The 5 Pitfalls of Safety Metrics

5. They are Reactive
OSHA rates were never meant for the process of being competitive metrics. Their use was to create comparisons for better understanding of injuries and focused programs. If the only item that projects bonuses or success for a company is injury rates, then the organization is missing the point entirely. Injuries should be qualitatively studied, and they systemically prevented. The data they provide is nothing more than a method of knowing where problem solving needs to occur. Once an injury has occurred, there are so many systems that have failed in the organization to create that deficiency. Using that metric as a driving force is akin to being tracking a quality metric of customer issues that resulted in catastrophic failure.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Quantity of safety work orders, time to close safety work orders, capital dollars spent on safety projects, hazards mitigated, safety audit findings closed, compliance calendar items closed on-time, employee interviews, safety committee projects.

4. They are not Meaningful
Maybe it is great that an organization has five safety observations per employee per day. What is happening to that data? Is the data real? Sadly, I have heard of too many times where these audits are being an exercise in the creation of paper. The employees are creating sheets of paper with check marks on them to simply stay off the “bad list” of people who are not performing their audits. Here is a quick litmus test of if the metrics are meaningful. If the safety audits stats are posted in a public area are employees really interested in the results or do they walk past and roll their eyes. Employees know the truth of those metrics. I have heard too many times “We has rather have one good audit that makes us better than 100 that are pencil whipped.” Yet, that same organization continued to grade employees on quantity. If safety is important to the organization, then why to we allow this process to be driven by sheer quantity when quantity is at the expense of quality.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If you were to present the metrics to the site safety committee, would they find the data actionable and meaningful? Even better, ask employees what data they want to see. It can be insightful to see the items that employees find interesting or important to the their daily work. Most are curious about safety because it directly affects them. Don’t be afraid to get that input.

3. They are not Timely
Here is the scenario: A chemical company has a major release. The regional news is carrying days of coverage, the Chemical Safety Board, OSHA, EPA, and other agencies perform investigations. Everyone knows that a the site in their company / division / region / etc has had this significant event. The company proceeds to publish nothing internally to help other sites learn from the event. Over a year passes and the company releases a lessons learned and policy change based on that event. Those corrective actions are important but by this time they are meaningless to those working in the company. It has been too long. The employees are no longer as passionate about that event. It also sends the message that safety is not important. If production numbers or customer complaints are negative, the company adjusts immediately. Something that gains media attention takes over a year to fix. The importance and prioritization is not there. These corrective actions and the closure thereof has lost the meaning to the people which is who those actions should be protecting.

Items to Consider for Improvement: Any metrics that are being tracked or published should have be timely enough have impact on the employees. Even is there is a smaller event that only affects the local site, the information about the event and the corrective actions should be communicated soon enough to still make a difference to the employees. They should still have passion and concern for making a course correction. This will help in gaining acceptance to make those changes in a fast and sustainable way.

2. They are not Actionable
Each month the safety committee reviews the corrective actions that are over due that are safety related. Each month a few get closed and a few more go overdue. It is a continuous cycle. If the metrics are not driving a change to the organization there is no sense of continuing to collect them. I have seen where an organization required safety audits. The only data required to be entered and tracked what the quantity of audits performed. There is no action that is meaningful or has any impact to the safety of the team. The only action that is driven by the process is to create more paper. There was a huge miss in using that data to create real organizational change. There has to be a way for the data to have an action. If the site sees too many overdue corrective actions, then there should be a process to get focus on them and close the actions. If audits are being performed, there should be a way to create actions from the meaningful aspects of the data.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If the organization has a metric is has to also have a method for creating action. If the metric does not drive accountability and changes for the better, why continue to waste time collecting it. There should be a process for evaluating the data and finding meaningful ways to create action for the benefit of the employees.

1. You’re Guilty until Proven Innocent
This was an issue I just recently had to think more about. I saw a metric where there was a tracking issue of work delays. Sometimes, the work was stopped for reasons that needed to be corrected. Other times, the work was delayed to make the areas safer. If the work delay was not appropriate, there should have been corrective actions. If the work was delayed to make the work area safer, there should be positive recognition and rewards. The metric for success or failure did not have any differentiation from appropriate and not appropriate work delays. The supervisor either hit or miss the metrics. I was struggling to understand why supervisors were rushing even when safety was a factor. The leadership team did a nice job of recognizing supervisors when they delayed work for safety, and there was never any negative repercussions from stopping a job to make it safer. It finally struck me that the metric assumed the supervisor was guilty until they proved themselves innocent. They were in trouble for having the delay until they explained in the shift report or verbally that it was a safety issue. They did not want to have to prove innocence, so they rushed to never be delayed. We has the leadership team had to change the metrics to exclude all safety items to assure that we empowered the supervision to take time for safety. We had to make it easier for them to be innocent and not called out on a metric that they would have to explain away.

