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Employing safety analytics begins with people, not data

Organizations are a complex set of interconnected and ever-changing strategies, motivations, and personalities. Many safety initiatives often fail to reach their potential because they are rolled out and are left to fend for themselves. Without change-management techniques to ensure sustaining new initiatives, companies often miss this valuable opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives. When safety professionals plan for evolving their organization’s culture by employing analytics, they need to focus on three aspects: facilitating technologies, creating strategic processes, and making sure your focus is on the people part of safety.

people process technology

Facilitating Technology

With the vast amount of information collected, it is now possible to use data intelligence to predict where your next injury will occur. If you look at any recent newspapers, magazines, or websites, you will likely find a reference to “Predictive Analytics” or “Business Intelligence”. Predictive analytics is the study and use of large data sets to predict or forecast. Business intelligence and predictive analytics will be a part of everyone’s jobs if it is not already. And, there is no other area in businesses that could benefit more from using “analytics”, than our safety departments.

As organizations upgrade their processes to Predictive-Based Safety through improved technique, and real-time data analysis, they will be better equipped to act on their safety analytics. Ideally, using leading and lagging indicators, paired with the power of machine learning and AI, will help us understand patterns to identify where the next incident, near-miss, or critical failure could occur. With accuracy rates approaching 90 percent, predictive analytics have helped organizations save lives.

The safety field collects a plethora of data from safety observations to near-misses. Unfortunately, this critical safety intelligence is often not used, misused, or just plain ignored. So, our challenge is to use safety analytics to help us predict latent weaknesses in our processes and systems and proactively use the data to create resilient organizations, help them fail safely, and predict and eliminate incidents. To make this happen, our organizations need to create a process for acting upon the intelligence gained from our facilitating technologies. 

Strategic Processes

As we move closer to cultures where injuries are rare occurrences, companies need to focus on achievement-oriented safety statistics to assess progress. This leading-indicator mentality has been the hot-topic in safety for decades. However, few organizations know what to do with their leading indicators once they obtain them. Counting the frequency and quality of leading indicators will not change the climate around safety. To make lasting change, organizations need to use their safety intelligence to make proactive changes. These proactive changes can strengthen your initiative and thus strengthen your safety climate. 

The safety field collects a lot of data. However, this critical safety information is often stored away and goes mostly unused. So, to impact our safety cultures, we need to gather all our safety “big data,” put our safety analytics to use and get our leadership teams to acting on our valuable safety indicators.

96% of AEC data goes unused 

To improve the culture for using organizational data, companies should develop a “data-use-plan” to ensure their safety intelligence is being reviewed, acted upon, and communicated. A successful data-use-plan outlines who is going to get the relevant metrics, at what frequencies, how they will share the information, and what the value-add is for the organization. This data-use-plan should then be rolled into preexisting leadership meetings along with a week-look-back/week-look-ahead to help diagnose our opportunities for improvement and derive an action plan. These safety analytics help drive proactive change, demonstrate that safety gets a seat at the leadership table, and helps create a climate of continuous learning.

Safety is about People

And finally, and most importantly, safety is all about the people we work with. Too often organizations dehumanize safety by focusing on the “numbers” or recordable rate. The OSHA recordable rate, for instance, is one frequently used method of assessing safety performance. Whereas this recordable rate is an indicator, for high-performing organizations, this number is an inadequate means for assessing safety culture because there are far too few instances to truly get a picture of performance.  Many companies ONLY focus on injury statistics and NOT on safety statistics.

Furthermore, the more the organization emphasizes these numbers, the more likely employees are to feel pressure to not report their injury to avoid spoiling their “record”. Achieving a safety milestone such as a “zero recordable rate” may positively influence the safety climate, but may negatively impact the culture if employees feel they must “hide” their injuries to receive recognition. 

Safety is about people. To create the next safety step-change, organizations need to make safety personal again. When someone gets hurt, has a near-miss, identifies property damage, or makes a mistake, organizations have to respond such that employees perceive this as a learning event and not an opportunity to shame and blame their coworkers. This requires a change in our verbal behavior and how we communicate these insistences to portray them as opportunities for system/process improvements. On a one-on-one safety coaching instance, leaders should focus on the impact to the employee, their welfare, family, livelihood, and not discuss if this would be considered a recordable incident. For organizations to move to the next level of safety performance, a focus on achievement-oriented safety analytics is essential.     

With a primary focus on helping people stay safe, the level of organizational trust should greatly improve. In many organizations, however, employees and leaders begin to lose trust in their data. This “venomous cycle” often happens to cultures that focus more on the numbers and less on the people-side of safety. If employees do not trust that their safety observations are being reviewed, for instance, they may not put much effort into completing a quality observation. The leaders, in turn, receive safety data they do not trust and are hesitant to act upon it. This inaction leads to further pencil-whipping, more mistrust, and more inaction. To reverse this cycle, organizations need to act upon their safety analytics.

By using the data-use-plan described above, an organization can create a “virtuous circle” by acting on the observation intelligence provided and demonstrating the value of the information. This action and follow-up communication create momentum that can produce a climate of discovery that will eventually lead to a culture of a “learning organization”. Once your employees trust that the data they provide will be used to help their coworkers stay safe, the trust in the organizational processes grows and our cultural evolution begins to take shape. 

the virtuous circle

A New Generation of Safety Leadership

The evolution we are seeing comes from creating more engagement through better conversations. This new generation of safety leaders are using machine learning and predictive analytics to save time and energy wrangling all their data and building a repeatable process to act on the insights the predictive modeling is highlighting. But when it comes to any sustainable organizational change, it takes people to believe that what they do will make a difference. Technology by itself can never create lasting change. Change begins with people. Employees collect metrics, leaders act on those metrics, and the whole organization benefits from using the metrics. This empowering step-change can help organizations lay the foundation for decades of sustained improvements, reduce risk, and eventually eliminate death on the job.

Ready to take the next step? Download our Data-Driven Guide

Written by Chuck Pettinger, Ph.D.

Chuck Pettinger, Ph.D. has spent three decades helping companies create processes to better use their organizational metrics to improve performance, reduce error, and eliminate injuries. He has accomplished this by evaluating gaps in culture, assessing data use processes cultures, and using advanced predictive analytics to develop leading indicators for many industries around the world. He holds a doctorate in Organizations Psychology from Virginia Tech and been twice named “101 Top Leaders in Safety” by ISHN. When he’s not helping drive organizational change and eliminating death on the job, you can find Chuck barbecuing, backpacking or overlanding in his Bronco.

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