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    December 11, 2023

    Assessing Safety Performance and Setting New Goals

    It’s almost the end of the year, which for a lot of companies means spending time assessing safety performance and setting new safety goals for the coming year. Depending on the type of safety culture a company has, this process can either be very fruitful or very frustrating.

    For companies with more mature and healthier safety cultures, this activity is typically less tedious because of how they’ve incorporated safety into the everyday operation. These are the same companies where you’ll find very direct, specific and measurable safety goals that everyone is not only aware of but also participates in the completion of.

    On the other hand, for companies with less mature safety cultures, this end of the year process can be much more taxing and frustrating. These are the companies where you’ll find EHS starting to field an influx of emails and phone calls asking about “the safety numbers” and for next year’s safety goals because in these environments, the only people participating in safety tasks are safety people.

    If you’re currently working in an environment with a less mature safety culture, and you dread coming up with new safety goals, and wonder what it is that other companies do to make this process less frustrating and stressful, keep reading! We’re going to share with you the three things that many of these companies do to make this process less of a hassle.

    1. Incorporate Safety Goals into Performance Evaluations

    The first thing they do happens long before the year comes to a close, but its impact resonates throughout the entire year, influencing how motivated people are in reaching safety goals. One of the initial steps taken by many companies is to integrate safety goals into the performance evaluations of all employees. Companies that do this have truly embraced the idea that safety is not an “add on”, that it’s everyone’s responsibility and as such, it should be given the same value as any other performance goal. Aside from the very strong message this sends about how a company values safety, it also helps to correct the imbalance created when companies say “safety first” but then turn around and don’t give safety the same level of clout as everything else.

    If your company is not quite ready for this, that’s ok. What you can do until then is to start off small and include safety “extra credit” items that will boost their overall performance rating but not penalize them if they choose not to do them.

    An example of this may look like offering an OSHA 10- or 30-hour course that will give those who successfully complete it a “boost” when it comes time to evaluate their performance, but that won’t be seen as a negative for anyone who doesn’t complete it. Not only will this help increase overall safety knowledge, but it will help get people used to seeing safety related items in new places, like their performance evaluations.

    2. Collect and Analyze the Data

    The second thing that sets certain companies apart from the pack has to do with how they view the purpose of safety goals, and where their goals are generated from. For these companies, the task of generating safety goals is not a process unto itself. Rather, it’s part of a much larger continuous improvement process designed to continually identify cracks in the safety foundation, and then develop safety goals that when completed, will fortify and strengthen those areas.

    To generate meaningful safety goals, these companies will collect a wide variety of data on things like near misses and first aid incidents, training data, maintenance work order data, data from any observation programs and also from inspections and audits. Sometimes companies will also dig into things like overtime hours and attendance data if they think it may have had an impact on incidents. These companies will then analyze that data for gaps, negative trends and general weaknesses. When problems are identified, these companies will expand their analysis to a review of any associated programs, procedures and practices that may be contributing to problem areas. By doing this, it allows them to really pinpoint the problems that need to be addressed which are then turned into next year’s safety goals.

    When assessing performance for the purpose of generating safety goals, one thing you won’t see these companies do is use or generally rely on certain safety metrics like their TRIR or Total Recordable Incident Rates. The reason for this is simply because these companies understand that the TRIR was never intended to be used in this capacity and really can’t provide anything of value when it comes to identifying areas for improvement. If that last sentence came out of left field and hit you a bit differently, don’t feel bad. There are unfortunately a lot of companies still using the TRIR in this capacity but rather than gloss over this, we think it’s important to explain why this isn’t a good metric to use when gauging safety performance.

    The Problem With TRIR

    Companies who use their TRIR for this purpose usually do a year over year TRIR comparison and then celebrate success if this year’s TRIR is lower than last year’s, but as the saying goes, “that’s not how any of this works”. The TRIR was created by OSHA to give them a standardized way for comparing companies across industries and to the national averages of their respective industries. The TRIR simply provides companies with a rate of recordable injuries and illnesses per 100 workers per year. This is a great metric to use if a company is interested in seeing how they compare to their respective industry’s national average incident rate, but it’s not a great metric for anything outside of that.

