I have a client who is very excited to have achieved 12 months without sustaining a Lost Time Injury (LTI). This is a record for this particular site and a great achievement.
But does this measure drive the behaviour we need to achieve long term sustainable continuous improvement in everything we do for our customers? Sure, having an injury free workplace is something we should be aiming for because it enables us to reliably supply goods and services to our customers. Additionally, we have a responsibility to our employees to provide a safe working environment, but how should we measure our safety performance?
The number of Lost Time Injuries, often expressed as the number of LTI’s per million hours worked (LTIFR) is a popular measure for safety. One problem is that this metric is a “lag” indicator that doesn’t necessarily provide a good indication of how our safety performance will track in the future. Also the longer we go without having an LTI, the more pressure there is to not report an LTI. In my experience this means that we find ourselves going to great lengths to make sure any injury does not count as an LTI. Have you ever heard someone say “If we could just get that person back to work quickly on light duties we could prevent this “becoming” and LTI?” This is not showing true respect for our employees, and communicates the wrong messages to our workforce.
I once worked for an organisation that had achieved 2 years LTI free, and in doing so had created so much pressure on the employees that no one was prepared to admit they were carrying injuries. Eventually there was an avalanche of repetitive strain LTI’s that had been “covered” up and remained untreated because nobody wanted to be the one who spoilt the LTI performance measure. The company’s focus on the LTI measure had actually resulted in injuries that were much worse than they might have been had they been reported and treated earlier.
So, what is the answer?
Wherever possible we should be using “lead” indicators that help us identify problem solving opportunities as early as possible in the process. So for safety, perhaps we should be measuring how many near misses are reported and how quickly corrective actions are implemented to prevent or reduce the risk of their re occurrence. By focusing our attention on measuring how well we are improving our processes to prevent near misses from ever happening we are shifting the emphasis to “prevention” rather than “cure”. We are also providing a real mechanism for employee involvement that will lead to a more sustainable set of operational outcomes in the longer term.
Lag indicators may sometimes achieve a result faster, but as a general rule for designing any metrics we should always insist on having lead indicators that drive the right behaviour and provide a more sustainable outcome in the long term.