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November 15, 2006
Use Safety Metrics to Enhance Your Safety Management System

Do you use lagging or trailing indicators to measure safety in your organization? Are you always looking behind you instead of ahead? Some examples of trailing indicators are injuries, the recordable incident rate, and workers' compensation costs.

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Barry Spurlock, loss control professional with Midwestern Insurance Alliance, told a packed audience at the recent National Safety Congress in San Diego that a scoreboard doesn't always reveal everything about the game. Spurlock said using traditional measures alone limits our ability to showcase leadership, diminishes the effects of our efforts, and separates us from other business areas.

Traditional methods measure failures. Accidents must occur to obtain a conclusion. However, trailing indicators are useful for:

  • Revealing safety improvement opportunities
  • Trend analysis
  • Prioritizing safety initiatives
  • Confirming intervention effectiveness
  • Regulatory statistics

Spurlock suggests being proactive when measuring safety and using leading indicators such as activities, behaviors, and accomplishments, which can be measured using:

  • Safety system audits
  • Accident investigation
  • Near-miss responses
  • Safety communications
  • Safety committee activities
  • Job safety analysis completions
  • Safety climate/perception surveys
  • Observed safe behaviors

Using leading indicators increases management involvement and active participation by employees. They are also specific to your site and provide opportunities for continuous improvement.

Earl Blair, Ed.D, chair and associate professor at Indiana State University also spoke at this session. Dr. Blair said focusing on injuries is like looking in the rearview mirror. You should scan the mirror and focus ahead. Eliminate risky exposures and increase safe behaviors. Scan injuries for trends. In addition to engineering and inspections, we should measure our management systems that influence behavior.

An example of a measurement focusing on leading indicators is: How many people are wearing personal protective equipment? A measurement of quality would be: How useful are safety meetings?

Lower injury rates are driven by the following:

  • Relevant and effective training
  • Management's visible participation in safety
  • Engaging and empowering employees in key decision areas
  • Working relationships
  • Regular evaluation and reduction of job hazards

Some takeaways from the session:

  • Customize your safety metrics-no one approach is best
  • Benchmark to the best, then adapt-don't adopt
  • Consider your:
    • Business values
    • Kinds and levels of exposures
    • Drivers of safety performance
  • Start small
  • Have your employees develop their own safety measures

Related Content

Measuring safety: Leading and lagging indicators

How do you measure the true costs of injuries in the workplace?

7 steps to improving safety through lean management, safety metrics

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