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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.