World Class Safety Metrics

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.

Preventing and Overcoming Burnout

Have you ever been in a work position where only absolute perfection was accepted? Yeah, I have been too in both a safety role and in other positions. 


This is both the requirement for success, the punishment for failure, and the fast track to burnout.  As people, we can only handle this type of strain/stress for so long. In short bursts where it is needed, we can perform at that high level. When it becomes the all time standard with no deviation, we lose the motivation or we lose ourselves. It was once described to me as “if everything is that important, then nothing is important.”


This is a tough place to be for anyone. You need a job, but your job is also causing undue amounts of personal strain.In cases such as these, there are a few things that you can do. 


  1. Start the job hunt. The market is rich for safety professionals now. We are in a fortunate position that our work is needed, and there is work available. 
  2. Baseline the expectations. I remember a time where there was a weekly performance call. It never mattered how well you performed, you were going to be told how bad of an employee you really were. Someone new joined the meeting one day and asked me what the expectations of the call was. My answer . .  pain! I had baselined the entire process to know that the point was to be told all the things wrong. Once I understood the true intent of the call, I could create an internal baseline to overcome the pressure
  3. Find a peer group. Talking to co-workers who you trust about the situation. Sometimes, it helps to commiserate with people who are in the same situation as yourself.
  4. Don’t give up. Our work affects so much more than ourselves. The situation may be bad. Keep going and know you are helping to protect our teams. Keep good records and take lots of notes. Focus on what is most important, protecting our people, environment, and communities.


This applies to many in the workplace, but I like to think as safety as a unique position. We need the ability to be problem solvers and not have fear of failure. The desire for improvement and flexibility to adapt to the culture and behaviors of the workplace is what makes our roles so vital to the overall health of an organization. If the constant expectation is perfection with a dose of punishment, the limitation placed on the position becomes unmanageable and unproductive.


Overall, know that your work is important and that change is the only constant in business.

One Simple Improvement for Safety Training

Mind blowing idea: Not all training is created equal


You probably already knew that, though.


Imagine a simple idea that would lead to better employee engagement, improved training, and safer behaviors. Sadly, it is a commonly overlooked aspect of health and safety training. The answer is to let people know they are receiving training that is for their safety.


I am a huge fan of the research conducted by Dr. Kristina M. Zierold. Some of the works focus on the young workforce as they enter into the labor market for the first time. They receive training, usually on-the-job-training. They are told these are the ways things should be done. But there is no distinguishing the safety aspects of the training from just the way to do the job. In some cases, there is no safety training at all. That, though, is for another time.


So, imagine entering the workplace for the first time. You are given training that is based on the work that you are doing. This is not a bad thing. It helps in building real world cognitive learning of how to perform the job. But, there is not distinguishing what parts of the job are there to protect you, what parts of the job are to help in quality to the customer, or what parts of the training impact other functions. This is where things get sticky.


Safety is not an inherent trait. Safety is something that is learned and observed. With later generations not as much working manual labor at home, being part of shop classes, working on farms, etc. there is a loss of that “common sense” approach to knowing safe from unsafe. As they enter the workplace there then has to be a focus on teaching safety.


For someone new to the workplace, safety systems and protections can appear to slow work down or even seem cumbersome if one does not understand why they are doing it. For a new employee if they do not know it is a safety system, then it is something that could be ignored. They may hear the talk that safety is the most important thing they do every day, and that may very well be true. The trouble is that if they do not know that something is in place for their personal health and safety, then how do they know that they need to always use it.


That is why it is absolutely critical that when training is conducted, the safety features are pointed out. The trainer has a very important role is setting the new employee up for success not only productively but in creating that first feeling of the safety climate. In some places, the standard work can be posted right in front of the workstation. The safety items can be highlighted in green or have a green cross beside those important protective steps. They still need to be trained, educated, and understand why it is a safety feature.


How do we make our safety training more effective? Make sure that as we conduct the training, we communicate effectively the procedures, processes, equipment, and PPE that is place to help protect our employees. Safety training has to exclusively dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our team.

