Wednesday, March 06, 2013

The Case for Leading Indicators of Safety

Why do so many organizations continue to take a reactive approach to safety? Why is it so hard to maintain safety as a priority?  Why do supervisors and managers who truly care about safety behave in ways that contradict their values? Remarkably, how we measure safety is a primary root cause for all of these problems.  Incident rate, lost time rate, severity rate and other lagging indicators are poor measures of safety.  Such measures tell us how many people got hurt and how badly, but they do not tell us how well a company is doing at preventing accidents and incidents. While lagging metrics are necessary, adding leading metrics enables better management of safety.  Leading metrics should focus on proactive activities on the part of all employees—measures that track what people are doing daily to prevent accidents. . . . A familiar saying is: “what gets measured gets done”.  As we have just argued, what we measure is important because it sets the stage for what people do.  However, it is not completely true to say what gets measured gets done.  Many of us routinely measure our weight and don’t do anything to improve it.  Similarly many of us measure our speed (with our car speedometer) and don’t drive the speed limit.  In truth, measures don’t change behavior, consequences do. Proactive safety activities must be reinforced if they are to persist.  A positive accountability system that holds people accountable for the leading indicators will ensure safety targets are met. more

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