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Measuring Safety Excellence

By Graphic Products Editorial Staff

Let's say a company is concerned about improving safety throughout their facility. They have someone audit the workplace, they find safety violations, and things get fixed–typically using “quick fixes.”

To ensure safety excellence another company puts a focus on tracking injuries and compliance with safety standards. But over time management notices the numbers are not improving, and employees tend to go back to doing things the way they have always done them.

This is not the road to safety excellence.

In the past, measuring safety performance relied on measuring only a few trailing indicators, such as the number of lost workdays or the amount of money spent on worker's compensation claims. This translates to after-the-fact hazard detection, which does not identify organizational errors—the true causes of accidents. This measuring of safety performance by counting the number of people hurt or the number of days away from work focused on end results and did not take in account safety performance activities.

Safety Excellence – Be Proactive

The path to safety excellence requires looking forward.  While tracking historical data is useful, what happens when you achieve zero injuries?  Does that mean you've achieved your goal and can relax?  Not at all. Safety excellence requires continued, proactive efforts to ensure the injury rate remains at zero.  At this point historical data is of little help, you must use methods that help root out and correct safety hazards before there is an accident or injury.

This does not mean historical data on injuries and accidents should not be collected and analyzed.  Every safety incident should be documented and analyzed to determine the cause, and how it can be prevented in the future. In addition, near-misses should be documented and the information used to help improve safety.  But, historical data does not tell you everything you need to know, if you want to have safety excellence.

For example, what if there is no data?  What if there has not been an accident in your facility for the past ten years, what should you be doing?  Keep in mind that OSHA does not give credit for having a good safety record. They inspect, look for hazards, and citations are issued if hazards exist, without regard to whether there has been an accident.

Here are some ways to identify hazards so they can be corrected before an accident happens.

Safety Excellence – Job Hazard Analysis

A Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) is a systematic approach to identifying workplace hazards.  A JHA focuses on observing someone perform a task, and breaking that task down into a series of steps.  Each step is analyzed, taking into account the actions, tools and equipment being used, and the work environment, to determine what could go wrong.

Read more about a Job Hazard Analysis

Safety Excellence – Failure Mode and Effects Study

A Failure Mode and Effects Analysis (FMEA) are similar to a JHA, but it goes into greater detail.  Instead of looking at the work a person is doing, the FMEA starts with a process and goes through that process, step-by-step, component-by-component, to identify all possible failure modes, and thus all potential safety hazards. Failure modes are ranked based on the likelihood of failure, the severity (consequences) of the failure, the ability to detect and control the failure. This prioritizes and identifies the failure modes that should be addressed first.

Read more about the Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.

A Culture of Safety Excellence

There are many other tools that can be used to identify safety hazards. These include:

  • What If Studies
  • Checklist Studies
  • Hazard and Operability Study (HAZOP)
  • Fault Tree Analysis

Using analytical tools to identify safety hazards is important, on their own they will not result in safety excellence. What is required is management commitment to safety excellence, and a solid, long-term corporate culture of safety excellence.

What does a safety culture look like?

There are a number of characteristics typically seen in workplaces that have a good safety culture. These include:

  • Employees are encouraged to participate in improving safety.
  • There is a relationship of trust between owners, management, and employees.
    • There are no negative consequences for reporting a potential safety hazard.
  • Employees are encouraged to make the right choices, the safe choices.
  • Management is involved in safety. (Safety excellence requires effort at all levels.)
    • Management provides the necessary resources to support and encourage safety.
    • Management also follows safe work practices. (Lead by example.)
    • Management practices “gemba.”
    • Management needs to be good listeners. (For example, implement Kaizen as a system for collecting and acting on suggestions for safety improvements.)

As you can see, having a safety culture is not just about using analytical tools for identifying hazards. It is about relationships. Most workplace accidents happen because someone breaks a safety rule, or they don't think before acting.  Safety excellence is achieved when all employees have safety first in their thoughts and actions, then the appropriate tools can successfully be used to root out and correct hazards before someone is injured.

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