Our data is speaking. Are we listening?

I distinctly remember combing through near miss data one day and having an “a-ha” moment. I could see that trouble was on the horizon. I was for sure thinking that the site was choosing not to report safety issues that really mattered because they felt it was not getting fixed. I had the data to show this was occurring. I had safety committee minutes that seemed to also indicate the same. I had the opportunity to run with my theory and make some dramatic proclamations and changes.

 

Then I took a few deep breaths . . .

 

I asked a friend and co-worker his thoughts. Together, we decided that we would go out and ask a few simple safety questions to see if interviews had the same conclusion as the data. To my absolute surprise, there was not an issue. There was not a deeper underlying organizational issue. The employees were not angry or dissatisfied with level of attention to safety. Sure, there were things they wanted fixed. It was not, though, the level of safety climate failure that I was projecting. I was so close to making a very large leap of faith and being completely wrong. First, I thanked my co-worker for his input. Second, I learned to validate and verify my data.

 

We in the safety profession have a great luxury at our finger tips that we sometimes forget is there. The data we look at every day is living, breathing, people who we can interact and ask questions of on a daily basis. Data is good. It helps in finding opportunities and making recommendations. Validated data is better, and we have that ability at an instant.

 

Each day there is a real chance to better understand the aspect of our data. Building on the SQDC process of business metrics, safety is the only one that can actually talk and explain the real issues that occurring at that moment. Quality, Delivery, and Cost metrics do not tell a story every day nor do they have the ability to literally tell you what is creating their positive and negative experiences.

 

There are many times that I have to remind myself to stop, think, and go interact. I know that sounds terrible, but think of all the times in your safety career that you are asked for metrics. What’s our OSHA Rate? How many lost time injuries? What does the trends in the behavioral observations say? How many people are trained in that process? How must waste did we generate? My guess is that you are aggregating this data daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly. Along with any time there is an issue or problem solving event. It is easy to get lost in creating, communicating, revising, and managing numbers. The truth is that each number we crunch is a person that can help us understand it better.

 

Our safety data (aka our people) is talking to us almost constantly, are we really listening?

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Measuring SQDC in Safety

For a safety department to be its most effective, it requires the evaluation of the group along similar metrics as others. I have been fortunate to have had some really good mentors in my career that have helped me to craft the way I look at running a safety department and measuring success.

 

In most major industries there are four key metrics that they are responsible for. I have seen this same method/metrics in automotive, food, and chemical. It is a positive process as it shows the balance that must to struck to have a successful business. These metrics are Safety, Quality, Delivery, and Cost or simplified as SQDC. A business can run without these metrics in harmony, but they are rarely highly successful.

 

So, what does it mean to measure to SQDC in a safety department? Here are some of the ways I have found make it the most meaningful for the team and larger organization.

 

Safety:

This is what we do, so it should be simple, right? Yes and no. I have always thought about what is the safety metric for a safety team. First and foremost, a safety team should not get hurt. They should be cautious and aware.

 

Beyond injuries, this metric for me has always been more about the message that I am carrying with me every day. What is the thirty second elevator talk that I would give that day to communicate safety to anyone. One lesson that I have always found to be true in safety is that you cannot overcommunicate a message. People need to hear a safety message as much as we can get in front of them.

 

Examples could include:

“Did you hear about the near miss yesterday? Here is how to stay safe”

“I read in the news of an injury happening. We have that hazard. Here is how to stay safe”

“Did you know we have not had ‘insert event here’ in a long time? Here is what we have been doing right.”

“Some bad weather is moving in today, remember our evacuation plans for bad weather.”

 

It is important that communication is a big part of how we define success in safety every day.

 

Quality:

Quality for a safety professional is based on our policies and procedures. Are they up-to-date? Are they relevant? Do they help those who they are meant to service? Have they been reviewed on some basis?

 

Where we help to maintain the high standard of quality is through assuring our processes and procedures are in good condition and help set the basis for accuracy, precision, and consistency.

 

Delivery:

Delivery is the service we provide to our customer. These can be in the form of audits that help find ways of improvement. It is the time that it takes to answer questions about the policies. It is also the metrics that we report out as part of the standard work. Each day the safety professional is called upon to deliver any number of these styles of items to the organization.

 

Cost:

There are a few ways to look at cost in the safety department. The first is helping to create and maintain a working budget. Be accountable to predicting big projects and special needs. Communicate early and often when there will be misses. Help the organization see where you need funding to help sustain and create strong processes to make the site safer.

 

Some organization also measure workers’ compensation costs. These can vary from state to state and are very reactive. They still, though, can heavily affect a company’s bottom line. It is important to measure and manage this process.

 

Overall, running a safety department with key metrics that match and mirror other departments helps to build transparency and trust into the system. These processes are valuable as they can help the internal team and the organization to see that there are processes that can be measured, implemented, and improved.

