Measuring Safety and Health Performance – Part 2

Published On: February 1, 2017By Categories: Safety, Safety Matters

Part 2: A review of commonly used performance indicators.

By Jerome E. Spear

Regardless how difficult it is to do, a firm’s safety performance needs to be measured—or else accountability becomes meaningless.

I said that last month in the first part of this two-part series, where I described outcome-oriented measures and insurance-claim data measures—two methods to measure safety performance as well as their benefits and limitations. This final installment of the series examines process-oriented methodology for measuring safety performance.

Process-Oriented Measures

Safety Audits

Safety audits are a method of obtaining data with regard to the current status of the safety program. Safety audits can be internal or external. Internal audits are initiated by the organization. External audits are conducted by personnel outside the organization.

Additional classes of audits are planned, unplanned, and continuous. Planned audits occur periodically in the organization on a schedule known to the company. Unplanned audits occur with no prior announcement to the organization or site.

Compliance with laws, regulations, and company policies and procedure is measured effectively with audits. Many companies have constructed audits using a scoring system in an effort to measure and track audit results by location, department, manager/supervisor, and audit category.

Self-audits can be effective if done objectively and if the audit process produces valid and reliable information. How-ever, research questions the validity of accepting audits as a measure of excellence unless these audits have passed rigorous tests (Petersen 1998).

Other limitations of safety audits as a measurement tool include:

  • The audit process generally represents only a small sampling of the corporate population over a short period of time.
  • The effectiveness is limited by the auditor’s knowledge and design of the audit instrument.
  • The benefits found in the audit report findings and recommendations are often directly proportional to the auditor’s knowledge and skill. Therefore, selecting a competent auditor is a key factor.
  • Selection of the audit instruments is critical, as some are distinctly better than others.
  • Few audit instruments have a system focus and therefore fail to answer the question of why deficiencies exist and how well the system is functioning.
  • Safety audits can be construed as fault-finding. They may also produce merely a superficial list of deficiencies (Janicak 2003) if the root cause of the deficiencies identified are not investigated.

Behavior-Based Safety

Behavior-based safety is a safety performance process that has increased in popularity over the past 20 years. Typically, employees develop lists of critical work behaviors, observe peers performing work, report observations to peers, and help develop appropriate corrective actions.

Based on the philosophy that the vast majority of accidents are attributed to unsafe behaviors, this approach focuses on identifying, measuring, and correcting critical behaviors.

Another philosophical basis for this approach is behavior, attitudes, and culture are interdependent. However, attitudes are intrinsic and therefore cannot be observed, whereas behaviors are extrinsic—and thus can be observed and more readily measured.

As a result, focusing on behaviors as opposed to attitudes is the primary emphasis with a behavior-based safety process, which has a logical basis as a safety performance measure.

The primary limitations and considerations involved with a behavior-based safety process include the following:

  • A considerable amount of time, training, and investment in company resources is required to implement and sustain the process.
  • Demonstrated leadership from both management and labor is critical in order to be effectively implemented and sustained.
  • Timely feedback of observation results is critical to success.
  • Many employees feel uncomfortable providing feedback to peers, especially negative feedback.
  • Critical behaviors must be objectively defined. Different observers may yield different results from observations based on knowledge and experience if critical behaviors are poorly defined.
  • The cause-and-effect relationship between the critical behaviors and risk of injury are rarely quantified. As a result, critical behaviors identified for measurement and tracking are often subjectively identified based on management and employee feedback and knowledge of past incidents or injuries.

Safety Perception Surveys


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Safety perception surveys are used in assessing the safety climate in an organization. Remember, the safety climate is influenced by both behavior and attitude. A behavior-safety process focuses on measuring employee behaviors, whereas safety perception surveys focus on attitudes and beliefs held by management, supervisors, and workers.

A good perception survey should (Petersen 1998):

  • Evaluate the firm’s perception of management systems that affect safety performance
  • Ask the same questions of managers and employees at different levels within the organization
  • Be easily and economically administered, analyzed, and evaluated
  • Facilitate comparisons of specific departments and divisions while maintaining respondent anonymity
  • Provide managers with data in a format that allows for definitive comparisons to facilitate decision- making.

The primary limitations of perception surveys include the possible complexities of constructing and administering the survey and analyzing the resulting data. Also, since employee perceptions are the key indicators in the survey, some managers may be resistant to receiving unfiltered information and data about safety issues, potential risks, and the possible employee-management disconnect. This resistance may be a reason why safety perception surveys are not as widely conducted as should be.

Safety Training Measurements

Safety training is one of the most important components of any safety program. It is an antecedent to employee behavior, and thus to some degree influences employee behaviors. Therefore, it seems appropriate to measure safety training effectiveness. Training should be evaluated so that the organization can (Phillips 1991):

  • Assess participant satisfaction with the training
  • Assess the application of the training to the job
  • Evaluate organizational performance
  • Test for skills development.

