Key Takeaways

- Safety goals that are outcomes-focused and based on lagging indicators can hinder an organization’s efforts in building a safe and healthy work environment. Such goals unintentionally send a message that the company cares more about numbers than about people and lure frontline supervisors into unproductive behaviors. Such goals also inhibit learning and reduce intrinsic motivation.

- This article suggests an approach that OSH professionals can use to write safety goals that proactively fuel a safety program.

- It offers a filter to guide when goals are being written for production floor workers. Specific questions OSH professionals should ask are also identified.

- The author recommends a key action that OSH professionals should take after setting safety goals.

If you think a safety goal such as “reduce the OSHA recordable rate 5% by the end of the calendar year” is effective, think again. Setting such safety goals can have powerful side effects that can undermine an organization’s efforts to build a solid, vibrant safety culture. The author’s former employer learned this the hard way. The old advice to “define your goals” is applicable to both one’s personal life and to the occupational world. This axiom usually gets head nods from those who hear it. Many books and articles have been written throughout the years that support this advice. Goals are necessary for anyone who is trying to be successful in life or any business function striving for high performance, regardless of the industry or size of company. Michalewicz (2014) claims that “success = goal achievement” (p. 17). Focused, well-defined and challenging goals create alignment, clarity, job satisfaction and enhanced productivity (Locke & Latham, 2002; 2006). OSH is no different.

According to Janicak (2010), “the most commonly found goals in any safety and health program include lost-time injury rate, lost workdays, recordable injury rate and total injury rates” (p. 13). If you ask an OSH professional to state their safety goals for the year, you may likely receive answers such as:

- reducing the OSHA recordable rate 5% by the end of the calendar year,

- reducing the lost time rate 5% by the end of the calendar year, or

- reducing workers’ compensation costs 10% by the end of the year.

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