U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data show that more than 14 people a day lost their lives on the job in 2016, with over 4.5 million workplace injuries reported in total.
The good news is that long-term trends show work-related injuries and fatalities are declining overall, even as the number of workers continues to grow. Part of that positive trend is the result of increased emphasis on improving workplace safety—and the growing use of technology to support it.
From wearable safety devices to machine learning to Big Data, companies now have more tools than ever to help push safety incidents down to zero. Beyond individual tools and tactics, creating a culture of safety has also become a top priority for organizations.
How are leading organizations leveraging digital transformation to move safety culture from a warm-and-fuzzy ideal to a concrete reality? Key strategies include integrating technology systems to eliminate human missteps, developing robust leading indicators and making risk part of daily decision-making.
How Technology Can Address the Human Element of Safety Culture
As the old saying goes, to err is human. We’re constantly forgetting our online passwords, where we put our keys and even close relatives’ birthdays. Is it any surprise that our safety efforts are also notoriously error-prone?
Just like mobile tracking devices and online calendars can help eliminate these annoying mistakes, technology can also address workplace slip-ups that get in the way of safety culture. An integrated Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) Management System is especially valuable in this context, providing a single source of truth for reducing the impact of buried emails, missed appointments and forgotten tasks.
More than just preventing mistakes, technology also plays a key role today in engaging your workforce in safety. This is especially important given that companies in the top quartile of employee engagement have 48% fewer safety incidents. Ways to engage your workforce with technology include:
- Making safety mobile: Tablets and smartphones now allow you to take safety management out of the office to the manufacturing floor. Whether you’re recording incident details, conducting audits or logging behavior-based safety observations, the ability to replace paperwork with mobile apps boosts efficiency and participation.
- Sharing results: When you can readily share metrics and reports with your team, people can see a direct connection between their work and safety performance. Centralized Reporting capabilities within the EHS Management System are a critical function here.
- Fixing problems: If your Corrective Action system is bogged down with requests—a common problem with paper-based systems—people will never buy into your safety commitment. Leveraging automation to make fixes faster shows you truly care about their safety, making them more likely to engage in the process.
Developing Safety Culture KPIs
Organizational culture can seem like a cloudy concept, given that it focuses on internal factors like beliefs and attitudes. But like anything else in EHS management, measurement and monitoring are essential to making meaningful progress.
Most key performance indicators (KPIs) around safety focus on lagging indicators, which are outcome-focused metrics like incidence rates, lost workdays and workers’ compensation costs. An area where many companies could improve is using data to develop leading indicators, which act as an early warning for future problems.
For instance, most people probably wouldn’t be surprised to hear that a rise in near-misses frequently precedes a rise in workplace injuries. That means if you’re tracking near-misses (and you should be), you can identify areas that need help before an injury occurs. And if you’re seeing an uptick in near-miss incidents, that’s a pretty good sign that safety culture isn’t where it should be.
What are examples of leading metrics you might track to gauge whether safety culture is headed in the right direction?
- Training metrics: Types of metrics you might track here include post-training test results, number of employees with overdue training and frequency of training program updates.
- Survey results: Anonymous safety culture surveys can be very revealing in terms of what people really think about how safe your workplace is and management’s commitment to safety. Negative responses mean you’re likely to lose good people, increasing turnover that creates even more safety problems. In fact, BLS data show that nearly one-third of workplace injuries happen to employees who’ve been on the job for less than a year.
- EHS participation: How often are people logging hazards in the EHS Management System? Are leaders actually completing scheduled safety walk-throughs and change management assessments? These types of metrics tell you a lot about participation and engagement.
- Risk assessment data: Frequency of risk assessments speaks volumes about your team’s collective mindset.If risk assessments are just a one-off activity, you’re likely to have problems. Tracking the number of high-risk items in your Risk Register (and how long it takes to resolve them) can also tell you whether people take risk seriously.
Keep in mind that there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to leading metrics, which are unique each organization. You have to analyze your own data in your EHS Management System to see where certain activities or events correlate with safety outcomes.
Integrating Risk Into Decision-Making Processes
Risk plays a huge role in safety culture, beyond just focusing on number and frequency of assessments as discussed above. From ISO to OSHA to your customers as a whole, major stakeholders expect you to incorporate risk into what you’re doing every day.
And for good reason—research shows that companies who effectively manage safety risks and protect workers are also more productive and profitable, delivering higher quality[RB1] work overall.
From a technology perspective, integrating risk-based thinking means using tools like risk assessments, decision trees and bowtie analysis into processes such as:
- Change management
- Corrective action
- Job Safety Analysis (JSA)
- Supplier management
- Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA)
- Behavior-based safety data
- Industrial hygiene tracking
Making risk part of your decision-making criteria gets to the very heart of safety culture. This key mindset shift—standardizing how people assess and respond to risk—is necessary for moving away from reactive safety initiatives to a proactive, prevention-based approach.
In a larger sense, standardization is one of the biggest benefits technology and EHS Management Systems provide in terms of safety culture. From automation to task management to reporting, technology provides the foundation for a culture of safety, creating an environment of accountability to propel you towards your goals.
- National Safety Council, Workplace Fatalities by the Numbers
- National Safety Council, Injury Facts 2016
- Metropolitan Risk, How These Companies Experience 48% Less Safety Incidents
- EtQ blog post, 3 Types of Leading Indicators for EHS Management
- EtQ blog post, 4 Types of Leading Indicators to Monitor for Improved Safety Performance
- EtQ blog post, Using Employee Perception Surveys to Measure Aviation Safety Culture
- Safety + Health Magazine, New Workers, Higher Risk
- EHS Today, Safety Is Productivity
- Kimberly-Clark, Safety Doesn’t Cost: It Pays[PDF]
- Dodge Data & Analytics, Building a Safety Culture[PDF]