While it is easy to understand why an organization would want to improve safety performance, it is much more challenging to prescribe how an improvement will be achieved. Traditionally, organizations have measured the success of their safety improvement efforts by how well they avoid and prevent employees from getting injured, as evident in the various accident-based metrics used to measure and compare and contrast "safe" organizations from "un-safe" ones. Success or failure often hinges upon the absence of adverse events. Efforts to improve safety are typically based on improving some accident-based metric, and often with little consideration as to how these goals will be achieved.
Narrowly focusing on improving accident-based metrics may result in some marginal safety improvement, but more likely will lead to the active concealment and underreporting of hazards and employee injuries (United States Dept. of Justice, 2013). Accident-based metrics are poor indicators of safety performance and just do not provide the insight necessary for organizational leadership to make informed decisions regarding safety and risk. A more effective approach to achieving sustainable safety improvements is needed.
Through the process of incorporating formal goal-setting mechanisms into existing management processes, management can move beyond simple reductions in accident-based metrics and shift toward the implementation and integration of management processes and systems that bring about a greater clarity and focus to an organization's safety management and improvement efforts.
As early as 1996, influential safety pioneer Dan Petersen wrote how measuring performance through accident based metrics was a " waste of time" and " meaninglessness." (Petersen, 1996, pp. 15–33; Petersen, 2001) Petersen went on to advocate that organizations should use "anything but accident based metrics" to measure the performance of management, and instead focus on the active participation in activities designed to improve safety performance.
Let me be clear; results matter! Preventing injuries and accidents matter! Demonstrating measurable improvement in our ability to prevent accident and injuries, through recognizing and reducing risk, matter! Organizations should never abandon their "zero-injury" mindset, yet be mindful that having a "zero-injury" mindset is not a sustainable safety improvement strategy.