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PETERSEN'S PAGE: The problem with macro measures

October 2, 2006
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For many years accident measures like the number of accidents, frequency rates, severity rates, and dollar costs were used to measure the progress of the organizational unit because practitioners felt comfortable using them. These results measures did not reveal whether the overall safety system was effective, diagnose what was or was not working, or indicate whether the system was in or out of control.

Although it long ago became clear that these measures offer little helpful data, they continue to be used today, perhaps for the following reasons:
  • OSHA requires firms to implement these measures.
  • At times, compliance directions are dictated by these measures.
  • Some industry groups use them to compare member companies.
  • Most writers quote them.
  • Most companies use them internally to judge safety system effectiveness.


Unintended consequences

Often, however, they promote questionable activities, such as:
  • Setting a goal to reduce injury rates from 3.0 to 2.0, or even from zero to zero.
  • Replacing a manager who does not reach his goal.
  • Deciding who is “good” and “bad” in order to determine who should receive an inspection or audit.
  • Determining which company is “best” within an industry, or which location is “best” within a company.


Need for other measures

These results measures are ingrained in most safety programs, and most executives believe they mean something. Plus, OSHA requires them. So why should we consider other measures?

n Because “results” often measure luck rather than the steps taken to reduce injuries. One supervisor of ten people can do nothing and still have a zero injury record, while another concerned supervisor may have injured employees regardless of what he or she has done — this is the “luck” factor. The lower an organization’s results measures are, the more these become an inadequate measure of actual performance of the safety system.
  • Because these measures do not really discriminate between poor and good performers.
  • Because results measures do not diagnose problems.
  • Because they are grossly unfair if used to judge individual or supervisory performance.


Relevance of macros

There is no disputing that measurements are needed on the macro level for the following reasons:
  • To determine the effectiveness of our safety and health efforts. Is the system better today than yesterday?
    Which elements of the system are working and which are not? Which units are getting results and why? Where should we place our efforts next year?
    To demonstrate the value of our safety and health efforts. Which components are paying off? Which components are of no value?
  • To provide cost-benefit analyses of the safety program to top management.
  • To sell management on a new project for the safety program.
  • To discover why safety programs should be maintained in the future or why they should be eliminated.
Bottom line: results measures reflect failures based either on incident counts or non-incident outcomes, but the validity and reliability of measuring failures depend greatly on the size of the unit in question.

Measure activities

In addition to leading indicators of safety performance such as employee perception surveys, consider developing measures that capture the activities of the various levels of line hierarchy in an organization:
  • The role of the first-line supervisor is to carry out some agreed-upon tasks to an acceptable level of performance.
  • The roles of middle and upper management are to: 1) ensure subordinate performance; 2) ensure the quality of that performance; 3) personally engage in some agreed-upon tasks.
  • The role of the executive is to visibly demonstrate the priority of safety.
  • The role of the safety staff is to advise and assist each of the above.
  • What, for instance, might be the safety-related tasks of the supervisor? The tasks could fall into these traditional categories:
    • Inspect
    • Hold meetings
    • Perform one-on-ones (safety contacts)
    • Investigate accidents
    • Do job safety analyses
    • Make observations
    • Enforce rules
    • Keep records
    Non-traditional tasks might include:
    • Give positive strokes
    • Ensure employee participation
    • Conduct worker safety analyses
    • Conduct force-field analyses
    • Assess climate and priorities
    • Crises intervention

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