Tests and quizzes given before and after training can measure knowledge transfer of the training. Periodic random tests and quizzes can also be an effective tool to track employee safety knowledge and retention on an ongoing basis. If hands-on skills are required, a standardized practical (or functional) test can be developed and used to measure skill level.

References Birkner, L., and R. Birkner. 1999. Determining the value of tomorrow’s goals. Harvard Business Review 74, no. 1: 75-85. occupational hygiene and safety. Occupational Hazards Petersen, D. 1996. Safety by Objectives: What Gets Measured 61, no. 2: 51-52. and Rewarded Gets Done, 2nd Edition. New York, New Birkner, L., and R. Birkner. 1999. The health and safety York: John Wiley & Sons Inc. scorecard. Occupational Hazards 61, no. 6: 51-52. Petersen, D. 1998. What measures should we use and why? Furst, P.G. 2006. Measuring success—Integrated risk man- Professional Safety 43, 37-40. agement. Retrieved December 16, 2008 from Worldwide Phillips, J. 1991. Handbook of Training Evaluation and Web at Measurement Methods. Houston, Texas: Gulf Publishing Co. Janicak, C. 2003. Safety Metrics: Tools and Techniques for Veley, C., N. Richie, A. Coats, J. Disatell, and P. Cook. 2004. Measuring Safety Performance. Lanham, Maryland: A new method of measuring safety performance will soon Government Institutes. affect the whole industry. Paper presented at Seventh SPE Kaplan, R.S., and D.P. Norton. 1996. Using the balanced International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environ- scorecard as a strategic management system: Building a mental in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production, scorecard can help managers link today’s actions with SPE 86741, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Participant satisfaction can be assessed using a training evaluation questionnaire. Application of training to the job can be assessed through audits and observations.

Corrective Action Measurements

Devising and performing a corrective action is the only way to prevent a potential future accident from occurring (Veley et al. 2004). Therefore, the effectiveness of corrective actions tends to be an essential item to measure.

A corrective action is defined as what the person in charge will do to ensure behavior changes. A corrective action is a management activity that increases the probability of things happening as intended (Veley et al. 2004).

Before devising and performing corrective actions, root causes of injuries, incidents, or essentially any organizational problem need to be identified. Having a process of measuring corrective actions implemented goes hand-in-hand with an effective incident investigation and root cause analysis program. Safety audits and inspections are other good tools for identifying organizational problems and determining their root causes as needed for devising, performing, and tracking corrective actions.

The Balanced Scorecard

Often, safety metrics do not tell senior managers how the safety effort correlates to their goals and objectives for the business. According to Birkner (1999), a set of metrics is useless if management does not believe it is credible and sufficiently tied to the organization’s bottom line. Linking health and safety to the organization’s primary and supporting activities automatically ties it to the business strategy, which is the premise of the balanced scorecard.

The balanced scorecard is a strategic management concept that was first presented by Robert S. Kaplan, Ph.D., and D.P. Norton, Ph.D., in 1996. The balanced scorecard monitors short-term performance from four perspectives—financial, customer, internal business processes, learning and growth—and evaluates the business strategy in light of its recent performance.

Objectives, measures, targets, and initiatives are described for each perspective by answering the following questions (Kaplan and Norton 1996):

  • Financial: To succeed financially, how should we appear to our shareholders?
  • Customer: To achieve our vision, how should we appear to our customers?
  • Internal business processes: To satisfy our shareholders and customers, what business processes must we excel at?
  • Learning and growth: To achieve our vision, how will we sustain our ability to change and improve?

To link safety activities to core business functions, one must develop an explicit understanding of the organization’s

vision, strategy, and value chain. The advantage of the score-card to working professionals is it forces managers to consider all the important operational measures in a single package. Thus, the balanced scorecard helps create the integration nec-essary for health and safety to be managed like any other part of the business process (Birkner and Birkner 1999).

Ideally, organizations should implement the scorecard technique for both the business as well as safety. In this way, total alignment is possible. If that is not possible, then consider implementing a scorecard for safety alone. Though this will not provide complete alignment, it will provide for focused strategy implementation, targeted interventions, as well as progress and process metrics (Furst 2006).


In summary, continuous improvement requires business functions and processes need to be measured. However, keep in mind safety is not about numbers, it is about protecting people from injuries and illnesses. Therefore, steps should be taken to avoid pitting people against each other in a numbers game.

Effective measurement should be predictive as well as prescriptive in nature in order to provide information for man-aging performance (Furst 2006). Ideally, safety performance metrics should be integrated and linked to the overall vision, goals, and objectives of the business.

Finally, choose measurements that are meaningful to the company and avoid overly complicated metrics and indices. Just because it can be measured, doesn’t mean it’s a useful measurement.

Jerome E. Spear, CSP, CIH, is president of J.E. Spear Consulting and has more than 22 years of experience helping organizations prevent injuries and illnesses, control losses, and achieve regulatory compliance. He held the positions of technical services manager with XL Specialty Risk Consulting and corporate industrial hygiene manager for Chicago Bridge and Iron Co., a worldwide steel fabricator and construction company.


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