Can safety be measured?

Better Ways to Measure Safety

Days Without Accidents posters may be common in industry, but counting accident-free days does little if anything to prevent accidents.

“Traditional manufacturing safety programs deal with negative information, says Andras Csizmazia, Head of QHSE at Fortaco. “If that’s how we think about safety, then it means the best result is when we hear nothing at all.”

Of course, the seemingly obvious approach is to celebrate those accident-free days. (Fortaco’s cabin vehicle assembly plant in Holíč, Slovakia, has over 888 accident-free days. A unit in Sepänkylä has over 5,000 days!) But factory workers can be as superstitious as 18th-century sailors, and a celebration can be viewed as inviting an accident.

From lagging to leading

Like days without accidents, loss time injury rate or frequency (LTIF) is another lagging indicator of safety. It’s expressed in hours lost per one million working hours. It’s not bad to measure it – manufacturing in Finland averages an LTIF of 30, according to – but like all lagging indicators, it measures only a lack of safety.

Since accident-free days and LTIF are both easy to understand and measure, it’s unlikely the measure will soon be fully replaced. “We’ll of course continue to use lagging indicators, because they’re accurate, and make it simple to benchmark ourselves,” says Csizmazia. “But they’re not of help to predict the future or take actions to change outcomes.”

Heinrich’s triangle was one of the first attempts to create a leading indicator of safety. This theory of industrial accident prevention, developed in the 1931, posits that if the number of minor accidents is reduced there will be a corresponding fall in the number of serious accidents. After studying 75,000 accident reports, Heinrich concluded that there is one major injury accident for every 29 minor injury accidents, and for every 300 no-injury accidents.

Larissa Shabunova, Managing Director at Fortaco Estonia, routinely tracks three KPIs at her factories in Narva: number of accidents, near misses, and unsafe behavior. As she works further down the list, the indicators transition from lagging to leading.

In practice, less unsafe behavior and fewer near misses translate to fewer lost-time accidents. Shabunova knows that if she can convince a worker to stop riding a palette jack as if it were a recreational scooter, she will reduce serious accidents.

Fortaco’s Agnieszka Koziara, Senior Vice President of People & HR with Fortaco Group, is also a believer in tracking near misses. “KPIs of risk behavior are the key to unlocking the mindset.” She says zero tolerance for accidents has to be more than just a slogan. “We can’t stop with the motto and pretty words. We’ve got to have zero tolerance for unsafe behavior.”

A new KPI: measuring ideas

Near misses and incidences of unsafe behavior are easy enough to count, but only if employees report them. Adam Czerwiec, General Manager of Fortaco’s Wrocław Steel Fabrications plant, and his team decided to create a new KPI: ideas. Czerwiec’s management team regularly collects ideas for changes from the plant’s 400 blue collar workers.

Ideas are written on a whiteboard on the factory floor and systematically addressed before being erased. “We’re trying to show that all ideas are most welcome, and we’ll at least try to fix the problem, says Czerwiec. “This demonstrates that the workers’ ideas are important. Sometimes, with small issues, we encourage them to help us fix the problem, so it doesn’t just become a worker complaint board.”

Many critical ideas are received, and no idea is too trivial. Last summer, requests were addressed to put drinking water on the production line on hot days. Another request was to remedy missing toilet paper. “The process shows that every worker can be an influencer,” he says. But it’s not only psychological. The ideas serve as a leading indicator.

Czerwiec’s team counts the number of ideas that come from employees, and tracks from which employee group they come. “We still get most ideas from white collar employees and the safety department,” he says. “But our goal for Wroclaw is to be challenged and supported by our blue collar workers in safety.”

No matter how you measure it

For the near future, near miss and safety observation reporting may represent the best indicators for both improving safety and changing culture. But no matter what your leading indicator, no one disagrees that success depends on safety becoming a personal commitment for everyone in the organization.

“People are eager to raise their hands and say ‘this is unsafe,” says Andrzej Wrona, Fortaco’s Director of Operational Excellence. “But once you identify these things management has to react immediately. If you don’t, people will think you’re not serious.”