How do you measure your safety performance?

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I’d bet that if you asked your employer’s directors how they measured the company’s performance they would mention things like profits, market share and return on investment. A common trait of these measurements would be that they are generally positive, reflecting achievements and not failures. Now I’d bet that if you asked the same people how they measured the company’s HSE performance the only measure that would be mentioned is incident statistics. While the general business performance of an organization is subject to a range of positive measures, for health and safety it too often comes down to measures of failures.

The fact of the matter is that a low injury rate is no guarantee that risks are being controlled and will not lead to injuries in the future. This is particularly true in organizations where there is a low probability of accidents but where major hazards are present. Here the injury stats can be a deceptive indicator of safety performance.

Companies need to recognize that there is no single reliable measure of health and safety performance. What is needed is a group of measures providing information on a range of health and safety activities.

As organizations recognize the importance of managing health and safety they become aware of the problems with using injury statistics alone as the only measure of health and safety performance. Some problems with injury statistics include;

  • Under-reporting – if a lot of emphasis is placed on injury stats, particularly when these stats are linked to reward systems, it can lead to incidents not being reported.
  • Whether an event results in an injury is often a matter of chance, so it will not necessarily reflect whether or not a hazard is under control. A company can have a low injury rate because of luck or fewer people exposed, rather than good health and safety management.
  • Injury rates often do not reflect the potential severity of an event, merely the consequence. For example, the fact that machine guarding is not in place on a piece of equipment could result in a laceration or an amputation.
  • A low injury rate can lead to complacency.
  • Injury statistics reflect outcomes not causes.

It is imperative for any organization to be more proactive when it comes to effectively measuring safety performance. This usually means searching for things which can be easily counted. Below is a list of items that I ensure is always incorporated (as a minimum) into the “performance picture” of any of the sites I am responsible for;

  • Number of Planed site walks conducted.
  • Number of inspections completed.
  • Number of formal audits conducted along with audit scores.
  • Non-Compliance trend analysis identifying reoccurring findings and trends.
  • Number of Toolbox Talks conducted.
  • Number of permits issued.

By no means am I saying that incident statistics shouldn’t be reported, in fact it should. As long as you realize that it only encompasses a small part of an effective performance measuring system. It is important to remember that there is no “one size fits all” measurement system when it comes to HSE performance. Each organization is unique and as a safety professional it is up to you to determine what you want to achieve with your performance measurement model.