I’m sure you’ve read articles in the past promoting the value, the necessity, of measuring a site’s safety performance. Without metrics, and I mean a mix of leading and trailing measures, you’re left to managing safety blindly.

What types of measures are best for your organization? You choose, and then take action to install and utilize them. While you’re at it, here are six reminders for getting the most from your measures.

1) It’s easy to be hoodwinked by safety statistics.

Exercise care when comparing or evaluating safety statistics. Don’t make assumptions, make sure the statistics are rates, not just raw numbers — and ask questions.

Ask questions because numbers do not identify the causes of incidents, nor do they help you determine what to do to prevent future occurrences.

2) Safety statistics don’t reveal what’s going on in your safety system (effort, commitment, or activities that promote safe performance).

Have you ever seen a coach try to manage and lead the team by watching the scoreboard? Crazy right?

Good coaches watch their players. He or she then shows them the right way (training). Or the coach might suggest a different technique (teaching). Might have a player put on a different pair of shoes (get them the right equipment).

Working directly with the players, the coach shapes performance. It’s a known fact workers respond to good supervision, just like athletes respond to good coaching. Effective supervisors need to be good communicators who possess the ability to clearly convey expectations for performance, who are good at listening to employees, and who are able educators — they are coaches.

3) Good supervisors are key to good safety performance.

How do you get good supervisors, at all levels, to understand that as coaches they need to observe what goes on in the work environment and to respond accordingly?

First, each person in supervision, from the president on down, needs to agree with their boss to routinely conduct five or six activities each month to promote safe performance. Potential activities could include: training, auditing, observing, coaching, participating in safety discussions, taking on a safety project, educating oneself, inspecting equipment, evaluating processes, or identifying and correcting safety problems.

Next comes measurement. This is best done through a combination of direct observation, talking to others and instituting a simple reporting system. Written weekly performance summaries on an index card (or emailed) works well. Keep it simple and workable.

Finally, the boss provides feedback. Each supervisor or manager sits down with their boss to discuss the previous month’s activities, successes and problems.

4) Scoreboard watching has limitations.

Numbers show how your company is doing in a macro sense or on an annual basis. But your safety scoreboard does not identify problems, tell why problems are occurring, nor indicate what to do to improve.

Tracking safety incident rates provides an overall perspective, but measuring supervisor and manager safety activities is more revealing. These measures reveal the level of commitment and level of activity devoted to promoting safe performance. These activities, or the lack of them, are the “upstream” drivers that ultimately produce the numbers on the safety scoreboard.

When supervisors at all levels begin to actively manage safety, the organization begins to change for the better. Employees see supervisors paying attention to how jobs are being done and providing feedback, not just worrying about statistics for production and safety. A sense that the organization is serious about injury prevention begins to take hold. Supervisors at all levels not only talk the talk, but walk the walk.

5) Actively managing safety on a day-to-day basis has a significant influence on incident rates.

When players execute well, the scoreboard tells the story. This is true for safety, as well. Safety statistics improve faster when you place your emphasis on improving the quality of supervision, and hold supervisors and managers accountable for safety activities that promote safe performance.

6) When it comes to evaluating supervisor or manager performance in safety…

…I’d rather have a supervisor who actively promotes safe performance through their personal involvement and activities, yet incurs an incident or two in their area. Better that then to have a supervisor who has zero incidents in their area, but who also does nothing to promote safe performance.

In the first instance, the supervisor is committed and involved; in the second, the supervisor is managing “safety by prayer.”