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ASSE: Improving Safety Culture Through Measurement

By measuring primarily injury and illness data, most safety managers are looking at the wrong things and hindering the achievement of genuine safety excellence, according to consultant Robert Ryan, president of Safety Metrics Inc., who spoke at a June 8 concurrent session of the American Society of Safety Engineers' Professional Development Conference and Exposition in Las Vegas.

Understanding the difference between measuring safety performance as opposed to mere safety activity or injury and illness performance was Ryan's major theme. He said there are two key questions that must be asked in order measure the effectiveness of any safety activity:

  • Why are we doing this?
  • What are we trying to achieve?

For example, too often safety managers think the way to evaluate the effectiveness of safety meetings is to measure how many workers show up. Not so, contended Ryan. "If it's an ineffective meeting, the fewer who show up the better," he declared.

Ryan suggested defining the desired outcome of safety meetings, and then using employee surveys to measure the outcome. The person conducting the meeting then needs to be given the results, so that he or she can be encouraged to improve.

Ryan argued that the desired outcomes of the overall safety program should be defined, including such elements as management's leadership and commitment to safety, employees' attitudes and motivation to work safely, communication and feedback effectiveness, safety and health training and employee ownership and involvement in safety. In addition, all safety programs and initiatives that are part of the company's culture should be measured for effectiveness: incentive and recognition programs, employee suggestion programs, incident investigations, audits and inspections, management of change and safety meetings.

"Lastly, you must include the measuring of employee behaviors at all levels of the organization," said Ryan. "Don't leave out management or supervision."

The biggest payoff of measuring safety performance, according to Ryan, is that it will change a company's culture and encourage employees to take ownership of the safety program.

"What will employees think if they get no measurement of safety performance, but they do get measured for production?" Ryan queried. He also pointed out that if the only safety measures are those of failure, e.g. injuries, illness, and fatalities, it might also be likely to send the wrong message.

"We need to measure performance in order to maximize human potential and create the motivation to change," Ryan contended.

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