Using Performance Appraisals to Hold Supervisors Accountable for Safety

How to determine if supervisors are performing their safety duties effectively.

Supervisors are key to ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. But getting supervisors to understand, accept and perform their role in ensuring safety at your workplace. “It’s all about accountability,” says Newfoundland OHS consultant Wayne Pardy. “You need to tell supervisors what you expect of them and apply those expectations to assess and reward their performance,” he explains. Strategy: Integrate safety-related functions into supervisors’ performance appraisals. There’s also a Performance Appraisal template on the OHSI website that you can adapt according to your company’s situation and values.

How Performance Appraisals Promote Accountability for Safety

Accountability is a fancy word for telling people in your company what you expect them to do and ensuring they do it. Accountability is vital to every aspect of operations. “Everybody in the organization needs to know what’s expected of them so they can tell how well they’re doing their job,” explains Pardy. To achieve supervisor accountability, you must do three things:

  • Explain what you want them to do;
  • Measure performance and compare it against those stated expectations; and
  • Bestow and withhold rewards on the basis of your findings.

Job descriptions help get you over the first hurdle; performance appraisals gets you over the other two. Explanation: The performance appraisal (also called the performance review or evaluation) is the main vehicle companies use to deliver feedback. While there are different ways to do an appraisal, the basic process involves considering what a supervisor accomplished in a period. Ideally, performance is measured and compared to a set of predetermined, objective standards or benchmarks like production quotas and deadlines. The results of the appraisal indicate whether the supervisor is meeting or exceeding standards, thereby establishing the basis for raises, bonuses, promotions and other rewards.

Supervisor Safety & Performance Appraisals

What a company rewards is a reflection of what it values. All companies value safety. So, all companies consider safety in the performance appraisal.

Right?…. Wrong.

In fact, many companies don’t take safety into account when appraising performance. That’s not because they don’t think safety is important. They just don’t look at safety the way they do other operations. “Although all companies care about it, safety has often been seen as something mystical and outside the realm of normal business, like motherhood and love-of-country,” explains Pardy. “Many companies are more comfortable using traditional economically-based, quantifiable concepts like quality control and production levels to measure performance.”

Safety is also perceived as hard to measure. One problem is that it’s hard to define what makes for effective performance in safety. “Historically, companies have used the numbers of accidents and/or lost workdays as a measure,” Pardy continues. But this is unreliable and often misleading since the accidents can be as much a matter of luck as a reflection of prevention efforts and initiatives. “Injury and accident statistics are still important, as long as there’s a clear sense of their value, relevance and role in the system,” Pardy explains. “Companies tend to overreact when accidents rise. Conversely, they assume everything is under control when they fall.”

Sometimes the disconnect between safety and performance appraisal occurs not at the measurement but the reward stage. “In too many companies the recognition for accomplishments in safety isn’t a bonus or a promotion, but a free gift, button or special colored helmet,” comments Pardy. “Instead of conveying the sense that safety is a core value, such rewards trivialize it and set it apart.”

How To Build Safety into the Performance Appraisal

Anybody can talk about safety. But to build a safety culture, companies need to treat safety like other operations. That means establishing clear, measurable and objective standards and measuring performance against those standards. Integrating safety into the performance appraisal is a huge step in that direction. Although there’s no one correct way to do a performance appraisal, there are certain characteristics an effective system should have:

It Should Be Formalized: A performance appraisal isn’t just something to do when the mood strikes you. There needs to be clear rules and procedures in your OHS policy and/or employment manual so that every supervisor knows what will be evaluated, how often appraisals will be done and how results will be used.

It Must Use Appropriate Measures: Performance-based safety involves the use of a combination of four metrics, or measures:

  • Objective measures, such as sound, dust or temperature level readings, or carrying out specific safety-related tasks listed in the supervisor’s job description;
  • Subjective measures, such as opinions of key people who work with the supervisor on the safety-related aspects of the supervisor’s performance, such as in housekeeping or maintenance;
  • Quantitative measures, such as an audit score that uses a standard set or scale of numbers. For example, our template asks how many safety improvements the supervisor made and whether he/she met numerical targets; and
  • Qualitative measures of conditions and situations related to safety. For example, our template asks the appraiser to rate the effectiveness of safety meetings conducted by the supervisor.