Measuring Safety or Failure?


Measuring Safety or Failure?


Do you measure safety or failure in your business? Measuring workplace safety in Australia, and elsewhere, is poorly understood and often incorrectly used.

No other profession measures how well they do solely by measuring the number of failures. Most Australian organisations primarily judge their level of safety, and possibly reward managers and executives, on their LTI Rate e.g. number of lost-time injuries (LTIs) per million work hours, which is a measure of failure.

Other Professions Don’t Rate Themselves on Failure

Let’s look at a couple of other examples of measuring performance:

1. Financial Performance

Your business does not report financial performance by proudly tracking the (low) number of fraud or theft events (failures), but by positive measures such as turn-over and profit, or surplus for notfor- profit organisations.

2. Health Sector

The health sector does not measure their success solely by the number of patients who die, but rather things like; the rate of curing disease, treatment of injury and illness, and increased life span from their interventions or initiatives.

Social Welfare or Workers Comp?

Workers compensation rules have little to do with safety. In essence it is part of our social welfare system. Most injuries are compensated through the giant workers compensation or traffic accident (TAC) “money pit”, and many powerful groups “feed off” these systems.

As a result, the criteria for acceptance or denial of claims long ago drifted away from whether the workplace was safe or not.

Oh! My Leg Hurts

For example, a person bumps into the corner of a normal (safe) desk while busy and distracted by discussion with a co-worker (careless, but within expected variation in human behaviour and attention), and because of some personal condition (unknown and uncontrollable by the business) the leg swells up painfully and requires urgent medical treatment and two weeks off work. Has safety deteriorated in the business, or are we measuring something else?

The affected department and the business’s safety statistics will immediately deteriorate, and possibly cause stakeholders, such as directors, to question why has our safety performance dropped off?

Is this measuring safety, or our (possibly appropriate) generous workers compensation system that simply seeks to ensure individuals and their families are not financially devastated by incidents that occur in the workplace.

My Supervisor is Miserable and I Don’t Like the Company
Imagine another situation where a worker has a strong dislike for the business and or their supervisor / manager, possibly as a result of some previous “run-in” and they sustain a, possibly genuine, minor sprain to their shoulder while performing routine work as carried out by them and many others in the past without any incidents or injuries.

Do they immediately go to a “sports physio” for treatment aimed at rapid recovery and return to work tomorrow, albeit a bit tender and cautious about use of the affected arm, or do they go to a sympathetic GP and seek a medical certificate in order to rest the arm?

The decision to take time off (e.g. LTI) is as much influenced by personal attitude, financial position and quality of their relationships at work and home, as it is about workplace safety.

Irrespective of the personal motivation involved in the decision not to return to work, the department’s LTI rate will shoot up and cause them to fail to meet their safety target. Has this measured workplace safety or not?

Wasp Sting While Working at Home
Increasingly employees are working from home procedurally, or on an ad hoc basis.

What if I don’t have fly-wire screens on my windows and I get bitten by a wasp while working in my own home and I have an allergic reaction causing medical treatment and inability to work for two days? Workers compensation responds because it is a no fault system.

The above cases provide examples of where the company has little or no control over some circumstances which can result in injury to its employees, and the LTI (safety) outcome is more influenced by the employee’s personal circumstances and work-and-home relationships.

So What Should We Measure for Safety?

Best practice companies have been measuring positive performance (lead) indicators for many years, but unfortunately we still lack an Australian Standard to adequately cover this subject, as the current standard AS 1885 is nearly a quarter of a century old and totally inadequate for today’s business needs.

What are Lead Indicators?
Lead or positive performance indicators are the measures of safety you can use in the absence of any injury or incident, and can include any positive effort to improve or maintain safety.

For example, if two similar sites have no LTIs in a given year, does that mean they are equally safe? Answer: Not necessarily! But if we monitor lead indicators for safety we may be able to detect an adverse trend before an injury or accident occurs.

In the example above, the LTI rate was perfect for both sites, but the lead indicators were:

With the above information you can clearly see that Site A is well managed against the agreed lead indicators for the business, and Site B, with more “red” ratings, would be regarded as less safe and in need of more attention.

Note: We cannot get rid of LTIs and other lag indicators, as they still tell us about the overall negative effect on our people, but we recommend you consult your key stakeholders and agree the lead safety indicators of most relevance to your business and start measuring and reporting on those as well as the traditional loss statistics.

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