Building a Better Safety Measurement Mousetrap

Measuring results is essential for a safety system committed to ongoing improvement. But while we all recognize the importance of measuring, the measurement method that we have historically relied upon has limited our capacity to prevent injuries and accidents. So I’d like to suggest a better mousetrap.

Safety Measurement Relies on Lagging Indicators

Safety is supposed to be about preventing injuries. But, historically, safety measurement has relied on accident and injury statistics that reflect what’s already happened. Prevention is about looking forward, not backward. Accordingly, to achieve prevention, we need to measure what’s going on right now and what’s likely to happen in the future.

That’s easy to say. But how do we actually move from a lagging to a leading indicator mentality?

Step 1: Creating the Safety Performance Measurement Plan

The first practical challenge is to develop an actual measurement system. This step should be undertaken by a senior level management team that considers the needs of the entire organization, including such factors as measures for success, key performance indicators and their relative importance and how the information is to be used once it becomes available. The team should be responsible through consultation and performance management objectives for laying the foundation for the measurement model and eventual recognition opportunities.

Step 2: Deciding What to Measure

We’ve all heard the axiom: “What gets measured gets done.” What you measure should directly reflect the priorities, practices and activities that your management team feels will contribute the most to the safety improvement effort.

At this stage in the process, identify a family of measures and evaluate how each one fits your entire safety management system. It’s also critical to establish specific performance indicators. This involves developing operational definitions that are specific, agreed upon and capable of being measured. Each measure should be assigned a weight or value of importance based on the organization’s priorities and values.

Example: Measure the Quality of Your Prevention System

Let’s say that one of the key measures identified through your strategic planning is hazard and risk analysis. This element of your safety system is deemed to be important and you want to establish a system of ongoing measurement to determine whether it’s effective. The first step is to define your standards for risk assessment (when and where they’re to be done, by whom and how often) and then determine exactly what is it that you’re going to measure to determine whether the system of risk assessments is working. This isn’t an audit in the traditional sense. It’s a system of ongoing appraisal of how well you’re managing risk assessment activities.

Once you determine your measures, it’s a simple matter of determining the best way to track and value them. One common method is to assign all measures a total score of 100% and assign each measure a different percentage (or weight) based on the value of these measures to your organization. Example:

Safety Performance Measurement: Risk and Hazard Analysis System

•  Standards are developed for risk or hazard management: 50%

•  Jobs are assessed and evaluated for risks or hazards: 20%

•  Risk or hazard management is used in job training sessions: 10%

•  Risk or hazard management is used in safety meetings: 10%

•  Employees assist in the identification of risks or hazards: 10%

The number and types of performance measurements can be as many and varied as needed. Use best practice reports and industry research to design your safety management system to be as wide-ranging or as simple as you wish.

Step 3: Establishing a Performance Baseline

Once performance measures are in place, establish a baseline. This will enable you, through the collection of performance measurement data, to measure how effective the system is in achieving its critical success indicators.

Step 4: Using the Data

The next step is to actually use the information you collect to measure the effectiveness of your performance. The benefit of this system is that the measurement of risk and hazard management initiatives isn’t dependent on having an accident or injury. You’re measuring the effectiveness of the process you’ve defined for effective risk management, not how many or how few injuries you experienced.


If you do a good job in implementing this approach, you’ll have a better indicator of your safety performance. In this way, you’ll be proactively identifying and correcting problems and reinforcing effective approaches before accidents and injuries happen, not just poring over the statistics after the fact. You’ll be moving from reaction to proactive prevention and this is precisely what safety performance management and measurement are supposed to be all about.