Good Safety Metrics Change Behavior

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Good Safety Metrics Change Behavior

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Monday, May 6, 2013 - 2:35pm

When it comes to safety metrics, David Newman, Director of EHS for Comcast, prefers those that change behavior.

“In my head, most or all metrics should drive some type of behavior,” said Mr. Newman, whose territory spans from Maine to North Carolina. “And if there’s no chance that they’ll drive any behavior at all, I have to wonder why we’re keeping them.”
While companies tend to pay close attention to metrics such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recordable incidents, he said lagging indicators such as these do little to drive behavior because the accident has already happened. Tracking leading indicator such as near misses and dangerous work conditions, on the other hand, may be more effective at improving workplace safety.
“Good safety metrics should be understandable, measurable and ones employees can change,” he said. “The behavior that we want to measure is employees getting involved with finding problems before they turn into accidents.”
And by correlating leading indicators, such as the number of employees who have completed their training, to lagging indicators such as injuries, Mr. Newman said it’s possible to identify preventative measures.
“You need both types of indicators; you just need to make sure that they are correlated and that people can control them and change them.”
Still, a strong safety program with consistent metrics is not always enough to ensure consistent performance across an organization, he said.
One of his regions, for example, has a far better safety performance than the other ones, a discrepancy he asked employees about during a recent trip to the area.
“I said: ‘Why are our metrics so much better in this region than the other regions? They should be the same. We have the same jobs we’re doing, we have the same structure. We’re going to the same customer sites. Don’t you find that mysterious? Why do you think that is?’”
According to the employees, the secret was the leadership provided by the regional Vice President.
“It’s all about that guy down the hall in that office,” they told him. “He has this way of making sure that employees feel ownership of all of their activities.”
Indeed, imbuing every employee with a sense of personal responsibility is the ultimate goal of any safety program, Mr. Newman said.
“Even though it’s an employer’s responsibility to provide a safe workplace, employees play a critical role in looking out for their safety and that of co-workers” he said. “The magic is to get them to do the right thing when no one’s watching them. That’s behavioral safety right there. That’s what these metrics are all about.”
Tomorrow, NAEM’s New England chapter will hold a panel discussion at Mass Maritime University on the use and value of metrics. You can join the conversation by registering for the event at: