V I E W P O I N T
Using Leading Indicators to Improve Your Safety Program
By Terrie S. Norris, CSP, ARM, CPSI
Terrie S. Norris is the risk control manager for Bickmore Risk Services & Consulting.
How are you measuring the success of your safety program? Many entities, whether private or public, use one or more of the following: OSHA incident rate, severity rates, claims per $100 in payroll, number of fatalities, average cost per claim, and/or experience modification. These are all great trailing indicators. The problem is that they are measures of failure. A loss must occur before a value can be established. An analysis of the losses may provide a focus for the entity’s safety and health or its liability programs, but it does not drive improvement.
A better equation for the improvement of safety, health, and liability performance is focused attention on leading indicators plus measured performance. Leading indicators are those that focus attention on activities that can contribute to improvement through the elimination or reduction of risk factors and changes in behavior. Leading indicator activities include: job task analysis, early return-to-work, incident investigation, supervisor safety coaching, evaluating safety performance as part of annual performance appraisals, evaluating claims management performance, conducting training, safety inspections, risk management program assessments, and conducting employee perception surveys. The status of these activities is an indication of an entity’s risk management performance.
The other part of the equation is measured performance. How do we know we are doing a better job if we do not measure what we do? We measure our trailing indicators, why not measure our leading indicators? Take safety inspections for example. If the expectations are measured, then the level of performance can be compared from one inspection to another. As an example, a company I worked for was very enthusiastic about golf, and we were very competitive about our scores. We set up our safety inspection program to reflect golf scoring. We used a checklist, but each item had a point value. Points were given for undesirable conditions or behaviors, and points were deducted for desirable conditions or behaviors; the goal was to have the lowest score. Here is an example of the point structure:
• plus 1 point – other than serious
• plus 2 points – serious
• plus 3 points – imminent danger
• plus double points for repeats from prior inspections
• minus points for desired status
The Plant Manager reviewed the results monthly at his staff meetings. This provided management attention to the conditions and safety behaviors within the plant department by department. Management’s attention drove the supervisors to ensure that corrective actions were implemented. Manager and supervisor attention led to improved conditions and the correction of unsafe behaviors. Improved conditions and behaviors resulted in a reduction in the number of loss incidents and near misses, thus improving the plant’s safety performance.
Similar focus can be applied to the overall risk management program. Many mistake this approach as a focus on compliance, but it is not. When assessing an entity’s management of risks, many of the activities and behaviors that drive good risk management go beyond compliance; compliance merely provides a base.
A comprehensive risk management assessment looks at all the risks and exposures and is not limited to workplace safety. Topic areas assessed include the practices involved in: OSHA compliance, early return-to-work, workers’ compensation claims management, emergency management and business continuity, liability claims management, contractual risk transfer, fleet safety and liability, and internal loss control. Public entities also include practices associated with: fire department, street and sidewalk management, sewer management, police department, parks and recreation, and playground management.
When making the assessment, points can be allocated for levels of compliance with regulations and best practices. The assessment measures completeness of: written programs and procedures, employee training, incident investigations, routine inspections, use of standardized forms, follow-up procedures, management oversight procedures, and safety performance appraisal.
Measuring performance of leading indicators provides entities with the ability to establish improvement plans based on SMART goals. Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely goals set a roadmap that eliminates confusion and sets expectations. Trailing indicators can still play a part in reporting program results. But leading indicators can drive a risk management program to improvement.
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