Saying What Is REALLY Important Matters Part 2


What Does Counting Injuries as a Measure of Our Safety Process do to Our Risk Communication?

In Part 1, I outlined why I think counting injuries as some measure of safety is not only illogical, it does a great deal of damage. Leading the people you work with to think that as long as they don’t get hurt it must be OK. Imagine the trades person who just finished a job and took terrible risks (perhaps not locking out) and then his/her boss tells then they have done a GREAT JOB. At the end of the month we add insult to injury by celebrating an “injury free” month and hand out safety trinkets and repeatedly tell everyone (including your clients) “we had another SAFE month…keep up the good work!”
So let’s stop this madness and actually measure SAFETY. I propose that safety is doing what we need to do without taking unnecessary risks. We look at a job that is to be done and we evaluate the risks we face. We come up with a way to do the job that is the most safely productive way to do it without taking unreasonable and unnecessary risks. In the example above, working with electricity without locking out is terribly risky. It’s unnecessary to work without the protection of locking out the energy (at least in most cases except for highly trained and protected trades people who work with live electrical lines). So the challenge becomes deciding what needs to be done to manage the identified risk and taking those steps each and every time we’re going to do that job. If there are roadblocks to the chosen safe behaviours then we need to jointly devise ways to ensure the safe way becomes the natural way to do the job. Now we have some real things to measure that are creating safe production. Counting, measuring the creation of safety through our defined activities give us some real evidence-based data to work with. Now when we congratulate the people we work with on a good job…we can actually mean it!
So using the example above we can certainly measure if lock out processes are in place, we can also measure if the hardware is available. Then we can start to measure the compliance level and effectiveness of the process. Now when we see positive actions and evidence we truly have something to celebrate. If we find short comings we have something positive to work on and celebrate when we’ve accomplished our goals of creating safety. We’ll know without a doubt that we created the situation of ensuring we’ve locked out. Best of all we did it with our employees!

So there you have it Just some practical thoughts on what we can do to create and measure safety…give it a try. It’s a lot better than counting what didn’t happen and assuming we created the non-event. See how silly that sounds?

Prevention of Incidents VS Creating Safety

Prevention of Incidents VS Creating Safety

It’s a subtle but important difference. Prevention efforts focus on avoiding the negative. Creating Safety focuses on creating work which is done in a way that doesn’t take unnecessary risks and gets the job done.

Prevention relies on thinking that your experience/knowledge with past loss is important in predicting the future. It may NOT be. The one incident may never happen again. How much effort are you going to put into it to making sure what may never happen again never happens again? It could get very expensive.

Go to an airport security line and see “prevention” in action. Effective? Efficient? You decide…you’ll have time to think about it while your Grandmother takes off her shoes while you wait for your turn to put your belt in the plastic container.

Not all data is important:

Doctors Are More Dangerous Than Gun Owners: A Rejoinder to Error Counting – Sidney W. A. Dekker

Every Safety Professional should read and consider this article. Sidney Dekker offers this perspective on Counting Errors —

Thanks to Paul Nickel for aiming me to this article!

Benchmarking Failure Rates – The Race to Mediocre

Measuring your “lack of injury rates” is a sure fire way to fool yourself into believing that your company is good enough!

“Safety-related investment costs fall into two categories:

Proactive: Costs incurred in an attempt to influence leading indicators (via prevention and/or problem detection/remediation prior to any incident)

Reactive: Costs incurred in dealing with trailing indicators (accident costs, legal costs, loss of customer goodwill and/or revenue)

Ideally, a company will increase proactive spending until it exactly matches the resulting reduction in reactive spending. Until now, it’s generally been assumed that this trade-off point occurs at a fairly mediocre level of safety performance. In other words, it’s been assumed that, in terms of Return on Investment (ROI), only a fairly low level of investment in safety is justifiable.

In his study of very safe companies, Managing for World Class Safety, J.M. Stewart questions this idea. He believes that when you invest in safety, improved worker morale creates a number of less-tangible benefits that shift the balance between the two curves, and justify a much higher level of proactive spending. Stewart did not find any companies who believed they had reached the cost-effectiveness boundary of spending on safety. All these companies are profitability leaders in their industries.”

