Gone are the days when data was just a matter of facts and figures. Today big data is what runs the world. Every day we are all ravenous consumers as well as producers of vast amounts of data. This data is driving decisions that impact everything from what restaurant we will eat at to the insurance premiums we pay.
Businesses are also increasingly reliant on this data and data analyses to inform all of the discrete decisions that ultimately impact their bottom line. But as a health and safety professional, how can you ensure that you and your team are getting the most out of your EHS data and avoiding the bad decisions that can happen when data is not part of your decisions?
Here are 4 most common mistakes we see:
1. Stuck in old habits
We’re all creatures of habit. Especially in the world of health and safety. When is the last time you heard someone describe a process or policy as something that “we’ve always done”, or that has “been that way for years”? But when it comes to health and safety, if your organization isn’t one that has relied on data to provide insights in the past you may be missing out on a huge opportunity.
Don’t get trapped in your old habits. Data has drastically changed almost every aspect of our lives, from advertising to investing, health and safety should be taking advantage of data in the same manner.
Here are some tips to help encourage this transition to data-driven safety decisions:
- Brainstorming encourages innovation and helps all your stakeholders feel involved and accountable in change. Go through an exercise with you team to go through “What If?” scenarios to help buck old habits.
- Learn from companies outside your industry. Sometimes old habits aren’t just your own, sometimes habits can be pervasive across an entire sector. Look at what companies are doing outside your industry and perhaps even outside your department. Is there something economists are doing with their data modeling that can be applied to the world of health and safety? If you are an automotive manufacturer, perhaps there are best practices being developed in health and safety data management from the oil & gas sector you can try.
2. Data icebergs
We sometimes focus too much on the surface elements or obvious data. In health and safety these are numbers like incident rates. With the advent of big data we now have the opportunity to explore beyond the obvious and try to uncover the drivers behind these numbers, and perhaps even the drivers behind those drivers.
This infographic created by the team at Platfora gives you a sense of how we might still be at the tip of the iceberg when it comes to data.
Here are some tips to encourage deeper data exploration:
- Be a skeptic. You should always be asking why and how questions to challenge any assumptions.
- Encourage your team to think about data in terms of the process or journey. Try to understand how information got from point A to point B and what factors may have affected it at each stage to give insights into the journey to the final results.
- Realize data is no longer the exclusive domain of IT. Involve your entire team and perhaps your entire organization in gathering the metrics that can drive safety.
3. Confirmation bias
Data by its very nature should be objective. This unbiased view of the world is one of the primary benefits on using data in our decision making process. That being said, there is always the temptation to cherry pick certain numbers or ignore others to support the decisions you have already made or want to make. This is a bad habit that can not only lead to bad judgment calls but can also lead to skepticism throughout your organization of the validity of your data to begin with.
Tips to support data-driven decisions:
- Separate the data research from the decision makers. If you need to have a clear dividing line (especially during the initial implementation of your data programs) an external firm may be able to help with your data analysis. Many EHS vendors now offer both in product and services best practices and help when it comes to getting the ball rolling on your data analysis, or helping you fine tune it from time to time. That allows you to offer unbiased results to the decision makers.
- From Enron to the Panama papers, there are a number of publicly available examples of the dangers of cooking your data. Be transparent with your team of these pitfalls and consequences.
4. Not being objective
Every one of us will have an inclination towards a particular outcome or idea. Trying to make decisions based on limited information is a common route to supporting these biases. Use data to not only answer but also uncover new questions. Again that’s one of the key values of objective data, it can help support healthy skepticism.
Use this data as your competitive advantage. Some research has shown for example that safety training absent any ongoing supporting programs and activities will have limited impact on your overall safety. So when your default answer to any safety issue is more training, question what else might be worthwhile and why your existing training programs may be falling short
Here are tips to to stay objective:
- Try self-awareness drills and activities to uncover existing biases. The first step in addressing them is being aware of them.
- Be the healthy skeptic. Conflicting information can challenge current beliefs and produce a better outcome.
Data as a cornerstone to your health and safety decision making can be a huge help in moving your objectives forward if used correctly. Don’t let your organization and your program get bogged down with these common errors. From old habits to manipulating data, you can guide your organization towards making data-driven safety decisions. It may take some time, patience and effort, but the results can pay huge dividends.