ISHN Guest BlogOriginally posted on Caterpillar Safety Service’s Safety Culture WORLD blog and reposted here with Caterpillar’s permission.

The search for viable leading indicators to replace lagging injury statistics is a hot safety topic these days.

I do not believe we will ever be rid of injury rates as a metric used to judge safety performance. This is the way our safety world is wired, so I have learned to “just get over it.”  However, we are in agreement that measuring what we don’t want to occur (injuries) is not really an effective mechanism for gauging, or improving, our organization’s safety culture and its performance.

We have all looked into potential indicators dealing with near miss, safety work orders, safety contacts and the like. Many of you have put items like this into effect with varying levels of success and satisfaction.

A recent discussion about this with one of my favorite safety cynics (Tony is safety director for a multi-billion dollar organization) delivered a statement to the effect that these potential leading indicators all really miss the mark.

What is needed is involvement and engagement of the people who can make a difference in safety performance.

Tony went right back to Dr. Dan Petersen’s six criteria of safety excellence:

  • Upper management visible commitment to safety
  • Middle management active involvement in safety
  • Supervision being focused on safety performance in the same way they focus on operations deliverables
  • Active hourly participation in safety
  • Flexibility
  • Positive perception of safety by the workforce

One of the biggest challenges Tony faces to these simple safety culture necessities is achieving an on-going viable, visible commitment to safety by upper management personnel. These top level people have so many other tasks, so little time in front of the workforce and generally lack the safety and interpersonal backgrounds to be credible at the front line. Since “what gets measured is what gets done” on down the organization, upper management’s shortfalls cascade through the whole organization.

Tony’s need (and food for thought for you all) is accomplishable leading metrics that will engage upper management efforts in a meaningful way with respect to safety. Do you have both a process and a set of safety accountabilities for this level of your organization that deliver viable leading indicators which will cascade throughout your safety culture?