When Your Safety System is not a System

There are times where a company will seek to implement a safety program. They will create all the necessary programs, procedures, meetings, audits, employee committees, and many other processes that they feel have made other companies successful in safety. They will even brand all the programs as their safety management system or process. The trouble, though, is creating the linkages that actually makes the safety system functional. Just having all the parts of a system, does not make it work.


A functional and successful safety program actually needs to be a system of components that work with each other and communicate effectively across one another. Imagine a human body with no nervous system. It has everything it needs to be alive and working, but there is nothing that makes everything work together. There is no harmony. There is no communication.


The model provided is not extensive map of everything that makes up a safety system but is a representation of how everything needs to interact in a way that is functional. Each piece is equal to one another and has to complete a communication loop with all the other functional systems. It is the safety management system itself that acts as the bond between the items.


The idea of a safety management system is quite ethereal in talk, but exceptionally valuable and tangible in practice. I have personally seen organizations that have all the components of a safety management process but the system was not there. Auditors would come in, see all the pieces, and yet feel there was something just out of their grasp that was not right. Here is my shameless plug: This is where an experienced safety professional is invaluable to an organization. They are the ones that personify the system in action. They create those communication bridges and help make the system functional.


So what are some of the ways that safety management systems fail to function? I am glad you asked:

  • Lost in translation: The management system is the great interpreter of the all the parts. The Emergency Response Plan has to be able to talk to the Management Review in a language that they both understand. I remember early when the ADAAA was enacted. The workers compensation laws were affected. The idea was that if there was a job that a restricted employee could perform, the organization would make an “offer” for the temporary position. This created quite the confusion with the HR team on their version of job offer. There had to be someone to help each understand the other. With that idea in mind, does your safety management system help to allow each part be understood by the other?
  • They just don’t talk anymore: Each part has to communicate with the other. Does the change management program ever talk to your KPIs? If so, how? The best way is to map it out. Take each part of your management system and make a grid across the top and bottom. In each intersection there should be some methods or process that facilitates communication between each item. This can be a time consuming project, but it is exceptionally revealing in the functionality of the system.
  • There is no feedback: Communication is a two-way street. One part of the whole cannot simply dictate to the other. They have to be giving feedback to one another and improving from that communication.


A safety management system is vitally important to the overall health of the safety programs. Unfortunately, there are times where that system can cease to function effectively. When a situation arises where it seems that everything is in place but something does not feel right; take a moment to assure that your system is communicating.

The Evolution of Safety Auditing

There are many ways that safety programs are audited and evaluated. There are some that are internal to the organization or site and there are others that are used external. Some companies use the idea of intra-site auditing where safety people from other sites perform a documented audit on another site. Year-over-year there are rotations among all the sites. The other choice is the organization chooses to hire an external auditor on a contract to perform these evaluations. There are also opportunities to leverage the organization’s loss prevention or insurance company to assist with performing or coordinating audits.

As a safety professional, it is easy to enter a site an find multiple unsafe behaviors or conditions. From a strictly technical standpoint, there are always opportunities for improvement. The reason an audit should be conducted is to get an idea of where the total compliance attitude sits on the organizational scale. Getting lost in the trees and forgetting that the forrest exists does not create benefit.

Regardless of how an audit is performed, there are some basic items about an audit that gives indications about the performance of the audit team, the site behavior, and the organizational culture. I have created a scaled list of how an audit should give insight to the organizational compliance.

Poor performance = few findings. High complexity

When a site is still developing the audit should be focused on big ticket items like: creating a lockout program, training employees on hazard communication, performing personal protective equipment surveys, and creating written programs. Inundating the site with lists and lists of detailed items is not helpful in this phase. They should be focused on simply developing programs. It is the idea that something is better than nothing. The natural cycle of continuous improvement will help the details become addressed.

Medium Performance = high findings, low complexity

When a site has become the typical performing organization, the transition begins to see more punch list style items. Depending on the overall performance of the site, this will drive the number of those items. The major items of program creation are gone. In their place is a list of items that need to be completed to enhance compliance such as labeling specific bottles, updating placards, and

Good performance = Few findings, low complexity

One of the best auditors I know has three categories of findings that he creates as part of his process:

Nonconformities are findings where the program is not implemented or not followed

Deficiencies are where the program is in place but there are elements that are not up to the standard

Opportunities for Improvement are where the auditor finds ways that the program can be improved and is fully in compliance.

