All environmental health and safety professionals have at some time in their career become frustrated with judgments made about their organization's and personal performance through outcome-oriented measurements. After all, some negative outcomes seem to happen from just plain bad luck or by chance.

For example, an exemplary employee has a bad day, is injured, and accepts prescription pain medication. An over-the-counter drug may have worked equally as well - but now you have an OSHA recordable injury for an unlucky worker in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Well, it's very unlikely that these outcome standards of measurement are going away. So what alternatives do EHS professionals have to reflect our preventative efforts?

Moving upstream

We can move upstream in the EHS management process system and measure things that, if done well, can be expected to contribute to good performance. This is no different than other processes or systems within manufacturing. Quality efforts have evolved from defect management to continuous process improvement designed to prevent the off-specification product. These efforts often measure and trend Key Process Indicators (KPI). These can also be referred to as Key Performance Indicators.

I've been fortunate enough to be involved with an organization and a management system that developed some progressive manufacturing and EHS indicators to manage a chemical pulp mill and paper making manufacturing process. Hopefully it will stimulate your thinking about alternatives to traditional metrics.

EHS becomes integrated

As EHS manager at the mill, I delegated responsibility for developing EHS indicators to very capable staff. The resulting KPIs were a mix of upstream process indicators and outcomes measurements. These new metrics aligned very well with the manufacturing process concepts elsewhere and drew the EHS department more into the overall organization. Other departments began to perceive how EHS could contribute to profitability rather than just exist as an overhead burden.

Environmental indicators

The mill had environmentally permitted air emissions sources such as a black liquor recovery boiler and a limekiln. The mill's water and raw materials losses were drained to an environmentally permitted wastewater treatment process. The KPI was developed toward a goal of achieving a perfect score of 100 points that was made up of five critical components worth 20 points each, summing to a total of 100.

These components consisted of a hybrid mix of three process inputs and two outcomes measurements. The belief was that environmental excesses would be prevented if these components each achieved 20 points. We also believed that non-adherence to environmental KPIs reduced cost of operation and ultimately profitability.

Two years of historical daily data was statistically evaluated and trended for each of the five components individually and then collectively to determine a realistic starting point. Our intent was to continually tighten the standards or substitute other more relevant components as they came under continuous control. The goal was to obtain either an individual component or collective score of 20 and 100 points, respectively. This was a concept that most employees were familiar with or could relate to from past traditional educational school participation.

The air quality performance KPI of 100 consisted of 20-point targets for boiler sulfur dioxide (S02), Total Reduced Sulfur (TRS), and visible emissions (Opacity) as well as Limekiln TRS and odorous non-condensable gas venting time.

The water and raw materials losses quality KPI also consisted of 100 from the sum of 20-point targets for sewer flow, solids lost to the sewers, Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) lost to the sewers, and performance of the wastewater treatment plant compared with a target solids and BOD measurement set at 15 percent of the environmental permit limits to provide a compliance cushion.

The individual EHS KPI component scores required good operations to achieve and were discussed and posted daily in operations meetings. The results were trended both on a dry erase board at the meeting site and historically within mill computer systems.

KPI components that consistently scored at 100 percent were periodically adjusted or replaced so that they remained challenging and meaningful.

Safety indicators

Here are some possible EHS-related outcomes and safety management system process inputs that might be counted, summed and trended in the safety, fire prevention, and emergency prevention/response areas:

  • Percent completion of safety meeting and percent meeting a content standard.
  • Percent completion of safety inspections (fire extinguishers, eyewash/safety shower).
  • Percent completion safety work orders or safety action plans.
  • Percent attendance at safety meetings and emergency response training.
  • Percent of completion of scheduled industrial hygiene measurements.
  • Percent compliance with hot work, lock and tag, confined space entry permits.
  • Number of spills, fires, injury incidents as percent of historical average.
  • Percent of scheduled safety/behavioral observations.
  • Overall percent safe behavior observed.
  • Percent adherence to PPE requirements.
  • Percent of scheduled departmental audits/inspections.
  • Percent of Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) performed.

    Various components can be assembled to determine the effect on the overall safety KPI. Your goal is to find some combination that is perceived credible as contributing to safe performance. Your data should already be available or able to be obtained without creating a bureaucratic paper trail. Perhaps this is best done weekly or monthly rather than daily, since many of these events are intermittent or periodic.

    This does not have to be a finished product, but can be viewed as a continuous improvement "work-in-progress." You want to be able to detect a change in participation or activity before it leads to impaired performance. This KPI process should not replace any of the effective traditional safety processes or programs but, instead, complement them.

    Safety professionals, supervisors, and other employees prefer to be judged on their efforts, rather than on some not entirely controllable events that happen to align to cause an injury or asset loss. By continuously increasing and improving proactive safety-related efforts, you can expect to reduce incidents that adversely impact your organization's financial performance. But don't forget, government-mandated outcomes measures will likely always be required.


    Beischel, CMA, and Smith, K. Richard, CMA. "Linking the Shop Floor to the Top Floor: Here's a framework for measuring manufacturing performance." Management Accounting, pp. 25-29, October 1991.