    So, if it’s not a good metric to use for gauging performance, you might be wondering why so many companies still use it for this purpose, and that’s a very logical question to ask. The reason why so many companies continue to use TRIR as the primary metric for gauging safety performance has nothing to do with safety or performance. Instead, TRIR is still used in this capacity because numbers are easily comprehensible and interpretable, and they don't necessitate any specialized safety-related knowledge. TRIR gives companies what they think is the ability to look at last year’s incident rate, compare it to this year’s incident rate and feel like they understand the “state of the safety program”, even though it by itself it really does nothing of the sort.

    Aside from the reasons we’ve already mentioned, another reason why TRIR is not a good metric for gauging safety performance is that the TRIR weighs all injuries the same, regardless of incident severity. This means there’s no difference between an amputation and a minor cut that just needed a stitch or two. This can be problematic because without knowing the severity of the injuries and/or illnesses that contributed to the TRIR, a lower TRIR could be just as misleading as a higher TRIR. To put this in better context, let’s consider the following example.

    Suppose a company’s TRIR last year was 3.5 but this year it’s 2.7. To someone sitting in the C-Suite looking at these two rates, they’re probably going to make the assumption that 2.7 is lower than 3.5 and automatically associate a lower TRIR with improved safety performance. However, what they don’t see are the types and severity of the injuries that contributed to those two rates. The injuries contributing to last year’s 3.5 TRIR were fairly minor and consisted of things like small cuts that just needed a stitch or two. The injuries contributing to this year’s TRIR of 2.7 while fewer in quantity, were much more severe and included an amputation and the loss of an eye. So, while it’s true that 2.7 is absolutely lower than 3.5, in this case a lower TRIR doesn’t reflect improvement, nor does it provide evidence of a healthy safety program or culture.

    If your company is not ready to move away from using TRIR to gauge performance, there are things you can add that will at least paint a more accurate picture of the state of your safety program. Initially, you might consider simply explaining the TRIR and what it does (and doesn’t do) because often times people use that metric without knowing how it works. If you do this, consider using examples like the one we used to really drive home how the TRIR can be misleading. Additionally, consider including a Severity Rate and Lost Time Case Rate or if you’re feeling really bold, add some information about near misses and first aid incidents. Before you present this information, take a step back and ask yourself “Does this paint a good picture of what’s really going on?” because at the end of the day, the goal is to provide an accurate picture.

    3. Use Formal Goal Writing

    The third thing these companies do when going through this process is to use a formal goal writing format like the “SMART” method (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely) or the “FAST” method (Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific and Transparent). There are many other methods for writing goals, however, these seem to be the two most popular. This might seem like an obscure thing but in reality, these formal methods for goal writing make the entire process a lot easier because among other things, they help weed out the noise and provide a great way of ensuring some uniformity.

    Companies that do this well are keenly aware that safety goals are the path to continuous safety improvement and because of this, a lot of time is spent on making sure goals are well written, aren’t vague or too big, can be measured to determine achievement and are doable within specified time frames, all of which formal goal setting methods can help with. If this part of the process is a struggle for you, we highly recommend trying out a few different goal writing methods to find the one that fits your specific needs the best.

    Final Thoughts

    Creating meaningful safety goals should not be a daunting task that fills you with dread as the year comes to an end. We hope that the suggestions we provided will alleviate some of the stress you may feel during this process. Additionally, having the right tools to manage your safety program can greatly reduce stress, and we firmly believe that EHS Insight is the perfect tool for any company. If you’re ready to implement software for the first time or even if you’re a long-time user of EHS software but just aren’t happy with your current solution, we’d love to talk to you. Feel free to get in touch with us whenever you like, and we'll be more than happy to demonstrate the exceptional quality of our software!



    Katy Lyden, MS, OHST

    Katy Lyden is a Domain Analyst and EHS Subject Matter Expert for StarTex Software, the company behind EHS Insight. Prior to her current role, Katy spent 17 years successfully leading EHS programs for several large companies within the manufacturing industry. Katy is a Navy veteran, retired Emergency Medical...