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.

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Cognitive Dissonance in Safety

The next series of posts will focus on a social psychology theory called Cognitive Dissonance. This series could also be called “Maintaining and Changing Safety Attitudes.” When people encounter information that goes against what they believe, a mechanism in their behavior makes them want to find a way to maintain the current belief.

Here is a very generic example that would demonstrate the theory in practice. An experienced safety professional comes to a new company and realizes some equipment does not have lockout-tagout information posted. Even more so, no one is locking out the equipment when performing minor maintenance or unjamming. After the equipment has instructions created, the training begins. During the training, the safety person encounters significant pushback from employees.

Typical responses would be:
“This will take too long”
“We’ve never had any trouble”
“Why do we need this now”
“This will add too much work”
“We will never have time to make the product”
“Another example of safety slowing things down and causing problems”
“We’ve never had much trouble with these machines”

Just to make the story more interesting, let’s also assume that there have been minor finger amputations and OSHA citations from the same/similar equipment. All information points to that the change to make the equipment safer as a good thing and yet they are firmly resistant to the improvement

Now let’s add a new aspect. During this training, someone else in the room speaks up, “at my last job we had to lockout everything every time. This makes sense to me.” The safety person takes this opportunity to talk about the injuries associated with the equipment and the OSHA citations. Now people cannot believe that they had never had those procedures in place.

This is the heart of cognitive dissonance. When someone is confronted with facts that differ from their belief, they create inconsistencies with the facts so that they can maintain their prior beliefs. It is not about presenting the facts. It is about to modifying attitudes and behaviors. There are various facets of the cognitive dissonance theory that can be explored in regards to safety and how to overcome those thoughts from a negative perspective while enhancing the positive. Cognitive dissonance can be a tough process or it can be a new method of motivation.

Compassion, Consistentcy, and Continuous Improvement: Part 4

Much of my career has been focused on two primary types businesses: Startups and Turnarounds. A company has just opened and needs someone to write the programs, perform the training, and create sustainability has many of the same challenges as a company that admits to not having robust safety systems and has a deep desire to create a safe culture. They both have very similar opportunities as far as the way a safety program has to be implemented and nurtured. It is through working in these situations that I realized that creating a real safety system takes Compassion, Consistency, and Continuous Improvement (the 3Cs).

My wife is an avid gardener. As for me, I find it interesting but not as satisfying. That, though, does not stop me from partaking in the fruits (or vegetables) of her labor. I find many similarities between what shes does and what I do. There some very core concepts that have to be applied over and over to make a successful garden or safety program. To begin, it takes the right soil. The ground has to be ready for the seeds to be planted. In this same way an organization has to be ready to begin the journey of not only a safety transformation but a people transformation. This is where compassion comes into the equation. Compassion is the soil in which a safety program should be planted. If the soil is wrong, the seeds will not grow. If an organization does not have the right attitude toward a safety program, it will not produce the results they are driving for.

Next, a garden takes seeds, planting, watering, and tending. It is a lot of work watching over little plants until they can grow to be big plants and produce fruit. In the early stages they take so much more work, but even when they are big the work is not done. The plants can produce on their own, but with the right type of care and tending they have the ability to be so much more productive. For a safety program, this is summed up with consistency. The program has to be nurtured and energy invested continuously. Lots of energy in the beginning but never no energy. There always has to be a level of focus on those programs and behaviors. It is a consistent message to the people in the organization that safety matters and is worth that continual investment in the programs and people. Just if a garden is abandoned, a safety system may fall completely apart. The best case would be that the system is still there and producing minimal results. Consistency to the process has to be a critical component.

Each year when the garden is complete and all the fruits and vegetables are brought in, my wife immediately starts planning how she will plant next year. She goes through a process of evaluating what went well and what could be improved. Maybe she has way too many green beans and not enough cucumbers. One year, the zucchini and squash cross pollinated causing some odd coloration of those two items. Her goal is find a better way of doing the same process next year. What can be improved to make the garden more fitting to her needs. Again, this is how continuous improvement should work with any safety system. A program should be evaluated on how effective it is, the ease or useability of the processes, and how it can still be better tailored to the needs of an organization. Without continuous improvement the system cannot keep getting better. It becomes old and stagnant. If my wife did not find better ways to tend the garden each year, she would continue to waste valuable time and effort to never truly maximize her return. That sounds a lot like a safety system! By not improving the system, it creates waste in various forms that should be eliminated to created better gains and stronger participation.

There are many great books and articles that represent continuous improvement. The whole lean culture is an amazing process driven approach to creating sustainable results. By far my favorite book is “The Toyota Way.” It is a practical look at how lean should support where the product is made. A safety program should provide a great service to its customer. There should never be a time in a safety program where the declaration is made “We are done. We have create a safe place.” This is ripe for errors to start to creep in. It is through a systemic process of evaluation and improvement that a safety program stays fresh, practical, and most importantly functional.