Managers constantly challenge safety and health pros to justify their programs and initiatives. So how do you get buy-in and ownership?

You need metrics - meaningful prospective data that management can understand. Retrospective safety data is typically used to justify positions and recommendations. But it's usually restricted to injury and illness historical data. Regulatory interpretations are another common selling tool. But it is more effective to use prospective and program evaluation data, collected to drive corrective action plans, and to sell management on these objectives while justifying budget requests.

So what prospective data is simple enough for most safety and health professionals to collect and analyze? A presentation outline was developed by a number of Fortune 500 companies, where data and metrics are presented as an annual report. By using prospective data, complemented by the retrospective data, management was more convinced that safety and health managers were truly aware of program issues, and had done their homework in designing a cost-effective, prioritized approach toward goals and objectives.

Presenting your annual report

Setting the stage: Most companies set the stage on a positive note, listing what was accomplished in the past year. For companies with strategic plans, integrating top accomplishments by comparing them to corporate initiatives demonstrates that health and safety managers understand the business and can relate program value to accepted corporate values. This is also a great opportunity to show management where the budget was spent the past year.

Part of this look back can include the contributions of others. For example, if there is an active safety committee, publish their membership and acknowledge their contributions.

Historical data analysis: Next, consider presenting injury and illness trends. Most managers want you to get to the bottom line, and you want to be able to take credit for success and explain negative trends. Sometimes, based on the size of your facility or population base, three- and five-year averages or trends better demonstrate history. If you have workers' compensation data, use it here.

Historical metrics: Most safety and health organizations perform numerous duties throughout the year - inspections, industrial hygiene surveys, MSDS reviews, indoor air quality assessments, ergonomic studies, fire drills, accident investigation, and so on. Effective organizations use this data to their advantage to demonstrate value to the company.

For example, you might be able to demonstrate that your hearing conservation program has reduced the total population of exposed individuals by ten percent over three years. You might be able to demonstrate that you performed 80 more ergonomic surveys, resulting in 92 more corrective actions this year, demonstrating where you spent your resources. Hopefully, your injury statistics validate the efforts.

Data and metrics are best presented as trends. Use at least some comparative data (two or three years) to clearly relate how much has been done or what has been accomplished. Even better, if the number or trends are not complementary, use this as an opportunity to request and justify additional resources.

Program assessment metrics: One of the most impressive metrics to present continues to be a program assessment result, presented as a score or ranking. More and more, companies are evaluating their programs or management system annually. One year's scores are less meaningful, unless used to convey relative strengths and weaknesses. Trends, depicting a progression of program or element scores over a period of a few years, can have a powerful effect on management and lend further credibility and justification to proposed initiatives.

Next year's action plan: As a result of this metrics presentation (or "data dump"), you finally get to present your action plan for next year. Based on the weakness presented in each previous section, there is usually some consistent problem area(s) or department(s) that are struggling to meet requirements. Specify what specific initiatives will allow you to improve trends for next year.

Budget & resources: Last but not least, ask for help. Make sure management realizes it needs to contribute dollars and other resources such as time, training, use of consultants, etc. Take the opportunity to work with other partners in other organizations. Ask human resources for the performance appraisal format, or maintenance to improve its closure rate on safety maintenance work orders.

Setting goals & objectives

Safety goals of "ten percent reduction" or "zero injuries" are nice to hear, but completely meaningless in terms of describing what people will do to be better than last year. These are better described as "visions" rather than goals.

Goals can be stated as numeric, descriptive, and a combination of both. Numeric goals are easily measured, but can be difficult to attain and make comprehensive. Descriptive goals are more attainable and comprehensive, but harder to measure. It's often best to integrate descriptive goals that can be measured through numeric objectives. This provides better detail, making goals and objectives more meaningful and allowing people to see how they can contribute.

For example, you can have a goal that states: "Improve our Hazard Identification & Hazard Reduction. Conduct weekly inspections with emphasis on good housekeeping, proper use of protective equipment, condition of critical parts of equipment, and preventive maintenance."

Your next step is to develop action plans, especially for your more strategic initiatives, or where multiple parties might be needed to achieve success. These action plans will typically detail the "who" and "where," the "how" and "why," so that accountability can be truly evaluated. In addition, items like "critical parts" from the example above will need to be defined, and a method developed to measure and track the goal being accomplished. The better companies use this as an opportunity to demonstrate that they run safety just like other parts of their business.

To summarize: If you want to more easily communicate, gain acceptance, and even request commitment from management for safety and health goals and objectives, use prospective data and metrics. More importantly, if you can measure whether or not the monies spent can actually accomplish or meet goals, budgets and resources are better defined and determined, and management commitments are more substantial. That's because you've earned management's trust.