conduct self-assessment and benchmarking activities. You can use self-audit mechanisms, safety perceptions surveys, and even visits to other companies to do this. This effort tells you where you are.

4. Provide initial training for key people first, such as supervisors, health and safety team members, and key workers here. This effort provides a core group of resources to draw on and gets critical personnel on board early that can lead the change.

5. Establish a steering committee with authority to get things done. Composed of management, employees, union people, and safety staff, this committee can help facilitate, support, and direct the effort to establish a safety culture.

6. Align the organization. To do that, you need to create a shared safety vision along with key policies, goals, measures, operational and strategic plans. This process includes getting ownership to provide key resources, holding supervisors and managers accountable, and making sure safety management sets the example.

7. Develop a system of accountability. The system should cover all levels of the organization. Strong safety cultures have individuals that hold themselves accountable.

8. Define specific roles and responsibilities. Initially, you should develop them for key safety and health personnel. But you also need to get workers to view safety as their responsibility. And spell out how the organization will deal with competing pressures and priorities.

Additional things you can do to create a safety culture with buy-in is to provide multiple options for employees to voice their issues, educate employees on how critical it is to report incidents like first aid and near misses. Also, make sure you hold investigations in an objective and effective manner.

Focus on Completeness and Operation of System

Whatever approach you take to assessing safety performance, it must focus on a system’s completeness and the operation of its critical elements for it to do its job. To do that, you’ll need to collect evidence from documents, observations, and interviews to gauge the adequacy and implementation of the system’s key elements. In other words, you’ll need to create an auditing process that targets potential problems and that deals with them head on before harm happens, Plus, the process must help you assess a system’s strengths, weakness and performance gaps.

Measuring safety management performance is a challenge. That’s because no single unit of measurement does it. It’s too complicated for that. But measuring performance is imperative. Failing to do so puts your company at an enormous risk. It also undermines your safety program and hurts your bottom line. Measuring safety performance, on the other hand, provides a solid basis for continuous improvement. Doing that boosts not only efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness but also survivability and profitability—all good things for your company.

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Jenny Snook

Jenny Snook is content executive at GoContractor with the job of researching the latest health and safety trends in the heavy industry. Her past-experience includes the research of large museum collections such as the Louth County Museum, many from the industrial age.

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