Collecting and analyzing behavior-based safety performance data has been a challenge for organizations due to the volume of data generated by these initiatives. These projects typically involve an observation index used by workers to report their observations. A traditional behavior-based safety index would include check-offs for these types of behaviors:

  • Work with latex gloves on - Yes / No
  • Wear seatbelt while driving - Yes / No
  • Come to a complete stop at stop signs - Yes / No

An observer would place a check in the "Yes" box next to an item if they observed the behavior being done, or check the "No" box if the behavior should have been happening but wasn't. Data is usually graphed in terms of aggregate percent "Yes" scores for all participants per day or per week.

Sometimes participation is graphed in terms of the number of index cards turned in relative to the number expected. If one index card is expected per person, per day, for a 100-person plant, up to 500 index cards could be turned in during a five-day workweek - a massive number.

The problem with cards

There are several problems with this approach to collecting and analyzing behavioral observations:

1) The data is irrelevant to many workers because the behaviors specified on the tool do not apply to them, making the process another "program of the month" phenomenon.

2) Counting the number of index cards received and recognizing people for turning them in does not ensure that the reporters actually did any observations - they may have filled the cards out in the break room.

3) The traditional index does not tell us where safety is being applied and where it is not. We cannot dynamically direct safety observations where they are absent and seem to be needed.

4) Finally, the tool is not versatile enough to allow for applying and reporting about safety in all situations, for example, at work, at home, at play, and while going from one destination to another.

Electronic solutions

Electronic solutions for managing behavioral safety data have been primarily "home-grown." Companies have created their own Microsoft ExcelR spreadsheets, for example. Unfortunately, these electronic solutions are based on the traditional behavior-based safety index, and still tend to perpetuate the problems mentioned above.

An effective data collection and analysis software tool for behavior-based safety should be able to do the following:

Help organize the systematic deployment of behavior-based performance improvement throughout the organization. The metrics tool must be able to organize, analyze and display data by individual employee, team, shift, department, division and so on. For example, a behavior-based initiative can be deployed at different times within a level of the organization. You may have five teams registered, each of which can start their implementation at different times.

Facilitate data collection from individuals through an intranet or the Internet. The metrics tool must be versatile enough to be deployed over an intranet, on a single PC, or accessed over the Internet from a remote server. An individual employee should be able to enter his or her observation from home if necessary. This makes observation entries on index cards unnecessary.

Facilitate centralized data entry if an intranet or Internet is not available. Centralized data-entry by a designated individual should be possible for those organizations that prefer to have one person enter all data.

Manage data for feedback and reinforcement at all levels of the organization. The design of the measurement index and the systematic organization of data should allow for feedback and reinforcement to be applied at all levels of the organization, depending on the performance of each level.

Warehouse behavioral data. Storing data systematically allows you to examine trends in safety issues and to track changes over time.

Extend behavior-based knowledge acquired through the safety initiative to other initiatives including productivity, quality, timeliness, cost reduction and team dynamics. The metrics tool should contain the ability to measure behaviors related not only to safety, but also to productivity, quality, timeliness, cost reduction and team dynamics.

Allow for customization of a measurement index. Your metrics tool should allow your organization to customize the contents of its measurement indices. For example, it should allow you to specify what injuries are to be avoided for a safety index, or what results and behaviors to focus on for a productivity, quality or cost-reduction index.

SIDEBAR: Tech tool turns safety pro proactive

In 1999, PPG Industries, Inc., purchased a corporate license for an environmental health and safety management software program that enables employees to enter incident and near miss reports; tracks investigations and various measures of performance; and updates supervisors, managers and safety pros on the status of corrective actions and other activity.

Braun Thompson, safety and health manager for PPG's operation in LaPorte, Texas, reports that this kind of information technology tool has had numerous benefits:

  • Employee participation gets a boost by allowing everyone to report incidents and near misses after only several hours of training. PPG salespeople use it to report remote incidents, for example.

  • More complete reporting, thanks to user-friendly inputting, gives a better overall picture of safety performance.

  • Supervisors and managers are continuously engaged in safety by receiving updates on action items, incident reports, recommendations and investigations, for example.

  • Safety efforts have become more proactive, with "upstream" system measures tracked such as behavioral observations, action items closed on time, number of inspections conducted, and number of incident reports generated.

  • Accountability for safety audits and action items has been strengthened by a series of automated alerts and reminders that go not only to individuals with assigned responsibilities, but their bosses as well.

  • A piecemeal approach to safety, with information scattered among Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and stray notes, has been integrated to keep the company focused on priorities.

    Thompson, the site administrator of the program, received three or four days training. All 160 employees at his LaPorte facility have been trained in data entry. A year's worth of data was loaded into the system by several employees over several months before the program began.

    "There's less fire fighting, more focus on what's important," he says.

    The software program, Impact Safety, is designed by Syntex Management Systems, Inc. Thompson will present a talk on "Using information technology to impact safety accountability and drive continuous improvement" at the American Society of Safety Engineer's Professional Development Conference in June.