One of my biggest gripes about safety management over the past 20 plus years is the lemming like fascination with “indicators“.
Notoriously, major inquiries around the globe have found that when organisations focus on “lag” indicators (typically personal injury rates) they miss, or become blinded to, more significant risks and catastrophic events often result.
Most recently, this was succinctly articulated by the Pike River Royal Commission which stated:
The statistical information provided to the board on health and safety comprised mainly personal injury rates and time lost through accidents. … The information gave the board some insight but was not much help in assessing the risks of a catastrophic event faced by high hazard industries. … The board appears to have received no information proving the effectiveness of crucial systems such as gas monitoring and ventilation.
I have long feared, and it appears that we are heading down the same path under the guise of “lead” indicators. A recent study described in the Queensland Government’s eSafe newsletter found serious shortcomings in using traditional lag indicators for measuring safety.
Nothing suspiring there!
Apparently, the study went on to note a range of leading indicators that helped to deliver good personal injury performance. These indicators included fairly common place practices such as:
- subcontractors being selected based (in part) on safety criteria.
- subcontractors submitting approve, site-specific safety programs.
- the percentage of toolbox meetings attended by supervisors and managers.
- the percentage of planning meetings attended by jobsite supervisors and managers.
- the percentage of negative test results on random drug tests.
- the percentage of safety compliance on jobsite safety audits (inspections).
And so on.
I am not saying that any of these indicators are not good safety practices. They are. They should be measured as a measure of good safety practice – but they are not a measure of a safe workplace. They are not an indicator of risks being controlled.
The problem with any general “indicator” approach, lead or lag, is it does not actually give us any insight into whether the risks in the business are being controlled. It simply perpetuates the illusion of safety.
In other words, I have a bunch of indicators. The indicators are being met. Therefore, the risks in my business are being controlled.
Think of a potential fatal risk in your business. Take confined spaces as an example.
What do any of the indicators described above tell you about whether that risk is being controlled? Typically nothing.
What are the crucial systems in your business?
How do you prove that they are effective?