Using Leading Safety Activities To Advance Safety Objectives - Part 1

Safety performance can be improved through the use of leading safety performance activities and safety scorecards to track and measure progress. This blog series is presented in two sections with the first covering the use of leading safety performance activities and the second covering options to score and track completion of activities through the use of a scorecard.

Reactive vs. Proactive Safety Management

Many companies limit monitoring of safety performance to the use of injury rates or safety improvements to the corrective actions from incident investigation. Relying on injury rates to monitor safety or investigation corrective actions to drive improvements is reactive safety management and may miss proactive opportunities to measure and improve risk and culture. In addition, injury rates are a lagging indicator of safety performance and can be deceiving. Having no injuries or low rates does not necessarily mean risk is well managed or that a strong safety culture exists. Using leading safety activities to improve safety with leading and lagging indicators to monitor performance can be a good mix to manage risk and culture before incidents occur.

Leading Safety Performance Activities

Leading safety activities are proactive on-going actions that employees can take to reduce the risk of injury in an organization. These activities can be designed to target different areas of improvement such as injury risk or safety culture, types of employees, levels of an organization or types of operations such as manufacturing, distribution or offices. Example types of activities include the following:

  • Increasing leadership and employee involvement in safety (safety leadership tours, employee safety observations)
  • Identifying EHS exposures and injury risk (job hazard assessments, reporting of safety improvements)
  • Increasing employee knowledge of safety (employees completing required training)
  • Improving ongoing monitoring of safety processes and conditions (site safety audits and inspections)
  • Formalizing how safety is managed (job standard operating procedures written or formal training documentation created) 

Results of risk assessments, safety procedures, and employee engagement surveys can be sources to review to help identify potential leading safety activities for an organization. Depending on the extent of desired improvement, the activities can be limited to a single site or assigned across an entire organization. Assignment of safety activities can be part of personal performance goals to incentivize and help drive completion. 

It is recommended that safety improvement be focused on a small number of specific activities per year (3-8) across the business or site. Also, spreading completion of activities across the year will help establish habits and embedding the activities in the organization. Keeping activities and reporting of completion simple will aid in the acceptance of the activities and overall success. If the activities are to be used across a global organization, give global stakeholders an opportunity to review the activities to provide input and ensure compatibility with their country norms for managing safety.

To ensure that the safety activities are effective at reducing injury risk, the activities should be reviewed periodically and adjusted, if needed. This could include changing the activity, required number to be completed or the persons assigned to complete the activities. 

It is recommended that a leading safety activity process be created to help manage and drive the improvements that include well documented instructions and adequate training for the various levels of the organization that will participate.

Leading Safety Performance Activity Scoring Metric & Goals

Monitoring and tracking are necessary components of a leading safety activity program to ensure that activities are being completed. In addition to tracking specific activities, a scoring metric can be designed to track the completion percentage of an entire leading safety activity program. The activity and scoring metric can be incorporated in a safety scorecard to track progress. In addition, the scores or specific activities can be tied to personal compensation, site rewards, etc. for motivation and to drive performance. Using safety activity scores for personal goals can be an effective proactive alternative to lagging indicators such as injury rate. Using injury based metrics goals to determine compensation is discouraged because it can create an incentive for employees to not report injuries. 

When assigning completion goals, leading safety activity scores representing the completion status of all activities are best used for leaders of corporate, business unit, regional and sites that are responsible for ensuring proper processes and resources are in place to complete the activities. Individual employees should have goals that reflect completion of the specific activities for which they have responsibility.

Building Support

Some business leaders may be reluctant to switch from assigning goals of lagging injury metrics to using proactive leading safety activities to drive performance improvements. To many business leaders, the concept of leading safety activities and metrics may be new and unfamiliar. It is recommended that key stakeholders be identified and provided with the case for this change to build support, understand concerns and answer questions. 

Part II of this blog series, “Use of Scorecards to Track Leading Safety Performance Activities” will discuss creating a scorecard in more detail.

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