Safety Leadership Spotlight | Using Leading Indicators to Drive Organizational Safety Performance

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Courtesy of Intelex Technologies Inc.

On January 18th, I sat down with EHSQ Community member, and Principal, Larry Coco, of ESH & Quality Consulting, to hear his thoughts on how leading indicators are transforming workplace safety in business. Over the last 30 years, Larry has managed ESHQ teams in the commercial nuclear industry with Westinghouse and on operations contractor teams at Department of Energy weapons production facilities and on nuclear/chemical waste clean-up sites. Site sizes varied from a few acres and plants with hundreds of thousands of square feet up to thousands of acres and many millions of square feet of work area. His EHSQ teams varied in size from 10 to 160 staff on larger government sites with thousands of workers.

Companies that experience the lowest lost-time and reportable injury rates are also the ones with high levels of management commitment and employee involvement. Larry coaches, “It is important that management demonstrates their commitment to safety by constantly talking about safety, leading by example, and taking the necessary steps to fix safety issues quickly and effectively.” In order to maintain and continuously improve safe workplace behavior, establishing a “safety-centric culture” is an imperative for company and facility leadership and management teams. Worker trust in their leaders and managers to support improvement and change for a safe work environment is earned every day by “leading by example.” Managers and senior administrators need to lead by “Walking the talk!”

Larry spoke about how over the last 25 years he and his teams have been trying to predict safety outcomes more and more by collecting and analyzing data on leading indicators such as near misses, unsafe conditions and unsafe acts. Collecting this important leading indicator data can be difficult due to the degree of worker willingness to report safety issues and occurrences in the workplace. Management-worker collaboration and cooperation depends heavily on the workers’ perception of the company’s commitment to a “safety-centric culture.” Worker trust in the management team to treat employee reporting of safety issues fairly is imperative. There must be no fear of reprisal for reporting. Worker trust and confidence in the occurrence vetting process is built in this type of work environment.

Larry finds another challenge to overcome is the manual nature by which the company’s supervisors and managers document safety issues. These workers are the ones chiefly responsible for documenting unsafe behaviors and conditions and doing daily safety walk-downs of their work areas. Accuracy and forthrightness in reporting are important so that the information provided to the EHSQ team for analysis and delivered to senior management or audit reviewers is valid, accurate, insightful and actionable, as necessary.

During our discussion about “unsafe conditions”, Larry shared that these are commonly regarded by Safety Managers as “essential data” that should initiate an immediate remedial action that results in meaningful worker safety improvements. When these issues are addressed and corrected quickly they have a significant impact on safety program success.

Interpretation of safety data is one of the key functions of the Safety Team. Larry points out that all safety audit data collected by operations management, the safety team or safety committees needs to be expeditiously reported in an executable manner for continuous proactive safety improvement. The key to making this information work for you is being able to easily uncover the data insights that lead to opportunities for improvement. Only then can you implement plans to counteract the situations that have been identified as “unsafe” and fix them correctly the first time.

When looking at “training,” Larry points out that it is not enough to look at the training of the worker and the test results they’ve had. There is a need to look wider. Review your emergency simulations exercises. What percentage of your employees knows and can demonstrate what to do in an emergency situation? This is a great leading indicator of what can happen during an emergency and how your staff will react to counteract potentially dangerous situations that can cause serious injury or death and property loss. Larry believes that during any emergency simulation exercise it is important to look at the response times and simulated actions for each exercise scenario. Are staff assessments of the situation correct and their responses appropriate? He pointed out that these are good leading indicators of how successful your team will be in reducing or eliminating negative impacts during a real emergency situation. Evaluating the performance data from each exercise also provides insight into the type and frequency of emergency response worker training required to ensure peak performance at all times.

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