Understandably, organizations implement safety programs with the express purpose of being successful — no one sets out with the purpose of increasing risk and harm. But defining “success” is a very subjective parameter. In most avenues, pursuing success is a fixed goal, with a singular point that, once reached, indicates success has been achieved. When applied to a safety program, though, this rigid definition of success becomes limiting.
Setting a singular, hardline measure of success — say, zero injuries — is not doing justice to a safety program as a whole, as the scope of the overall program narrows to focus on hitting that particular target. This sole target approach leaves the program vulnerable to being gamed. For instance, the goal could theoretically be achieved within a flawed safety program by chance alone — with isolated outlier weeks of data weighting results — or by skewed measures that do not reveal the full picture of the program, leaving the employees engaging in the program, and the organization as a whole, underserved.
For these reasons, it’s important to approach success in a safety program as a set of continuously improving variables. This allows the program to be flexible in addressing multiple safety concerns at once while providing a broad overview of safety throughout an organization and allows employees to be more engaged with the program, leading to higher levels of adoption and participation.
For the best results from safety data, there needs to be an emphasis on defining, collecting, and measuring both leading and lagging indicators. The purpose of this is to establish patterns from past performance and to then use that data to be predictive and proactive. Collecting lagging indicators allows an organization to see how far it has come compared to past results — has there been improvement, regression, or no change? Leading indicators will help kickstart proactive action to be taken, by tracking how well an organization sticks to the course of established safety procedures and practices.
Using both sets of these indicators over a set period of time will reveal the areas where a safety program needs improvements, and where it is performing better than expected, as the leading indicators help predict what will happen — determining if the organization was prepared, and by how much — with the lagging indicators providing the data on if the prediction was correct.
The beating heart of an organization is its culture. Establishing a solid foundation for a sustainable, continuous safety program will help an organization’s culture thrive. When employers take the steps to invest time and resources into leading indicators like training and safety audits, it directly communicates to employees that their organization is looking out for them, and is invested in them as people rather than resources.
Stoking the flames of culture in this way is the best way to get the fire to spread, and to be self-sustaining, as employees will encourage those they work with to be mindful of the same safety procedures. This also helps feedback into the metrics, as employees who feel seen and valued are more willing to work with leading indicators and be more mindful of their work, which positively reflects in the lagging indicators.
A continuation of culture, a key to building a strategically successful safety program is by utilizing the expertise of front-line supervisors. Front-line employees are the ones most immersed in the day-to-day risks and are the ones who undertake the most direct safety precautions and procedures. But it is the front-line supervisors that provide the oversight that the safety program is being followed. Overseeing all processes, front-line supervisors provide key insights outside of structured audits and site visits, generally acting as the first voice to raise concern. They also act as the immediate go-between in situations between management and front-line employees, listening and communicating the needs and concerns between both parties, and providing knowledge about the viability of how best to implement safety improvements.
Because of their position, front-line supervisors hold the balance of an organization’s culture and can be key assets in driving positive change for leading indicators. Empowering front-line supervisors with training, workshops, and open lines of communication about their ideas for improvements helps organizations jump the hurdle of the “blame game” in safety errors, leading to actionable solutions and better processes.
Leaving the success of safety programs up to chance is inviting an opening for increased risk and injury. Instead, focusing on how to strategically structure a safety program to be tracked, implemented, and ingrained within an organization will yield better measures of success, reducing incidences of injury, and improving an organization’s bottom-line.
Optimum Safety Management provides information and services to help companies develop safety leaders and improve overall safety performance. For more information on how Optimum Safety Management can assist with your businesses’ safety needs, contact an expert today, or reach out via phone at 630-759-9908.