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Gauging Success in Safety

Date: 31st May 2017

On April 28th many workplaces held ceremonies for Day of Mourning commemorating workers who were fatally injured in the workplace. Less than one month later yet another worker has lost his life at work in BC. A construction worker was thrown from his cab recently as his equipment rolled down a slope, unfortunately the worker suffered fatal injuries. Based on statistics in BC, we can expect that an average of three workers a week may lose their lives in the workplace each year.

These occurrences are tragic, and it is easy for many of us to look at them and think about where the shortcomings may have been, and consider what we might have done differently. For some of us, these tragic incidents may actually serve as a beacon that we need to reconsider our own H&S programs, and the safety of our workers. There may be some amendments to policies, programs, possibly renewed initiatives, and maybe even some cultural change.

Gauging Success

One health and safety challenge many organizations face is the difficulty in gauging H&S success.  How well have we done our jobs?  How do we know that the actions we just took prevented a significant injury, or prevented an incident such as the one that occurred this month? The results and benefits for doing something right, are often more difficult to gauge and recognize, and less tangible than the outcomes, and consequences of things going wrong.  When looking at safety culture in the workplace, we try hard not to get things wrong, but how do we gauge degrees of success, and know we’re doing it right, without the contrasting degrees of failure?

Focus on What’s Right

Rather than focus on managing safety through the relatively easy and reactive approach of looking at things that didn’t go as planned when they occur (such as near misses, failed controls, and injuries), focusing daily on the things that are going well, and are getting done can be significantly more effective.  Setting frequent targets combined with a daily proactive checklist will set up a monitoring program that can report on the frequency, and quality with which the targets are met. Some examples of proactive, leading aspects of workplace safety that can be monitored include:

  • Toolbox talks
  • Safety shares
  • Equipment inspections
  • Hazard assessments
  • Hazard corrections
  • Lockout and Tagout records
  • Site inspections

Monitoring proactive health and safety activities can have a number of impacts:

  • Identifying opportunities for improvement and correction can address concerns before they go wrong
  • Over time, trends can be identified that show where the most likely areas of non-compliance may exist, allowing additional resource to correct those areas, and potential root causes
  • Using a checklist allows for the recognition and monitoring of the things that are going well which can be as important or more important than identifying areas that aren’t performing ideally

Shifting Concept of Failure

Over time, and with the organizations full support and buy in, we have seen clients shift the concept of failure from relatively uncommon singular and significant failures (such as injuries, and major loss type incidents) and the concept that we’re successful if these aren’t occurring, to one that monitors more frequent minor safety deviations that haven’t met the organizations expectations.

A stronger focus can be put on the successes that the organization has achieved, with these many minor failures presenting many opportunities for minor corrections that can be corrected to create future success, and demonstrating that the organization is achieving success on a weekly or monthly basis, or at a minimum has identified many opportunities for improvement which can also be deemed a success (providing the improvements are put in place).

This is a healthier, more proactive approach to managing the concept of success, and gauging success, over reactively responding to failures.  It’s a shift in culture that requires significant support from management, but that can have significant impacts on the organizations view of success and failure in safety, and how they manage both.


Posted in: Blog