How to become creators of safety

There is a huge disconnect in measuring what doesn’t happen to us as proof that something else exists. Recording no injury during a period of time does not prove the existence of safety. We all know this because at some point in our lives we have all done something unsafe, and yet, had the good luck of not being hurt.

But “luck” measures don’t sit very well in business discussions. Shifting safety measures away from the traditional “lack of loss” measures to one aligned with how management normally measures progress towards goals will help us in significant ways.

Key performance indicators
Using the classic four functions of management — planning, organizing, leading and controlling — it’s important to point out that “preventing” is not one of the four fundamental management functions.

Develop, implement and monitor activities and the resulting outcomes is how most businesses accomplish their management functions. The measures we choose need to be about things a company does to produce an outcome.

Who in your organization is planning around making the workplace safe? That question needs to be answered through activity measures. How many planning sessions are held monthly? What is produced at these planning sessions? What initiatives are being implemented?

These questions can and do form the kinds of reports your management team is used to seeing. They see them all the time when measuring productivity performance. We need to actually measure the creation of safety to be aligned with other business functions. After all, most management teams are not focused on “preventing” a lack of profit.

The fundamental two questions that need to be asked and answered are:
• What are we doing to create safety (behaviours, culture, environment and accountability)?
• What are we getting for those efforts (movement toward the goals)?

Most businesses set similar types of goals and do similar activities to reach those goals. Raw numbers, percentage of progress and percentage of change towards a target are usually seen as reasonable measures to help management steer the process of creating production. These will also work in safety management if we keep in mind we are not here to “prevent injuries.” We are here to “create safety.”

Nesting measurable activities
There is no better way to keep a boss interested than holding her accountable for activities that create the expected results. I call this “nesting safety activities.” Here’s an example: A senior manager I know holds his direct reports responsible to report to him activities that have created safety on a weekly basis. Some of these reported activities are selected to receive special recognition by way of a personal phone call to the person — or persons — responsible for the activity. The phone conversation starts with a personal “thank you” from the senior leader, noting her appreciation of the employees’ actions to make their place of work a safer place to be.

This activity has gone on for years with very positive results. The message is that our safety process is personal, serious and appreciated.

The most important part of this example is that the various levels of the organization are involved in doing and measuring safety activities that create safety. They aren’t relying on the lack of injuries to drive their attention to safety. It’s about catching people doing things right. By the way, this employer has very low injury numbers as a result of their hard work. The best part about that result is they know why their injury rates are low.