OHS Canada Magazine

Safety requires measurement – lots of it

It’s extremely important to measure your activities, not random luck


I hope you’ve been following along with the discussion about finally implementing Safety Logically.

I believe after the glitz and the glitter of OH&S buzz words, we at long last just need to do what is logically indicated by our own evidence and the evidence of those who are willing to share the secrets to their success.

In this case, their success is in developing systems that reliably get them sustained “safe production of their goods and services.” These systems rely on managing and measuring what they do to create a safety system that results in very few surprises.

Today, I will tackle the interdependent tenets four to six from my Safety Logically success ladder.

Measure the right things

The fourth tenet is one that historically has been a struggle for many.

Safety management pioneer Dan Petersen said it best: “Measuring health and safety success by measuring injury claims is like measuring how successful your car trip was by counting how many miles you didn’t drive.”

Counting, recording and discussing how many cows have escaped the paddock will never be as efficient and effective as measuring the systems, behaviours and culture of ensuring that the gates are closed!

Measure, measure, measure; but measure the right things.

It’s extremely important to measure your activities and not the randomness of your luck. If we are to manage what we set out to do to reach our goals of excellence in the safe production of our goods and services, we are going to need to rely on No. 4: “Measure what you do — not what doesn’t happen to you.”

When we truly understand what we are doing, then the outcomes become much more meaningful.

In light of current world events, measuring fatalities from COVID-19 is necessary, but not sufficient to tell us what is working. Measuring the success of isolation, social distancing, handwashing and masking will help us know what actually works.

Stop relying on auditing

The fifth on our list is one of those “stop the madness” ideas. Over the past four decades, we’ve seen the steady rise of the “auditor is God” mantra.

W. Edwards Deming once said, “The merit rating rewards people that conform to the system. It does not reward attempts to improve the system. Don’t rock the boat.”

He also famously said many times: “If you can’t describe what you are doing, you don’t know what you are doing.”

If we indeed are creating safety through our actions and measuring those activities in enough detail to create confidence in the causal relationship between what we are doing (inputs) and what we are getting for our efforts (outputs), then what the heck is an auditor going to tell us that we don’t already know?

Be your own auditor… so you will know what you are doing to create safety.

Acknowledge efforts towards safety

This brings us to the all important sixth tenet: “Acknowledge efforts to create safety over those that just celebrate non-injury outcomes.”

By now, we all seen those signs: Number of days worked without a lost-time incident. Certainly, there’s a long history of celebrating the length of time between recordable injuries. The problem emerges when the record set was more due to luck than good management.

Aubrey C. Daniels talks about a “dead man test.” The thought is that if a dead man could achieve that goal, then it’s not much of a goal. Someone who does absolutely nothing to create safety can avoid injury. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to hear that a company has no injuries for a period of time… as long as they know why.

If a company has done a great job of doing the kinds of tasks that create safe production of their goods and services, and can point to managed efforts to build a reliable workforce and process with evidence they can reveal to explain why they have no injuries… I’m a lot more impressed.

Alan D. Quilley, CRSP, is the president of Safety Results in Sherwood Park, Alta.

This column appears in the May/June 2020 issue of OHS Canada.

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2 Comments » for Safety requires measurement – lots of it
  1. I think no. 5 is too broad of a sweeping assumption that third-party auditing brings no value. Auditing brings a fresh set of eyes, and hopefully objectivity to an organization who either may no longer be able to see the forest for the trees or who have succumbed to poor practices and don’t realize it. Auditing also assists in-house safety who don’t feel they have a voice within their own organization. Government inspections serve the same purpose; to ensure compliance is being maintained through a common and accurate interpretation of legislation. Auditors are not the end-all be-all, but to assert they have bring no value demonstrates a gross-misunderstanding in how audits should be incorporated to compliment other existing HSMS support processes.

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