In a recent poll we asked EHS professionals: what is your biggest barrier to collecting accurate EHS data? The clear winner was “cultural barriers to data entry” followed by “training of data collectors” which received 39% and 30% of the vote respectively. Culture is a word that is commonly used in the EHS industry and building a safety culture is often a focus of EHS professionals. However, a specific focus on lowering the cultural barriers to data collection can have a huge impact on the greater safety culture and help embed safety in everyday operations. In this article we will look at four key elements to lowering the cultural barriers to data collection.


Establish the mission and vision:

The first step to lowering the cultural barriers to data collection is establishing a mission and vision for your data collection and analytics journey. Too often companies implement a data collection technology and expect that tool to act as a golden ticket to EHS success (see another article I wrote on this topic linked here). When you rely on the golden ticket fallacy you don’t provide your teams with the purpose and the vision for how this will transform the organization for the better. Providing the tool is a start but providing the team with a mission (the purpose for focusing on data collection) and a vision (where you want to be) will help give structure to the effort. Instead of being viewed as random button clicking, employees will be able to see how their insight will help drive the company to a future improved state. At the end of the day, you are relying on employees to take time out of their workday to give you an insight into the workings of daily operations. Without a mission and vision to help outline how their insights will be used to move the company down the road to improved safety in operations, you run the risk of data collection being viewed as another flavor of the month.


Know the roles:

              Once you have established a mission and vision for your effort, you need to outline the roles to be played. To say that everyone plays the same role in the data collection and analytics journey is disingenuous. Moreover, it tends to muddy the waters of expectation and overwhelms the team members. Just like in operations, individuals in different levels of the organization bring different skills and perspectives to the table which allows everyone to play different critical roles. When you look to implement data collection and analytics processes in your EHS programs, you should carefully define the role that each level of the organization is expected to play. This will bring additional structure to the effort and help people understand how they can help move the needle without feeling overwhelmed. For example, a front-line employee’s role may be to collect safety observations throughout the workweek. The supervisor’s role may be to provide time for his/her employees to collect safety observations and provide feedback on trends and corrective actions to his/her team. Furthermore, an EHS manager’s role may be to aggregate and analyze the data to create digestible and actionable reports for the supervisor’s and the executive team. Lastly the executive team may be responsible for providing the institutional backing for this program to grow. Roles create tangible expectations and make it easier for people to understand how their effort will help achieve the greater mission and vision.


Time is of the essence:

The third key to lowering the cultural barrier to data collection is to allow data collectors time to collect the data. Talking the talk about valuing data collection is one thing, but allowing employees time to make their inspections, or observations is walking the walk. As the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said “Time is a created thing. To say, “I don’t have time” is to say, “I don’t want to.” When an organization says there is no time for data collection, what they are really saying is that it is not a priority. This is not to say that operations take a back seat to data collection, but it is to say that organizations should consider how they can incorporate time for employees to provide their valuable insights. This might mean re-organizing toolbox talks or instituting a post shift de-brief. Whatever the solution, allotting time for data collection and analysis helps promote a culture with an eye towards data collection and lets employees know that their insight is critical to improving safety in the workplace.


Vicious or virtuous:

Finally, to build a culture that promotes EHS data collection you need to enforce the virtuous and reject the vicious cycle. By this point you have your mission and vision, you have defined your roles, and have allotted time to collect data. Now the question becomes, what do you do with that information? If you ask employees to provide insights on potential workplace hazards, sit on that information and don’t show them how you are analyzing and using this data to institute change, you are creating a vicious cycle. In the vicious cycle engagement will wither and quality will plummet each time you request input. When people don’t see their insights coming back to them in the form of corrective actions they wonder, what is it all for? Moreover, you aren’t living up to your mission and vision. To sustain a culture around data collection, you need to maintain a virtuous cycle. In this cycle, employees are asked for their insights, the insights are analyzed, communicated and corrections are made. This ensures that employees see the fruits of their insights. The virtuous cycle also builds engagement, and reinforces a positive feedback loop around data collection, analysis, and corrective action.


Lowering the cultural barriers to EHS data collection is critical if you want your organizations to make data driven decisions to improve workplace safety. Concentrating on building a culture that promotes data collection and data analysis will help promote an overarching safety culture. There are four key elements to lowering the cultural barriers to data collection: establish a mission and vision, know the roles, create the time, and ensure a virtuous cycle. Lowering the cultural barriers to data collection in your EHS programs will embed EHS in everyday operations and help us achieve our goal of eliminating death on the job by 2050.