We stand today at a crossroads in safety management and safety measurement. In the past few years we have made enormous progress in our fight to make the work place safe. For many companies the goal of zero incidents is almost in view and in light of our recent success it seems reasonable to expect that we should reach that goal soon.
But surprisingly, that is not happening. Something is blocking our ability to get there. It would be easy to blame the new problems that are facing us today. Some of the recent challenges for safety management include:
The transition from acute injuries such as breaks and burns to cumulative or chronic injuries such as back strains and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome,
The shift from predictable injuries such as pinched fingers that used to be incurred three times a month to rare situations such as heart attacks from allergic reactions to bee stings experienced in the office.
An increase in the number of incidents of workplace violence and road rage that put of employees in a new danger
The incredible changes in production technology accompanied by shifts in company ownership and philosophy
The new needs of an aging and decreasingly physically fit workforce
These new problems are real, but I would like to suggest to you that they are not the primary cause of our ability to reach our safety goals. Thefact that these problems are obstacles is evidence that there is something wrong or missing from our safety management systems that inhibits us from getting to our goal.
Our success will come when we have found the way to:
increase the level of activate commitment throughout our organizations
more accurately assess and predict future points of vulnerability
implement fewer but more effective controls
In short we must be able to PREDICT what will threaten our safety, to UNDERSTAND precisely why any specific threat could become a reality, and finally CONTROL the factors that will ensure the well being of our employees.
The intent of this paper is to encourage you to look at our current safety measurement process as a primary impediment to successful safety management. At first glance Incident Rate, the number of injuries per 200,00 hours worked, seems the most logical measure of safety, and I would agree that it does deserve a place in safety measurement, but it has two serious flaws.
First of all, it is a trailing or lagging indicator. That simply means it is too far removed from day to day management to be very useful. Italways makes us look in the rear view mirror, recording what has already happened. It was developed by OSHA to tell them which companies were having the worst safety problems, i.e. which to inspect. Soon everyone was using this number as though it were a well thought out measure.