Getting Full Value from Auditing and Metrics

Are your safety audits gathering dust or building support for safe operations? Here are some keys to getting maximum value from these important tools.

Routine auditing is an essential element in the operation of any business concerned about safety. At your company, perhaps you audit for properly maintained equipment. Maybe you concentrate on operating procedures. Or you could be auditing for unsafe behaviors. But if you're merely noting your observations, making the necessary corrections and filing reports away for end-of-the-year results, are you really getting the most out of your audits? Probably not.

Instead, you may want to consider developing metrics that go beyond the traditional scope of audits to measure overall safety, including occupational health, illnesses and ergonomics. Your metrics also should help you "manage safely" instead of just "managing safety" by focusing your efforts on preventing, not merely reacting to, safety incidents. Performance metrics can help you do all these things.

What are Performance Metrics?

Performance metrics are indicators that focus on gaps or other specific factors that can affect a site's safety -- and business -- success. They give employees and management the tools they need to guide and measure their improvement on an ongoing basis by regularly measuring individual, team and sitewide performance. When used properly, they allow an organization to relate information on that improvement on an almost immediate basis. Most important, by focusing on specifics and sustaining employee involvement, these metrics can prove to be a valuable tool for making a step-change improvement in overall safety performance.

Performance metrics, or indicators, are divided into three main groups: trailing, current and leading.

Trailing indicators are the traditional metrics that measure past safety efforts and the presence or absence of loss events, serving as a report card on how well your company has done in the past, where your problems have been and past trends in safety performance. Typically, these indicators include safety measurements such as:

  • Injury and illness statistics
  • Disability costs
  • Litigation costs
  • Workers' compensation costs
  • Vehicle accident statistics
  • Regulatory citations and penalties
  • Process release statistics.

Trailing indicators are the monthly and year-end safety figures almost every company accumulates to calculate its safety records. Because they reveal trends in safety performance, albeit after the fact, they are important statistics that shouldn't be overlooked.

Current indicators, on the other hand, measure the degree to which safety has been institutionalized and how well your management systems have been executed, in addition to providing a measure of potential loss events over a short term. In a nutshell, these are the indicators that tell you where your company is at by helping you evaluate how well your management systems are working now, as opposed to in the past. Some current indicators:

  • Safe and unsafe acts indices
  • Incident investigation reporting and analysis
  • Serious potential incident frequency
  • Safety audit findings
  • Occupational medical visits
  • Training records and effectiveness
  • Action on past employee surveys
  • Attendance at, and quality of, safety meetings.

While current indicators deal with the present, leading indicators can be extremely effective for predicting future safety performance by measuring your proactive efforts and concentrating on the types of issues that are key to your successful safety performance (e.g., leadership, involvement and employee attitudes). Simply put, leading indicators can help uncover weaknesses in your operations or employee behaviors before they develop into full-fledged problems. Examples of leading indicators:

  • Quality of an audit program, including schedule adherence
  • Number of repeat injuries
  • Analysis of process hazard reviews
  • Number of safety work orders/unit of time
  • Incident reporting, investigation and follow-up
  • Employee attitudes and perceptions
  • Quality and quantity of employee safety suggestions
  • Involvement of senior management/hourly employees in safety processes and systems.

Used together, performance metrics -- trailing, current and leading -- identify opportunities for safety performance improvement. Plus, as a source of feedback, they encourage the safety process to move forward by enhancing employee motivation, involvement and satisfaction. Therefore, they contribute directly not only to enhanced safety performance, but also to increased productivity and greater levels of profitability.

Forming Your Own Metrics

To be effective, performance metrics do not need to be complicated. Indeed, the more easily understood they are, the better. That's because making them easy to understand makes them more accessible to employees, and employee involvement is an absolute necessity for your safety effort to succeed. What metrics should you choose? A good combination of trailing, current and leading indicators, based on your company's needs, are always best.

To determine trailing indicators, you will need to record, organize and sort audit information carefully. Then, to expand the scope to current and leading indicators, you should analyze the same data for trends and indicators. Areas that need improvement, future trends in at-risk behaviors and safe work practices should be identified, too. In other words, build your metrics around what you see in work areas and what you hope to see there in the future.

Remember, your indicators can never be static if you want to maintain employee interest. For instance, in the beginning, you may want to start with something basic, such as the awareness and use of personal protective equipment (gloves, glasses, etc.). Then, after your employees have achieved desired performance levels in this area, it's time to move on, eliminating this metric in favor of another.

Auditing According to Your Metrics

Once you've become comfortable using performance metrics, you'll want to re-evaluate your auditing process. Instead of being a negative experience, audits should be an opportunity for you to demonstrate your company's commitment to safety and a means to maintain or raise employee awareness of safety. Consequently, you're far better off when you pay less attention to an auditing checklist and more attention to employees.

Engage them in conversations about what they're doing correctly. Ask them what they think could be done to make operating procedures safer. Talk to them about their opinions of your safety effort. Even better, encourage employees to participate in audits. Eventually, hand over the responsibility for audits to them for the highest level of employee buy-in to safety.

Performance Indexing

Of course, what you do with your audit results is every bit as important as how the audit is done. Reserving the results for members of senior management or saving them for periodic reports will do little, if anything, to improve your safety performance. Communicating audit findings to everyone in your organization, and on as immediate a basis as possible, can make a big difference.

To disseminate your audit results, you may want to discuss them in safety meetings, send e-mails or post bulletins. Yet, with a little effort, you can make your results an even greater source of feedback, encouraging the process to move forward by enhancing employee motivation and employee satisfaction. One way of doing this is with performance indexing.

With performance indexing, you can combine your trailing, current and leading indicators in one spot, giving visible testament to how your safety effort is doing and what you can expect in the future. Each index should be built around a specific indicator.

For example, to measure employee safe work practices, you would audit an area, tallying up the number of observed acts. The index would be the percentage of observed acts that are deemed "safe." These observations of employee safe work practices, in addition to determining the percentage of safe acts, would continue each week or according to whatever schedule you choose. The index should be shared visibly in the factory so everyone can see trends and be motivated by them.

Employees at DuPont's Corpus Christi, Texas, site use a slightly different method to track their safety progress. Each month, committee members collect data on nine elements, such as employee involvement and management commitment, and give a score to each of 1 point to 5 points. Add together the scores and position the needle on the site's "thermometer of safety climate" according to the composite number. Through this method, employees know where they have been, where they are and where they are going, because the "thermometer" is where it should be -- on the plant floor, where business is run in today's factories.

Sharing Responsibility

The role of management in safety cannot be minimized. Management must decide that auditing practices will be changed and that performance metrics will be used. It must react quickly to correct deficiencies before an injury can occur. It also must provide the visible support for any safety effort.

Therefore, management cannot afford to be passive when it comes to safety. Nor can it merely tally up injuries and workers' compensation costs and consider them the only measurement of safety performance. Safety standards are rising every day, and it is incumbent upon management to find ways to meet these heightened standards to protect our employees, our business, our communities and our economic viability.

Better auditing methods can help, but to produce the safety results that will have the greatest impact on how we do business, we must realize the value of performance metrics. When it comes to sustainable safety improvement, it isn't a matter of auditing or metrics; it's the necessity of both, because you can't have one without the other.

Howard Street is a consultant with DuPont Safety Resources in Wilmington, Del. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] For more information on DuPont Safety Resources, call (800) 532-SAFE or visit Dupont's Web site at

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