A good performing plant will be mostly focused on the opportunities for improvement. The complexity will be low, there will be minimal findings, and the goal is to keep the momentum rolling. The site has many good aspects of the program, but even a good program can go bad if it does not seek continuous improvement.

Overall, the process of auditing is value added when it is properly scoped, controlled, and helps create improvement in the process. The sake of auditing for auditing sake is overall a losing prospect. The audit program should have a governing policy and process that should be followed. There should be a defined outcome and mission statement for the audit. It is through planning and a focus on improvement that the audit program brings true value to a safety organization.

Safety: Behavior or Motivation

I was recently at my final residency. Part of this process was to complete my dissertation research plan. The discussion around my topic about safety was talking about the theory behind the process of safety psychology.

On a complete side note, I did learn that with a qualitative research plan the theory is really something that gets built into the process as the research is conducted and not as a basis like quantitative research.

Back on topic: One of the discussions in my group was if I was studying behavior or if I was studying motivation. This whole discussion turned my thoughts upside down. Since I first began in safety over twelve years ago, I have been told that changing people’s behaviors was the ultimate goal of the safety professional. What if for all this time, I really should have been seeking to create motivation not change behavior. Mind blown!

With this new way of looking at how safety should be integrated into a organizational culture, it begins with the most simple thought: why do people need motivation to be safe? The over simplified answer is that going home whole should be enough motivation for anyone. Yet national statistics show that there are still 4,500 people a year that never go home to their families at the end of the work day. There are still too many people needing medical attention just by going to work. The real answer is much more complicated and infinitely more varied.

When evaluating motivation for safety, I personally subscribe to the Mazlow’s Hierarchy model. I feel this explanation fits the Occam’s Razor approach of being the most simplified and easiest to understand. The hierarchy shows that safety is the second key motivator of people. The first motivation is physiological: food, shelter, warmth, etc. In modern society, this need is met by having a job and affording a place to live and food to eat. So, the motivation for someone to have a job to meet their physiological need is greater than their motivation for safety. In my experience, this holds to be generally true.

Looking deeper at the motivation of the workplace, the comparison of the major metrics of business is safety, quality, delivery, and cost. Employee’s get very different messages when it comes to these and how they are motivated among them.
For example:

The site is able to have zero quality defects for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all production targets for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to meet all cost metrcs for a day = A reason to celebrate and congratulate

The site is able to have zero safety incidents for a day = An expectation of the job
Another Example:

An employee misses their quality target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their production target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their cost target = They are disciplined which attacks the physiological need.

An employee misses their safety target = Probably nothing happens. They have found a work around to potentially help compensate for quality, production, or cost. They are seeking the most primal motivation of the physiological need.

Additionally with safety, the unsafe action statistically will not lead to an immediate injury. Someone could perform an unsafe act multiple times that would not lead to a direct injury. The more the act is performed, the more the individual becomes accepting of the risk. Ultimately though, risk will create a hazard and potentially an injury.

All that said to simply summarize that this whole time I have been wanting to change behaviors when really I need to be seeking to create motivation. As a safety professional or as a supervisor or as a manager, what can we do to create the motivation for our team to go home injury free? There is no simple answer. There is no silver bullet approach. Even though it is not all about behavior, there are cultural components and norm setting that has to occur to create that motivation for the team.

So here is a closing thought exercise: Look at the way your team is motivated and the systems that are in place to motivate, what behaviors and culture is it creating?

We are asking the questions, but do we care about the answers?

As part of many safety audits, there are times where employees and supervisors are brought together to answer questions about safety programs, experiences, and feelings. The process is to ask open ended questions to draw out the employees to talk about what they are witnessing and experiencing in the workplace. The goal of these audit protocols should be to help the sites leadership see from the outside what the culture and people on the inside are creating. 

