From the archive: Just so you know, this article is more than 3 years old.
When reporting systems are robust, accident frequency rates are the most obvious sign of the state of OSH management.
But they also come late, trailing interventions by months and telling a story about their effect sometimes too late to be much use.
Gathering data on near-misses and unpicking those that had the potential to do serious harm adds a predictive element, but it's still a measure of what you didn't do rather than what you did.
Inspired by recent trends in OSH thinking that emphasise the value of positive efforts to improve safety as a quantum rather than focusing solely on failings, many larger organisations have added new indicators to those inescapable ones of accident and illness rates.
These "leading indicators" record the active attempts to improve the safety culture, such as the number of behavioural safety observations recorded, toolbox talks and training sessions held or site safety tours by senior management.
Measuring what you put into a system makes sense, but it only gives you half the picture if you don't check the effectiveness of that input.
Just as most practitioners know that it's not the quantity or detail of risk assessments that helps make a workplace safer, rather how the resulting control measures are enacted, the same is true of training and toolbox talks.
The meaningful indicator of how an input contributed to improving safety and health is not how many people turned up and sat through a session but how many of them thought it was useful, could remember the instructions a few weeks later, or acted on them on the job.
(There is a more basic argument for evaluation, of course, which is that it's the only way that you can be sure it was worth spending the money or effort in the first place.)
But congratulating yourself on a job well done based on numerical inputs is like a manufacturer judging its success by the quantity of raw materials it uses while ignoring the scrap rates for finished units. Or, more widely, it's like any business that congratulates itself on rising revenues but pays less attention to profitability.
Turnover is vanity but profit is sanity, the saying goes. Adding some guaranteed sanity to your leading indicators by assessing their impact may be a slog but it will be effort well spent.
Jim Collins’ team studied 6,000 journal articles and generated more than 2,000 pages of interview transcripts in a five-year project as they researched the 1,435 largest US companies. From these they identified 11 that had excelled.
“Some people will say ‘you can’t do zero harm, that’s just ridiculous’ but how come we have sites that can go for years and years without harm? We are saying that day by day you always have to aim for zero harm and we expect those gaps to get bigger and bigger so sites go for more and more years [with no accidents].”
Kevin Myers has a unique perspective on the UK’s safety and health regulator. He served in increasingly central roles in the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) from soon after its foundation in 1975, culminating in a year as acting chief executive in 2013.
The country’s level of work-related harm remains high by international standards, particularly in comparison with Australia and the UK, and the government’s ambition is to decrease rates to “world class health and safety levels”. New Zealand’s fatal work-related injury rate per 100,000 workers rose from 2.3 in 2015 to 2.6 in 2016 compared with Australia which declined from 1.8 to 1.5. The UK’s fatal work-related injury rate in 2015 was 0.8 per 100,000 workers.
Precast concrete products manufacturer CPM Group was fined £660,000 after 43-year-old fitter Jeffery Baulf was fatally crushed when the conveyor started moving as he was carrying out maintenance work at the company’s plant in Frome, Somerset on 3 October 2016.