Data-Driven Goals to Improve Safety

In the world of safety, data is everything.

We have a vast amount of data on workplace accidents thanks to groups like OSHA and the Department of Labor. Yet the data that matters most is often missing — and it’s the data unique to your organization that can improve safety and protects your workers from near misses and accidents.

Collecting data is imperative for improving safety in your workplace. Yet, it can be tough to know where to get started. What data is meaningful? Who needs to see it? And what data is available to you and where can you find it?

As with any program, the best advice is to “start with the end in mind.” In other words, every safety program should start with data-driven goals and then work its way back to the data itself.

1. Set Your Data-Driven Goals

Your first task is to set your goals, but how do you create goals that use meaningful data? And what kind of goals are most likely to produce the results you want: improved safety and fewer incidents?

There are a few important safety and behavior principles at play when you set those goals. Of course, you want to promote positive safety behaviors rather than punishing safety hazards. The goal is to minimize risks rather than punish them.

To that end, you may find it easier to break down your goals into discrete, actionable, and granular events that you can track with real-time data or leading indicators.

Use Leading Indicators to Set Data-Driven Goals

What does a good data-driven goal look like? 

A useful goal looks like a high rate of safety training attendance or rate of eye protection use. In the COVID-19 context, you can use goals like handwashing frequency, sanitization frequency, and use of PPE. You can measure these data points firsthand rather than relying on reporting after the fact. Plus, there’s an element of social pressure involved. Some people will wear glasses initially to avoid getting caught without them. Even still, the practice can continue to inform good habits and it ultimately serves the role of making sure everyone wears full PPE when required.

Aren’t you talking about huge amounts of data? Yes, but the data is easy to collect, manage, and analyze.

Safesite users can use the Observations feature to record the data and track your progress. All you need to do is go to “Log Observation” in your mobile app and choose your project. You then choose whether the observation is Positive or Negative and select your location and team. Grab a quick description of the data or add a photo and you have meaningful, timely data to measure your progress. 

Why Lagging Indicators Stress Out Teams

Focusing on leading indicators makes for an excellent data-driven safety goal. But why do you want to avoid lagging indicators like incident rates?

The debate between the use of leading and lagging indicators is hardly new. But in the world of data-driven goals, lagging indicators aren’t helpful because they’re not actionable on their own.

For example, incident rates are reported after the fact. Like all lagging indicators, you can’t use the injury rate alone to prevent incidents before they happen. It only tells you that something happened – not why, when, what, or how. What’s more, if someone’s job depends on keeping the injury rate below a baseline, there’s a temptation to underreport when possible. 

As a result, creating a goal like lowering your injury rates can be highly stressful for workers and management.

W.E. Deming’s Red Bead experiment is the perfect example of how tracking an injury rate can go wrong for everyone involved. You can take action to bring an injury rate down to zero, but as soon as a new injury happens, the rate skyrockets, which startles everyone. 

As W.E. Deming’s experiment teaches us, all workers exist within a system outside their control. Their performance is also based on that system. Only management can change the system. So if you focus only on the final outcome, your workers and safety managers go from being celebrated to seeing themselves on the chopping block in what feels like the blink of an eye. 

Ultimately, an injury rate doesn’t offer a means of control in and of itself. There are too many factors involved in every single near miss or recordable incident. So, you want to use safety process improvements that contribute to the injury rate rather than putting all your eggs in the injury rate basket.

What Should You Do with Lagging Indicators?

Lagging indicators have a place in safety. However, it’s better to look at them year-on-year rather than pouring over them each month. Doing so is less stressful for everyone involved. 

These once-a-year goals might include:

  • Reduction of the number of serious injuries that occur within a
  • calendar year.
  • Reduction in accident-related costs
  • Increase in insurance costs
  • Medical bills
  • Lost time
  • Reduced morale
  • Cost of retraining staff

In other words, you will find it easier to not only measure safety but improve it when you ‘sweat the small stuff,’ like attendance and PPE use. The big picture safety items, like a reduction in accident-related costs and lost time, will follow.

2. Establish Your Baseline

You’ve got a good set of data-driven goals and even better intentions, but before you create a plan, you must first establish your baseline data.

Your baseline gives you a place to measure from. Let’s use the example of measuring the use of safety glasses. Before you start working towards your goal, you need a clear understanding of what the current adherence to safety protocols are.

If you don’t already have safety data, now is the time to conduct a full safety assessment for your target areas. To return to the safety glasses example, you might:

  • Count the number of safety glasses available
  • Identify the areas where safety glasses must be used
  • Determine whether the current supply of safety glasses meets requirements (suitable for purpose, comfortable to wear, etc.)
  • Create baseline data for use (i.e., observe safety glass adherence for a week prior to setting the goal)

As you establish your data baseline and begin thinking more in-depth about your goals, you need to consider the difference between safety and compliance. 

Compliance represents the minimum safety standards required by your local health group, union, or OSHA. However, you shouldn’t equate OSHA compliance with safety. Safety is the prevention of near-misses and incidents, and compliance won’t necessarily take you all the way to zero incidents. 

Safety is more rigorous and highly personalized. It does require you to take compliance several steps further, but in the long-run, it can also help you not only achieve your project goals but also the long-term lagging indicator goals (lower incident rates, saved workers’ compensation premiums, less time lost, etc.)