Linkages of Behaviors and Conditions

As safety professionals, we are always evaluating the linkages between conditions and behaviors. It is the behavioral choice that leads a person, both at home and work, to engage a condition that could be thought of as unsafe. From my work on the behavioral and training side of safety, I feel there are four ways that the conditions and behaviors come together to either improve a safety culture or lead to incidents or injury.

ConditionBehaviorInteraction

 

The first behavioral choice when encountering an unsafe condition is Conscious Avoidance. The person sees the condition, knows it is unsafe, and makes a fully conscious effort to avoid it. This is one of the most positive behavior-condition interaction. This creates valuable data for the organization and culture to go and fix and issue before it leads to an incident. The act of consciously knowing the hazard would suggest they would follow the system to report and remedy the unsafe condition.

 

Example: Someone sees a puddle on the floor. They recognize the hazard, place a cone to notify others of the hazard, and reports it appropriately. A maintenance team is notified and fixes a leaky pipe. The environmental team is deployed for cleanup. The site fully benefits from this engagement.

 

Unconscious Avoidance is where a hazard is avoided but the person is not aware that they avoided a near miss or incident. It is good that they have an unconscious ability to avoid a hazard that the back-brain has determined to lead to injury. This is a primal reflex to avoid harm. The problem is that this does not help anyone else avoid the hazard. The hazard still exists. For those who might not have the finely attuned instinct of the Unconscious Avoidance, they would engage the condition and have the potential for injury.

 

Example: There is a puddle in the floor. Our Unconscious Avoider, changes their directional path to miss the hazard entirely. Nothing is reported. Nothing is fixed.

 

Where the Unconscious Avoider leaves the hazard in place, now enters the person that is Unconsciously Engaging the hazard. Once the hazard has been engaged, there are a few paths that are only directed by fate, luck, destiny, or whatever you want to call it. The site may get data from it, but only in the case of injury data or as a near miss. The Unconscious Engager can have an incident that leads to any number of consequences which can be as severe as death or as simple as nothing.

 

Example: So here is our ever infamous puddle on the floor. The Unconscious Engager (UC) does not waver or swerve. They walk right into the puddle. Here is where, it is complete out of our control. As a D&D fan, I will use the D20 analogy.

 

  • The UC rolls a 20, critical save. They walk right through the puddle. No slip. No Fall. Not even a loss of traction. Since this is a 20 roll, they recognize they just walked through a hazard and report it, so it can be fixed.
  • The UC rolls a 17. They walk right through again. But this time there is no report.
  • The UC rolls a 14. They lose some traction and report it as a near miss.
  • The UC rolls a 12. They lose some traction, but makes no report
  • The UC rolls a 9. They slip and fall with only a minor bruise. First aid only.
  • The UC rolls a 7. They slip and fall with a sprained ankle that needs medical attention. OSHA recordable
  • The UC rolls a 5. They slip and fall with a broken shoulder. Severe injury and lost time.
  • The UC rolls a 1. They slip and fall striking their head with fatal severity.

 

This example is not to make light of the severity of personal injury and suffering. There is nothing humorous about someone getting hurt from Unconsciously Engaging a hazard. The point of the example is to illustrate that once a hazard is engaged, there is nothing anyone can do to change the outcome. It is all up to the infinite variables of the universe. As safety people and people who care about safety, it is all about creating behaviors that mitigate unsafe conditions.

 

The final behavior is the most uncommon for good reason. It is the Conscious Engagement of Unsafe Conditions. In my career, I have encountered very few of these behaviors. These are ones who are actively seeking a method for injury. They want to create an example, utilize the system for personal gain, demonstrate their level of disgruntled attitude, or some other underlying motivation. Their goal is to exploit the unsafe condition to actively get hurt. There is still an element of uncertainty as they can never fully predict on control the outcome. They do, though, try to maximize the event to meet their personal goals.

 

Example: Once again the puddle is in the floor. The Conscious Engager walks rights through, assures they end up on the ground, and begins shouting for help. The injury leads to long term restricted duty and a moderate impairment rating with a final reasonable workers compensation pay out.

 

We cannot control the Conscious Engager before their intentions are known. What we can do is eliminate unsafe conditions. If we take away the opportunity, we create a better environment for all our people.

 

This interaction between behaviors and conditions is one that I have thought about for quite some time. It was actually an operations managers that said it most elegantly. He said that if we eliminate the unsafe condition we take away the opportunity for those who want to play games, and we create a better site. This led me to map out the chart and create the diagram. It was my desire to first understand the scope of the behaviors. From better understanding how the condition and behavior interact, it can help organizations lean to engage and empower their teams to create a real and improving safety culture.

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.