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August 31, 2012
Should you measure EHS metrics?

You’ve heard plenty of talk about environmental health and safety (EHS) metrics, but why do you need them? What can you do with them once you have them?“What gets measured, gets done,” answers Michael D. Lawrence, of Summit Safety Technologies. “To manage something, you must be able to measure it, and to measure something, you have to be able to define it.”

Understanding metrics

In EHS, a metric is the measurable performance of an environmental or safety activity or program within an organization.

Metrics can drive performance toward:

  • More efficient use of resources and people;
  • Improved profitability and compliance, which is important because of the enforcement age we have moved into; and
  • Improved general health and well-being of an organization and its workers.

Safety professionals measure metrics to help make good business decisions. Thus, a metric must be:

  • Consistent
  • Comparable
  • Credible
  • Relevant to the people using it

Tracking incident statistics

When tracking incident statistics, it may be helpful to identify those incidents that are related to process safety, as distinguished from personnel safety incidents that are not process-related.

In other words, you want to be able to integrate your safety measurements into the production side of things so when you are discussing what is working and what is not, you can translate that into the business side of things. Use indicators that focus on gaps or other specific factors that can affect a site’s safety—and business—success.

Keep in mind that business leaders focus on revenue, profit, market share, new products, and increasing capacity, productivity, and efficiency. By measuring the current situation compared against quantifiable goals, business leaders make data-driven decisions. These are goals that you can actually attach a number to and know, with some certainty, that it is a reasonably good number.

Performance measures provide employees and management the tools they need to guide and measure their improvement on an ongoing basis by regularly measuring individual, team, and sitewide performance.

This not only allows companies to measure what they need to improve but also shows them what they are doing well. Companies can then fix what needs to be fixed and enhance what is working well.

By focusing on specifics and sustaining employee involvement, metrics can prove to be a valuable tool for improving overall safety performance. Metrics in themselves will not achieve excellence, but they do provide a “window” through which management can see the effectiveness of their systems. Management can then make necessary adjustments.

Which activities should you measure?

Unfortunately, most safety metrics tell you what safety is not doing rather that what it is doing. For example, reporting the number of injuries that occur in a given time period is an example of a safety metric. It’s a lagging indicator because it has already happened, and it’s difficult to translate into how you are doing.

If you don’t have an accident, it’s hard to tell management that all is well. It could be you just got lucky, and no one had an accident despite the existence of an untended hazard.

So you need to find measurable data that tells you how you are doing and how you can get better at what you are doing rather than on relying on something that you hope does not happen.

Lawrence suggests focusing on metrics such as:

  • Perception surveys. Find out from both your managers and your employees how they perceive safety in the workplace. If they have significantly different perceptions—and they usually do—you can do an analysis to uncover the reasons for the disparities.
  • Behavior observation data. Consider, for example, the number of job hazard analyses (JHAs) performed and the percentage of corrective actions completed.
  • Repeat audit or inspection findings. Look at the number of times a finding has made the list. In some cases, this can become very discouraging. The problem arises when you make a list, address the findings on the list, then go back the next month and put the same finding back on a new list. If you are not addressing the performance side of what people are doing to keep that item off the list, you find yourself in a vicious cycle.
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