3. Develop Your Safety Plan

With your goals set, you need a plan and a willing team of people to help get you there. There’s a lot involved, so we’ll break down the broad steps now and then dive into the details:

  • Form a diverse team (including management)
  • Schedule regular, set meetings
  • Establish the project parameters
  • Collect the data
  • Measure performance
  • Compare with goals

Forming a Team

A safety team benefits from diversity of thought, which means you need to choose your team members carefully.

According to the National Safety Council, you’ll benefit the most when your team is 50% management and 50% hourly workers. Each side is able to bring their unique working perspective to the table and strengthen the project. If you have unionized labor, you should make sure you also have equal representation from both management and labor groups. 

Who goes on the team? You should aim for representatives from:

  • Production (all shifts)
  • Operations
  • Maintenance
  • Medical
  • HR
  • Safety
  • Security

Your safety management can’t succeed without buy-in from senior management. Their support is more than lip-service. They allocate resources to the program and create a whole organization committed to safety.

Remember that teams shouldn’t be stagnant. You should aim to rotate at least 25% of the team and the chairperson bi-annually.

Establishing Project Parameters

Before racing ahead to collect data, you need to figure out what data you need. Choosing data types and project parameters require more than picking and choosing. Some of the questions you’ll ask to pick up the most relevant data will include:

  • Who is the data for?
  • How often will it be analyzed and distributed?
  • Who is conducting the analysis?
  • How will it be distributed?
  • Who will it be distributed to?
  • How will you involve staff?

Every project is unique, so make sure you not only create parameters based on your goals but you also ensure you have buy-in from each person or group identified above.

Collecting Data

The next phase of your safety plan is also highly unique to your organization, teams, and goals. Your first task is to decide what kind of data you want to collect.

Before you go out and start collecting data, you need to determine:

  • What data is available?
  • Are there any limitations?
  • Are there any opportunities?
  • Where do you find the data?
  • What method(s) or tools will be used to gather data? 
  • Are there any examples of tools available?

As you prepare your data collection plan, be sure to take both online and offline data collection methods into account. 

If you’re a Safesite app user, online and offline data aren’t a problem. You can log all project data directly into the Safesite app regardless of whether you have an internet connection.

Measuring Performance

The data you collect is only useful to you if you can use it to answer questions and ultimately make decisions.

You’ll need to ask and settle on answers to:

  • How will data be analyzed/measured?
  • How will you visualize the data? (charts, graphs, formula, tools)
  • What does the data tell you?

You also need a way to create a process for open or non-compliance items. You’ll need to:

  • Where is the correction needed?
  • Can it be corrected immediately?
  • What is a reasonable timeline to close open items?
  • How will you compare the actual closeout time to the goal set for the closeout?

You can then identify how far below target you are and show results in a graph. If you’re below target, you can ask:

  • Is it an unsafe act or an unsafe condition?
  • Who is responsible for the correction?
  • What is a realistic timeline for correction?
  • Was the timeline met?
    • If not, was it:
      • Lack of funding
      • Lack of management support
      • No response from the person it was assigned to
  • What needs to be done to correct the hazard?
  • What needs to be done to establish the root cause?
  • How do you ensure that it doesn’t occur again?

Focus on improvement, not on disciplinary action. Because your goals are proactive, you want to create actions that inspire behaviors. Writing someone up works to stop a negative behavior, not kickstart a positive one. If anything, discipline is the best way to create malicious compliance, which is not a safety behavior!

If you do need to use disciplinary measures, make sure you are documenting the situation and the consequences. It not only provides data for you but reiterates that repeat offenses won’t be tolerated.

Meeting Goals

The final step is to determine how you will have met the goal. You’ll ask questions like:

  • Have most of the corrections been completed within the allotted timeline?

You will then measure improvement/track progress against your baseline. Ideally, you can also begin to track and establish company savings as a result of preventing accidents. You can find this data by determining the average cost of an accident last year or over the past 3-5 years.

Don’t forget to acknowledge your team’s improvements. You appreciate a job well done, and acknowledging improvements provides recognition to those who help you reach your goal.

You may even decide to publicly acknowledge your team. Some of the best options include:

  • Posting your results in public spaces
  • Getting a congratulatory letter from the chairperson of the team or senior management
  • Highlighting the achievement in the company newsletter
  • Add congratulations and commendations in the annual general meeting

Data-Driven Goals Protect Workers and Companies

Data has the ability to dramatically improve safety on your site. Today’s tools allow you to collect the data needed for granular goals and leading indicators that make a tangible difference in preventing near misses and incidents.  

The key to setting and achieving data-driven goals is always to start with the end in mind. Safesite allows you to easily track leading indicators using the Observations and Hazards features and trend them on a customizable analytics dashboard.

Once you have your unique data-driven goal set, you can then design a data-driven safety plan to carry you across the finish line.

To quote W.E. Deming once again, “What gets measured gets done.” With Safesite, there’s no need to wait to start collecting the data needed to meet your goals. Download Safesite and start meeting your safety goals in just 20 minutes.

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Team Safesite

By Team Safesite

We're a group of safety and tech professionals united in our desire to make every workplace safer. We keep a pulse on the latest regulations, standards, and industry trends in safety and write about them here on our blog.

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