Managers within most businesses and industries have historically sought means to reduce injuries and illnesses by employing engineering controls and addressing the conditions of the work environment. These factors clearly remain important; however, many in the field recognize that there are other variables that are likely to influence the rate of injuries within the workforce.
In 2001, the mining and quarrying industry experienced an 18% increase in occupational deaths as compared to those experienced in 2000 (NSC, 2003). The fatality rate per 100,000 workers also increased 8% from 2000 to 2001, the largest single increase within any industry sector.
Bureau of Labor Statistics data for 2003 (BLS, 2005a) show that 2 out of every 100 miners engaged in aggregate or sand and gravel operations experienced injuries at work that required medical attention. According to the National Safety Council (NSC, 2003), accidents and their consequences continue to be a major public health concern.
Any management team that has employees who are exposed to workplace hazards that can result in injury, property damage, or both, faces the challenge or reducing or eliminating those hazards. Traditional measures of safety program effectiveness have relied solely on trailing indicators (i.e., injury incidence rates, workers' compensation costs, and the like). The absence of such measurable incidence fails to give many enlightened managers reason for celebration.
The traditional safety measures are simply inadequate and unreliable measures of safety system effectiveness (Janicak, 2003, p.11). More importantly, these indicators are not sensitive enough to provide management with timely and reliable feedback on new processes or changes to existing processes intended to control hazards or reduce the risks associated with those hazards.
Over the past 15 years, there has been increasing interest by both companies and researchers in developing concurrent if not leading indicators of success in safety (Janicak, 2003, p.17). Some factors that have come under consideration include measurements of inspections/audits, safety meeting attendance, maintenance work order completion, and direct observation of employee behaviors on the job.
A technique that has been gaining interest since Zohar (1980) first used it is a perception survey to connect perceived management practices and the safety results of the organization. The use of safety culture/climate surveys has been on the increase as another possible means to improve safety results. These instruments reportedly identify several key factors that must be present within the safety management system for a safety program to be successful. Factors such as visible management support, employee involvement and effective feedback (communication) are but a few suggested by researchers as viable measures and predictors of successful safety programs.