When it comes to safety measurement frameworks, senior leaders are starting to get the message that lagging measures have limited value and there are better ways to evaluate safety performance, according to health, safety, risk management and HR specialist consulting firm Work Science.
Leading companies are reframing how they look at safety, health and wellbeing performance, then implementing bespoke measurement frameworks to suit, said Scott Paine, managing director at Work Science.
“Our experience suggests there is a spectrum of approaches in the market,” said Paine. “Organisational leaders still want to measure the absence of injury and illness, then compare their rates to others. Innovative companies are designing performance frameworks that complement their safety, health and wellbeing strategies.”
Paine, who will be leading a panel discussion on the evolution of safety measurement frameworks at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference which will be held in Melbourne from 25-26 May 2022, observed safety professionals have been thinking about augmenting lag indicators for years.
“The awareness and understanding amongst boards and executives is still catching up. This gap presents an opportunity to educate leadership teams on the organisational benefits delivered through more contemporary safety measurement frameworks. The challenge is how to get this information to the right place at the right time,” he said.
“Large entities that procure services can ask their contractors to showcase their safety performance frameworks and spotlight good performance. I believe encouraging this activity will generate discussion and help prioritise contractor focus on more useful safety measures.”
Dr Tristan Casey, chief scientist at Work Science, echoed Paine’s comments and said most mature organisations have realised that relying exclusively on reactive indicators is problematic.
“However, the key challenge is that there is little clarity about what could be some suitable alternative measures. Digging deeper, I believe this challenge arises because senior leaders are operating from the following assumptions and beliefs,” said Casey:
“First, lagging indicators happen so rarely that most variation is due to chance fluctuations rather than being due to systemic problems that impact safety performance,” said Casey. “Second, the best that lagging indicators can tell is that that somewhere in our organisation, either protective defences or proactive capacities have been inadequate to compensate for unhelpful or dangerous sources of performance variability, and an incident has resulted. “Finally, benchmarking assumes that there is one set of ‘true’ measures that every organisation should adopt, and which are accurate representations of the underlying and abstract concept of safety. However, as measures become more universal and generic, we tend to find that their predictive capacity and overall usefulness starts to fall.”
Casey added the most common challenge is shifting the mindset away from a preference for generic and less targeted set of measures, and towards organisationally-relevant and suitably contextualised measures.
These measures include not only outcomes (i.e., negative events like incidents) but also monitor the current state of safety and, through their implementation, actually drive safety forwards in the organisation.
While generic measures can be used as a broad and coarse instrument (less frequently, such as an annual safety survey), Casey said it is the more frequent, contextualised measures that will truly keep organisational stakeholders informed about the current state of safety and performance outcomes.
In addressing such challenges, the starting point is always strategy and culture, according to Paine: “is the company in a state of relative normalcy, and looking to keep its safety, health and wellbeing performance within a defined range? Or is it in change management mode looking to move from current state to future state? What current data set is available?”
Once the safety health and wellbeing strategy is understood, Paine said a performance framework can be designed.
The next challenge is designing a data collection and reporting framework to deliver the desired performance outcomes, and he said scientists can help contextually design measurement frameworks to achieve desired safety outcomes.
Casey said organisations can take four important steps to unleash the potential of safety measurement:
Work Science advises a range of Commonwealth and state government entities, according to Paine, who said entities with large infrastructure spends have an opportunity to foster innovation and enable contemporary performance frameworks to emerge.
“Rather than prescribe a set of safety, health and wellbeing indicators, Work Science advises the provision of performance framework guidelines,” he said.
“This encourages contractors to think contextually, then provide their client with a performance report that contains lead and lag indicators that make sense and add value to the contractor. Spotlight and reward innovation that leads to better performance. Invest in resources that can coach, advise and reward rather than prescribe and supervise.”
For OHS professionals, Paine said it is important to arm themselves with the latest safety health and wellbeing evidence, then determine how to talk to boards and executives in a language they connect with.
“Gaining the commitment from senior leadership teams is just as important as the performance framework itself. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good and be ready to evolve your performance framework as thresholds and milestones are met,” he said.
“Executives are used to benchmarking TRIFR and LTIFR against their peers. Benchmarking can be more difficult for lead indicators because there are no consistently published lead indicator data sets, so be ready to have that discussion.”
Casey advised OHS professionals to become familiar with a broader range of accident and incident causation models, and through these models, develop insights into the types of measures that will be useful for the organisation.
For instance, he said lessons can be learned from models such as:
“Learn about these models and implement a diversity of measures to ensure your framework itself is resilient and able to detect the signs of risk, as well as signs of positive capacity to respond effectively,” he said.
Paine will be leading a discussion panel on the evolution of safety measurement frameworks at the AIHS National Health and Safety Conference, which will be held in Melbourne from 25-26 May 2022. Panellists for the session include: Emma Skulander, COO, NSW Health Infrastructure; Sharron O’Neill, associate professor, School of Business, University of NSW; and Kurt Warren, national HSE & quality manager, Hansen Yuncken. For more information call (03) 8336 1995, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the event website.