In this journey to better understand world-class safety, I feel there has to be some talk of metrics. Being perfectly honest, I have an extreme love-hate relationship with safety data. I am never in between. I either love what they are showing me or I hate the entire idea of tracking it at all. Hopefully, I can explain why my relationship with safety data is full of turmoil
First thing first, though. I am going to use the lean term “process indicator” as a synonym of safety metrics. Safety metrics are only an indication of how well your culture, systems, and processes are working to protect your team. As we explore how metrics are integrated into a world-class safety system, this is a key definition.
1) Reactive safety data is pretty much worthless.
Incident rates, lost time rates, days away and restricted rates, first aid rates all are measuring something that really should not be measured. Yes, we have to for OSHA. But even in the inception of the recordkeeping standard, this was not meant as a good/bad indicator. These numbers and measures were not meant to be how a company benchmarks itself. Any number, even zero, is not world-class (more on that later). The intention of recordkeeping was to help companies identify problem areas and find solutions. Each metrics that we measure reactively is a person who is changed for the worse because of their involvement at the workplace. As with previous entries, we are seeking to prevent harm. We are not seeking an arbitrary number based on others’ experiences.
2) We are not driving to zero
Reaching a number is a goal. A safety culture is not a destination. It is a journey of continuous improvement. Unfortunately, some companies reach zero, assume they are done, and then have a catastrophic event. They assumed they reached the goal, won the race, and wiped their hands clean of safety. This is not to mention how many companies play the numbers game to avoid or simply not report injuries. These numbers are practically fiction. So, having leadership that shouts and demands that they want zero injuries without investment, energy, and strategy are simply enjoying the sound of their own voice.
3) Culture is not an overnight journey
Here is where I love safety metrics. We have to collect the data anyway, how do we make it work for us rather than against us. My career has taken me around to various startups and turnarounds. Going into these situations, there are tons of opportunities for driving improvement. Using proper statistics, I have been able to show year-over-year improvement and correlate those improvements to the programs. The data helps to see the path. Data shows where the systems are working and what needs to be adjusted. It is a process indicator. If we are looking for hazards to correct and the numbers are dropping is that because we are better or because a system is broken. We had an increase in near-miss reports and a decline in safety work orders, why? The data is simply showing us where we should invest time to better understand where we can improve. We must not lose sight that improvement means we are lessening human harm. Not everyone is a data person and that is okay. There is probably someone in your organization that loves data. Give them a chat and see what correlations they can help you find. Always remember, though, correlation is not causation. You still will need to verify the truth in the data
4) Get appropriately lean
Yes, I am one of those that loves lean and six sigma. I am admittedly a novice and have much to learn. I still love it. Just like any tool, it has to be used in the right situation. There are those that have taken all the lean tools and made everyone use them all the time without understanding if that is the tool for the job. Andons everywhere. Gemba walks hourly. Fishbone analysis. On and on. The approach I have used that works best is the simple one. Review the data, Gemba (go to the place) where the data leads, observe the people doing the work, see if it matches the expected standard, adjust accordingly. Sometimes these walks are to solve a problem. Sometimes they are to see a best practice. Sometimes they are to verify if the data is correlating correctly. Each of these situations lead to adjustments and create improvement all with the goal of protecting our team.
TL;DR: If you data is not helping prevent harm to your team, it is worthless.