This process is perceived as an outside group taking a true interest in the goals and feelings of the people at the site. So the real question from these audit processes is: If we are asking the right questions and getting the true answers; what are we doing with the data?

What happens if the findings are that the culture is broken and workforce is burned out? Is there blame assigned to the site or even worse to the HSE Manager? If the site is showing some real development with people and culture is the site rewarded and recognized? If there are real issues that come up that require resources or capital outside the sites ability, is the audit team helping support the work to get those resources allocated to the site?

Too many times (not only in audits) people are asked the questions, the data is collected, there is a presentation of the information, there are some short term exchanges on change and process, but there is not sustainable, culture focused, and appropriate solutions provided.  

What this is really about is if we are really ready to ask the questions. If the organization is ready to make the plunge and ask the culture questions, there has to be a method to address and create real solutions. As safety professionals, creating culture not only in the workforce but in the leadership and management is one of the greatest challenges. The answers are more important than the questions when it comes to building trust among the workforce. I once heard trust defined as empathy combined with action. The questions create a sense of empathy but the real challenge is turning that into action. And one could say that real empathy creates action. 

Creating a sense of trust in the workforce is one of the key components of Maslow’s hierarchy. Without trust, there is no basis for people to give the best. Without trust, there is no giving more than the minimal. Without trust, there is dysfunction to a higher degree. When we ask the questions and we act toward a solution, trust is created. We create a culture in which we can find solutions. We can create a culture where the questions are no longer as important as the issue are apparent as part of the dynamic continual improvement process. 

So when the audit comes to town, the questions are asked, and the answers are given; there must be a process to create solutions to the cultural needs. If the solutions are limited to a site or group and not evaluated on a inter-organizational level, there is a significant loss of sustainability and effectiveness.  

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 6

What happens when a person with a high tolerance for risk joins an organization that creates a culture of profit before safety?
Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Negative + Negative = Danger
A high tolerance for risk is not a bad personal trait. It is part of who that person is. The problem can occur with they are placed into an organization that has no priority for behavioral safety. Suddenly, the process to make the supervisor happy or to get accolades from the company is to get the job done faster, cheaper, and with fewer resources. This creates danger in its highest form. Imagine a company that chooses to save money through not performing training, chooses to no provide the tools that are needed to do the job safe,and chooses to push employees for more. In some cases that creates burnout and a complete lack of employee satisfaction. 

For those who lack the experience to know the expectations that should be in place for occupational safety this is a dangerous process and creates excessive and unnecessary risk. Again, defining safety nature as negative is not saying someone chooses to get hurt. It is simply a state of being, unknowing, or acceptance/tolerance of higher levels of risk. Once of the great dangers that of new workers. They have not been trained on the basic principles of occupational safety and so they are reliant on the company to provide that information. In the case of a company that has a negative safety culture, this set the stage for disastrous results.

Kristina Zierold of the University of Louisville has performed some really nice research on teenagers entering the workplace and the hazards associated with their work. In brief her work showed that teenagers when entering the workforce thought that any on-the-job training was the same as safety training. Much of the training was either observation of the job they were to perform or videos. This left teenagers in a risky situation without the knowledge that was needed to perform the work as safely as they could. This shows the risk that comes from not having a good safety nature and entering an organization that has a negative nature. 

It is necessary to provide the proper training to those as they enter the workforce and even as early as school. It is necessary to create a culture of safety as early as possible. Creating a natural safety personality is not really that natural. It comes through learning and experience. 

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 5

When evaluating what is considered a negative behavior (nature), it suits to first define that aspect of safety behavior first. This is not to imply that people got to work and choose to get hurt. This is far from the truth. There are those, naturally, who have a much larger acceptance of risk. They do not see the inherent danger that is associated with tasks in the workplace. When using the term negative nature, it not to create a connotation of a terrible employee who is seeking unsafe work or has a desire to get hurt. The truth is that this person may not have had the experience to lead to proactive safety measure and has a higher tolerance for the acceptance of personal risk. 

Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Negative + Positive = Emerging Safety
As an example, a positive safety nature would be akin to always following the speed limit while a negative nature would be to always drive 20+ over the speed limit. There risk is perceived as different with various levels of acceptability.

