24th May, 2019

How To Measure Health And Safety Performance

How do you measure health and safety performance? Usually, we are looking for zero. Zero accidents, zero ill health, zero harm. When we measure by accidents, we are measuring failure. But you can also measure health and safety success through pro-active health and safety activities.

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All businesses understand the importance of measurement. Financial measurement is a must of businesses of all size to determine if the business model is viable if pricing is right and margins are healthy. Production measurement is usually in place to ensure the workforce is performing efficiently with deadlines to meet, targets to achieve and bonuses on offer.

Health and safety is another important aspect of your business, and most organisations recognise this but fail to measure health and safety performance in the same context as other important business functions. Why is this? Because health and safety performance cannot be measured through a one-size fits all approach.

Why measure health and safety performance

If you don’t measure your performance, you don’t know if you are succeeding or failing. You can’t assess if you’re making improvements or if things are slipping. You can’t take action to either reward failure, or rectify mistakes. This is the case with health and safety management as it is with other aspects of your business, such as financial management.

If you didn’t measure your financial performance, you wouldn’t stand a chance in developing or growing your business. If you didn’t know if that last job made a profit or a loss, then your pricing, cash flow, and financial forecasts would suffer as a result. If you measured a loss, you would make sure that mistakes were learned from to prevent your business spiralling into liquidation.

It is the same for your health and safety management. If you don’t measure, you can’t take action.

For example, if you have implemented a near miss reporting system within your organisation (and if you haven’t, I recommend you do), but you don’t measure results how do you know if the system is successful?

Measuring the number of near misses reported will give you an indication of whether the system has been embraced by your workforce. If you got a lot of reports the first month, and hardly any the second, it might mean issues have been resolved. Or it might mean your staff have lost interest. Underreporting of near misses might indicate that further training, involvement, or improvements to either the system itself or its perception from staff.

Without measurement, how would you know if there have been a large number of near misses on a particular activity? How would you know when to take action?

If the actions taken as a result of near miss reports aren’t measured, how can give accurate feedback to your workforce? How can you determine the success of the system in preventing accidents and further near miss events?

Without measurement, how would you know when to take action?

If you take steps to measure health and safety perceptions and culture within your workforce, you can identify areas that need improvement. You can take steps to develop a positive safety culture. You can take action.

You can take your measurements, and benchmark performance. You can compare your measurements with industry benchmarks. You can assess your performance against competitors. You can establish your strengths and weaknesses.

If you don’t measure performance, then taking action is difficult. You have no basis on which to trigger action.

Does your workforce have good health and safety perceptions? Is more training needed in a particular area? What percentage of your workforce has had health and safety training this year? Are accidents declining or increasing? Is there a problem with under-reporting?

If you measure, you will have the data to provide the answers. You can take action. You can set targets.

What gets measured gets done.

Now we know why we need to measure health and safety. But how do we measure it? Financial measurement is universal. You can easily determine the money coming into, and out of your business (or you should be able to!), and a few simple calculations allow you to measure, profit, loss, overheads, and other important financial information. The result you’re looking for is a figure, the bigger the better. In health and safety, because we usually measure failure we are often looking for the opposite. The smaller the figure, the better. Usually, we are looking for zero. Zero accidents, zero ill health, zero harm.

Accident statistics

There is no single measure for good health and safety performance. The measure holding the most weight is accident statistics. This is the usual tool for measuring health and safety success, but it is a measurement of failure. We want less, not more, obviously.

Even when, on the face of it, we are looking for higher numbers. X days since the last accident, for example, we are still measuring failure. As soon as an accident happens, we see a failure in health and safety.

But should you just measure accident statistics? No. Accident statistics alone cannot be used as a diagnostic tool to determine where things are going wrong. Often, by the time poor health and safety performance is reflected in accident statistics, it can be too late, for those injured, and for your organisation. The damage has been done.

By the time an accident happens, the damage is done

You shouldn't measure health and safety on accident statistics alone. That's a measure of failure. And yes, it's an important measure to know when things have gone wrong. But you should also measure health and safety success. So you can improve your health and safety systems before things go wrong. More success, less failure.

So how should you measure health and safety performance? You need to implement not one, but several measures across your health and safety activities. Each health and safety initiative and management activity should be measured in some form, otherwise, you can't know how successful that initiative is, or if there is a problem.

Measure success

You should not only measure failure, through accident statistics and other reactive monitoring but also measure success. You can measure health and safety success through pro-active health and safety activities. Such as health and safety inspections, near-miss reporting, health and safety culture, training achievements, good housekeeping and following the correct procedures.

For example, you could score your safety inspections based on the number of breaches or problems that need rectifying. If an inspection fails 10 out of 100 items covered, they scored 90%. Maybe a sign was missing, an induction hadn't been carried out, or someone didn't have the right PPE on. If the next time that site is inspected they score 95%, you have measured an improvement.

You can measure through direct observations of conditions and behaviour, through gathering information through questionnaires, meetings and reviews, and through facts and figures examining written documents, records and reports.

What, exactly are you measuring for? There must be a purpose to your measurement. If you get 25 near miss reports in a month is that good or bad? Before you start measuring, you need to consider:

  1. What outcome do you want?
  2. When do you want to achieve the outcome?
  3. How will you know when the outcome has been achieved?
  4. What result should the outcome produce?
  5. How would you know that people are doing what they should be doing?

Then, through establishing baseline data (how you are currently performing) and setting goals or targets (how you want to be performing) you can start to take action to improve your health and safety performance.

Here are 5 examples of how near miss reporting can stop accidents before they happen.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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