How safe of a company are we? If one were to ask his employees this question, how would they respond? Most likely, the employee would respond by quoting one of many "safety" statistics that have been tracked for generations by organizations and our government (NSC, 1955). Too often, organizations rate their safety performance solely on lagging metrics like recordable rate, total recordable rate, lost workday rate, DART rate, EMR, and fatalities to name a few (BLS, 2006). But, does this tell us how safe of an organization we have? It might tell us how risky of an organization we have, but it does not tell us how safe of an organization we have. After all, is it not possible to have no reported incidents and still have risky behavior occurring on a regular basis? So, I would put forth that many organizations are only using injury metrics and are rarely using safety metrics. Many organizations, and their safety professionals, struggle with finding the "next generation" of metrics that will reliably represent their companies' safety performance while guiding the allocation of resources to appropriate areas in order to prevent incidents.
Though we may never move totally away from reactive lagging indicators like injury rate, more and more organizations are looking toward proactive leading indicators to judge their safety performance. Unlike lagging indicators that generally measure undesirable events that have already occurred, leading indicators are generally activities or conditions that are desirable and if completed will prevent or alert us to potential lagging indicators. A focus on leading indicators is desirable for three reasons: 1) leading indicators keeps organizations in a "preventative" or "predictive" mindset, 2) leading indicators are achievement oriented whereas lagging metrics are avoidance oriented (Geller, 1996), and 3) many organizations have hit a "basement effect" when it comes to injury rates (they are at such a low level and the metric happens at such a low frequency, that one occurrence is seen as a "special circumstance" and is difficult to draw statistical conclusions). One common leading metric used by many organizations is information from safety inspections, audits, and behavioral observations. Even though inspections are a common aspect of safety processes, organizations struggle with:
collecting quality information regarding the health of their safety systems, and
using this intelligence to reduce error-likely situations and/or mitigate the consequences of those errors.
For many years, organizations have established some form of inspection process to assess compliance with rules/regulations and policies/procedures (See Factories Act of 1833; Raouf, & Dhillon, 1994; Weindling, 1985; Wilson, 1985). More recently, companies have begun to add an observation process to focus on safety-related behaviors (Geller, 1996; Komaki, Barwick, & Scott, 1978; Krause, Hidley, & Hodson, 1996). Having an inspection and observation process can, by themselves, increase safety awareness and impact the organization's safety culture (Tuncel, Lotlikar, Salem, & Daraiseh, 2006). But while these methodologies are an essential part of a dynamic proactive safety culture, they do not guarantee world-class safety performance.