Items to Consider for Improvement: If employees are supervisors are avoiding certain metrics or items, ask why. Also, take time to think through graded metrics. Do the metrics make any assumptions of guilt? If so, there has to be an over-communication of the scope of the metric. To create a proactive and safe environment and culture, the metrics have to empower the supervision and employees not encourage avoidance of attention.


Can you predict safety culture

I commute about an hour one-way for my job. It is open road travel so I have time for thinking and listening to books. I am a huge sci-fi buff. So, my recent addiction is Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Series. In the series, a mathematician names Hari Seldon has created a new science called psychohistory. This science is able to predict the patters of large groups of people to be able to see how society is to react and even predict large milestones of the future.

While listening the series, it really made me think that as a safety person, how can I predict where culture is going and how various stimuli would affect the safety climate of an organization? What if I could even go beyond the typical leading and lagging indicators or even population surveys of safety culture questions? Could there really be a way to absolutely predict where a culture is going?

On a more individual level, I have seen where similar events at a work place create very different futures. When I browse through news articles about injuries or environmental releases, there are those companies that change the way they do business when those extreme stimuli occur. And then, there are those that appear to never get their act together. Why is that? Leadership is a very quick and mostly truthful answer. It is the leaders of an organization that set the path and tone for where the culture will go next. If they do not take a stand to make a definitive change, then change is hard to create.

Beyond the leaders, though, are the people who make the change, or lack thereof, real. It is through their work and deeds that safety and environmental issues are handled first hand. They have power to make change at the grass roots level. So, from a predictive standpoint, back to square one. The culture of an organization is more than a leader and it is more than the people. Culture is as tangible as it is intangible. Culture is both qualitative and quantitative. Culture is as simple as you believe it to be and as complicated as the people who make it up.

Even though there is no one-size-fits-all approach to measuring safety culture, here are a few ideas that can make the process more transparent and hopefully better to predict.

1) Is there someone in the organization that is really in touch with the culture and is willing to tell you the hard truths?

It can be easy to allow a few data points to allow an individual to be swayed. Many times I have either under or over reacted to a situation simply because the information I received led to me to think I made the right approach. It is because I have listen to any/all opinions of culture that I heard. I have found, though, that in an organization there is someone who is very observant that has some really good insight to what the culture is feeling. Seek that person out and listen. But never that be the only voice you hear. Let it be an indicator of where to go looking.

2) Do you have an annual culture survey?

Using a Likert scale approach to the overall organization is a good process for trending the culture. A quick ten-question survey once a year can give a different approach to viewing the culture.

3) Are you walking and talking . . . And LISTENING?

The more data that is taken in, the better the process to understand the data can be. It is very qualitative, but invaluable to a safety professional. For example: During a walk, a discussion begins about how nothing ever gets fixed. Using the idea, a statistical measure of safety related repairs is created, published, and reviewed. This can create a culture that no longer feels ignored but empowered to use the process to create more safety repair requests.

4) Are you really seeking to understand the culture and can you control it?

Some of the lessons that a culture will show are tough ones to hear. Sometimes in a large organization, the local culture is being influenced by a larger and harder to handle overarching culture. Nonetheless, we cannot simply throw our hands in the air and give up. One of my favorite quotations is “Be the change that you wish to see in the world” by Mahatma Gandhi. I choose how I am going to react and act each day. Many times I am not pleased with my choice but each day I try harder. Even if we cannot change the large, we must endeavor for make the change we can.

5) Do you have committees that have members that can give voice to the site?

Never underestimate the power of your HSE committees. They have a voice in both as a committee member and when they are out performing their normal duties. As a committee member they should be talking about the culture and opportunity that they observe and hear. When they leave the committee they should be working to make improvements and to be an advocate for the HSE process. Empower that team and use its ability to make change.

We do not yet have an exact science like psychohistory, but we have tools at our disposal to help us engage and measure our culture. It is through the culture that we reach the individuals. It is through the individuals that we make the impact.

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.