The Emperor Has No Hard Hat – Achieving REAL Workplace Safety Results – Alan D. Quilley CRSP

Measure, Measure, Measure…the Right Things

Excerpt: “Creating & Maintaining a Practical Based Safety Culture©” – Alan D. Quilley


The processes of measuring safety or leading indicators are as varied as the processes we use to create safety. A leading indicator is an activity done or physical state that is created to increase the likelihood that the goal will be reached. Deming taught us that. Measure the inputs and the outcomes will follow. If you don’t get the outcomes you wanted, then you probably need to adjust what you are doing. What works in safety is simply…what works!

For example, if you don’t want to take the unnecessary risk of using the wrong tool to do a job (which would be by definition “unsafe”) your goal would be to ensure all our employees have access to the correct tool for their job and that they use them.  Then through survey and observation you would measure to what extent that statement (your desired state) is true; in other words, a percentage correct. Over time you would discover where and why these things were true and where in your company they weren’t working. Any changes to your safety efforts would work towards making the statement of creating safety true. This process would become your safety audit which would be far more effective than buying an audit from some company or getting it free from a government organization (don’t get me started on that silly behaviour again). My clients create their own safety audit by establishing their own “future state” of safety, and then they measure their progress against their own vision of what safety is. It works, and it gets high involvement and high success!

This approach is the same one used by most companies to manage their production; they create their products and services this way. It’s an easy culture shift for folks who already measure activities to include safety measures that actually measure the existence and creation of safety. Then through your accountability system (all companies have them) you can motivate through positive consequences the accomplishment of the activities that create safety. Celebrate the accomplishment of the goal! If you take a low number of unnecessary risks you will, over time, accomplish the goal of safety, and the outcome will be very few people get hurt and very little will be property damaged. It’s so very logical!

As for the companies that measure leading indicators…well, I’ve never seen one that doesn’t. Unfortunately, in some cases they are only measuring the things that create production. Many companies are already using process measures of safety (percentage trained, hazards identified and corrected, processes reviewed, time to resolve identified issues). I couldn’t possibly name them all but I have clients in Oil and Gas, Chemical, Municipal, Transportation, Health Care, Education, and Law Enforcement industries who all use leading indicators of safety measures. Rather than name the companies that use and measure leading indicators to manage their journey to safe production, ask the list participants if there is one company out there that doesn’t.

Measure the human activities and physical things (tools, equipment, materials and environmental factors) that create the goals you want to accomplish.

Examples: I want low exposure (usually a defined number that’s measurable) to dust in my production area (that’s the goal to make it safe). I measure and manage the things that would create that goal (dust control measures, changing filters, and compliance with procedures to reduce dust). If I want great safety discussions I measure what creates great meetings (compelling topics, high participation, action items that actually get done). I measure to what degree the leading indicators are performed and then if the end result happened (great meetings) by asking the participants.

Here’s the process:

1. Establish the Goal (Outcome Measure)

I want to create a situation where ________________ is true!

Examples are:

•             Employees wear fall protection,

•             employees use lockout procedures,

•             contractors following company confined space entry procedures,

•             Ideally you’ll also include a measurable number (100% or “all”).

2. Measure (Leading indicators)

How I know the above statement is likely to be true. Count (quantity) or measure (quality).


•             All areas have fall protection training and equipment,

•             all employees working at heights are observed using the equipment,

•             all employees surveyed say that fall protection is used and readily available.

Example: All employees will follow procedure XYZ. (Because we believe that following the procedure reduces our risks to an acceptable level and we’ve defined that procedure as safe). Measure how many are trained in each area to do the procedure. Observe and survey employees to find out if they are using the procedure

3. Celebrate

When you get to the state where the measures tell you that you’ve accomplished what you wanted to all that’s left to do is celebrate!


Measure those things that lead you to believe that you will reach your goal(s) of making it safe. Over time you will indeed accomplish what you set out to achieve.

Understanding Safety Culture is an art not a science so…

“Define and measure what you can and seek to understand the yet undefinable and currently unmeasurable through the evidence as it presents itself through thoughtful observation.” Alan D. Quilley CRSP

If we don’t get practical (even though we maybe technically and philosophically somewhat incorrect) we won’t be able to help anyone with changing the outcomes.

Our knowledge and abilities to measure “culture” may indeed be limited today. We need to continue our “attempts” to define the, as yet, undefinable factors that we “think” may be at play here. Over time, some of the many truths about culture will appear and what seems mysterious and hazy at the moment will become clearer and hence more manageable.

The adventure continues…when you’re standing a few inches from the trunk of a large tree, so close that you can see nothing else but you are hearing birds singing, feeling the humidity and smelling pine, it’s difficult to KNOW that you are in a forest…but it would be a good guess!