Measuring Safety: To Know Where You're Going, You Have To Figure Out Where You Are

Jeff Anderson
Safety Consultant
Putting an effective safety program in place in your organization is an essential part of any business plan. Safety programs have many parts. Management leadership, employee involvement, workplace analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training are all important parts of the plan. But how do you know where to go, if you don’t know where you are in the first place? This is where effective safety measurement comes into play.
The first step in measuring your company’s safety program effectiveness is to determine your “bottom line” numbers. These would be numbers that give the best indication of the overall effectiveness of your current safety program and will help you set goals for reductions going forward. These numbers would include the OSHA Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR); Days Away, Restricted or Transfer Rate (DART); and, your company's Insurance Experience Modification Rate or ExMod.
  • The TRIR is calculated by taking the Total Number of Recordable Cases multiplied by 200,000/divided by total hours worked by all employees during the year covered.
  • The DART is calculated by taking the number of CASES with days away from work or job transfer or restrictions (cases on OSHA 300 Log with either column H or I checked) multiplied by 200,000/divided by total hours worked by all employees during the year covered.
  • The ExMod is a number provided by your insurance company or broker. The number is a function of expected losses versus actual loses with 1.0 being the average. A number below 1 is good, and above 1 is bad.
These three numbers provide an instant snapshot of your company’s safety program effectiveness. They allow you (as well as your customers and OSHA) to compare your injury rates to the injury rates of businesses similar to yours. Companies often request and scrutinize these vital safety performance indicators during the contractor evaluation process in order to determine which contractors they want to work with. Tracking these numbers from year-to-year and, in the case of the TRIR and DART, month-to-month is a great way to measure performance.
Once your “bottom line” numbers have been determined and goals for reducing them have been set, it's time to determine Key Performance Indicators or KPIs to measure progress. There are two types of KPIs:
  • Lagging Indicators: These are commonly used in company communications to provide an overview of performance, such as the tracking of injury statistics, exposure incidents, and regulatory fines.
  • Leading Indicators: These are more predictive of future performance results. They are viewed as proactive measurements. Some Leading Indicators would include:
    • Number of audits or inspections performed
    • Number and types of behavior observations conducted
    • Timeframe required to close action items
    • Training completed
    • Near miss incidents
    • Timely preventive maintenance tasks performed
    • Safety committee meetings
In either case, KPIs must be quantifiable and tied to specific targets. Follow-up and oversight is required.
Selecting the best KPIs for your business can depend on several factors:
  • Where does the company stand in terms of health and safety performance?
  • What are the goals for the organization near- and long-term?
  • Who is going to be receiving the KPI data?
  • How will the KPIs and the conclusions that are drawn from them be communicated within the organization?
To develop meaningful KPIs, health and safety managers first need to understand the risks of their operations; evaluate the systems in place to manage risk; and, understand the company’s business plan and culture. From there, managers can decide where they would like the organization to be in the short- and long-term. It’s great to be recognized as an industry leader in the area of safety, but if your organization has a reactive culture, you might want to set a short-term goal of ensuring compliance with applicable legal requirements. In other words, don’t try to tackle every possible goal at once. Set meaningful, achievable goals and then once they are reached, aim higher!
Keep the following points in mind when selecting KPIs for your company:
  • Quantity does not equal quality
  • Measure the most important things, not everything
  • Ensure field and management buy-in
  • Consider piloting metrics in a single location before a company-wide rollout
  • Don’t make it too complicated so all can understand the measurement
From here, there needs to be an effective system to track, communicate and improve performance. The KPIs chosen need to have an impact on driving the “bottom line” numbers to the desired level. If they don’t, you need to take a step back and re-evaluate the KPIs you’re using and the overall buy-in from all levels of the company.
The journey to an effective safety program can be a long road with many potential wrong exits. But in order to know where to go, you first have to figure out where you are. Once you do that as an organization, the way ahead becomes much clearer.
If you have questions or need more information, please post a comment below or contact me:
Jeff Anderson, safety consultant, 888-687-6078 or