The problem with macro measures

March 10, 2010
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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.

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

    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

    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

    To determine the effectiveness of our safety and health efforts. Is the system better today than yesterday?

    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.

  • Measure activities

    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:

    Give positive strokes
  • Ensure employee participation
  • Conduct worker safety analyses
  • Conduct force-field analyses
  • Assess climate and priorities
  • Crises intervention

  • Dr. Dan Petersen, CSP, P.E., has a BS in industrial engineering, an MS in industrial psychology, and a Ph.D. in organizational behavior and management. Dan’s latest book, “Measurement of Safety Performance,” has recently been published by the American Society of Safety Engineers. For more info, visit

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