In the case of a negative safety nature (behavior) combined with a positive safety nurture (organizational culture) it is the “why” that matters most.

This is someone who has not seen the purpose of the safety programs in past is looking for the aspects of why these new rules or processes are going to add value to them. The use of case studies, real life examples, and the basis for how the risk is real creates value to those who have not had that exposure previously. 

This whole process creates an opportunity for the individual to having an emerging safety experience. They were unaware of the risk and that the risk can be further minimized to make sure they safe. The why is what matters most. They need to know that the risk is not worth it. They should understand that the risk is real, and the cultural expectation is that the risk is avoided through the use of the programs and procedures that are in place. 

The goal is that there is an awakening of individual safety accountability and a desire to take that new knowledge home with them. It is through the application of the newly learned safe processes that the individual can take that information home to use it in a way to create intrinsic value in their personal life. Safety is one of the few key processes in the work place that also creates a great value at home.

There are some practical application of quality and production processes at home, but safety is the one that can make a biggest impact for the employee at home. The ability to prevent fires, use a ladder properly, prevent electrocution, avoid falls, know about chemicals, etc. etc. etc. creates real value at home not only for the individual. These are skills that the employee can teach their friends and family. This is where safety creates true and last value through an emerging safety process.   

Nature and Nurture in Safety: Part 4

“Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has no remedy for the worst of them all – the apathy of human beings” – Helen Keller
Nature + Nurture = Outcome

Positive + Non-Existent = Apathetic Safety
Continuing on the theme of nature versus nurture, what happens when someone has a positive safety behavior and enters an organization that is neither positive or negative? The company has no safety culture at all. There is lasissez-faire attitude toward the safety culture of the site. 

Nature versus nurture is a complex process of what someone is born with and what they are exposed to. There is significant debate as to the amount each contributes to the whole of a person. When this process is look at from a person and organizational stand point, there are opportunities to better understand how these processes interplay for safety. When various internal behaviors (nurture) are encountered with various organizational cultures (nurture), there are varieties of ways the sum of the parts create an outcome.

When there is a positive nature and a non-existent nurture, it creates a neutral safety organization. In other words and individual has the desire to work safe and the organizational culture does not care either way. So what would this non-existent culture look like:

– There is basic regulatory training. It is conducted in the most efficient manner

– There are not shift discussions on safety

– Safety is only important when there is an incident, usually an injury

– There is no proactive process to measure safety

– The key measurement is LTIR and TCIR. 

The company does care about safety, but from a high level it is based on keeping insurance rates low and preventing regulatory interference. What is means is that there is risk for the employees and there is no external motivation to create systems to make it better. Safety is up to the individual.

Each day the personal will make a choice. They are not discouraged from making the right choice such as setting up a lockout-tagout or confined space entry process. There is also no discouragement from not performing them either. This creates a significant false sense of security. 

As an individual they are making internal choices based on their own process for evaluating risk. Some are much more willing to take risk than others. This can create an illusion that everything is fine with the safety programs and processes. From a legal standpoint, they are able to show training and written programs. A walk of the process may show some opportunity, but not blatant mishandling of safety processes. 

What this has created is apathy. There is not desire to get better. There is no influence to make it worse. In a negative culture, it can create a kind of backlash where people are working to get more attention on their issues. They are focused on the items that make the environment unsafe. They may be focused on trying to create some change. The neutrality of the safety program is one that is creating the idea that things are okay, so why worry to much about making improvement.

Apathy in safety is a scary idea. When a company believes that it is “good enough” when it comes to safety and it stops focusing on continuous improvement, there is a huge opportunity for risk. The Chemical Safety Board has many examples of good companies that felt they had gotten their safety program to where it should be and stopped pushing to make it better. The apathy created the opportunity for major disasters. 

To combat apathy as part of a safety culture, there has to be a focus on continuous improvement. There needs to be a feedback loop so that the program can be evaluated and those that are served by that program have the opportunity to give input to the improvement cycle. There needs to be proactive metrics that are not only collected but are part of a system that helps to drive positive cultural engagement and change. When it comes to safety culture, apathy is dangerous.