Pulp and Paper Canada

Effective Safety Performance Measurement (Safety Management Systems)

September 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Many years ago, a divisional vice-president was continuously criticized by his CEO for the high lost-time accident rate in his division. The VP in turn blasted his site managers and supervisory person…

Many years ago, a divisional vice-president was continuously criticized by his CEO for the high lost-time accident rate in his division. The VP in turn blasted his site managers and supervisory personnel for the high rate but nothing improved. It only stressed out his managers, supervisors, and staff. As a safety specialist, I wrote a report stating that the VP was effectively “whipping the horse without holding the reins!”

One of his managers told me the VP went ballistic when he read the report. What I explained in the report was that everyone in the division was being held accountable for the results but no one had a solution to improve them. They needed guidance as the problem was complex and outside their areas of expertise. My message to the VP and his senior managers was to determine what had to be done (pro-active prevention activity) and then hold the division sites accountable for implementing the necessary safety activities to get the desired results (reduced lost time accidents). To his credit (and his entire group), the VP never said a word to me but I believe he took the advice and his division delivered one of the best safety performances in the company and the industry over the next five years.


The message here is that when holding people accountable, be careful what you measure and hold them accountable for and how you measure it, if you want the desired results. Above all, hold them accountable for something that they control, which is activity as opposed to results or outcomes where safety is concerned.

Control loss exposure

The focus of this column is the custom creation of Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) for better controlling “upstream” accident prevention activity. Each mill can do their own and focus on those prevention activities that suit their exact needs which are always changing (dynamic safety management).

In the case of safety, if you want to influence the outcomes you have to focus on the process, which in this case is the Safety Management System. In particular, pay attention to the content of the system. Specifically, what are the activities that must be performed to increase enterprise safety and reduce the losses? They are activities dedicated to identifying and then controlling the hazards and risks (loss exposures) to the enterprise’s people, equipment, material and environment before they lead to an accident or loss.

(For a list of typical system activities, see P&PC Safety Matters, July 2002)

ISMEC, an acronym created by ILCI-DNV(1), stands for:

I dentify the specific safety activity

S tandards are then set for that activity

M easure compliance to the standards

E valuate deviation and effectiveness

C orrect deviation and/or revise standard

For example, one safety activity identified as necessary might be daily planned inspections of each department.

The activity consists of inspections to spot hazards, congestion, debris, items badly stored, etc.

The standards are: daily frequency, using checklist, 100% compliance to preset standard for orderliness (or zero infractions).

The KPI here is the % compliance (i.e., 85% is good, 100% is better)

Measurement is twice weekly, deviations noted.

Evaluate twice weekly the reasons for deviations and infractions, and record feedback from all incident reports on whether inspection related incidents are increasing or decreasing (trends).

Correct the deviations identified by the inspections or increase the inspection frequency (i.e., improve the standard). If performance is excellent start lowering the standards such as reducing the frequency of inspections and devote resources to other priorities.

Other examples of activities are Job Hazard Analyses, Employee Hazard Identification and Reporting, Job Training, Tool Box or Pre-Task Planning meetings, etc. The performance of each and every one must be measured and evaluated on a periodic or, even better, on a continuous basis. The methodology used for measuring performance is basically the same for all pro-active or even reactive safety activities(reactive activities might be Emergency Response or Lost Time Case Management/Return to Work).

Daily Feedback

Timely feedback from very brief Incident/hazard reporting by all employees and management is critical to evaluating whether each system activity is effective, improving or deteriorating. Ideally, this feedback would be on a ‘real time’ continuous basis or at least daily. It is this continuous, broad based, enterprise wide feedback that is the crux of any truly effective safety management performance measurement system.

To function properly, such a performance feedback system needs management commitment, resources, an adequate information system, and above all, prompt corrective action to maintain credibility with employees.

Recommended Reading

“Positive Performance Measures – A Practical Guide”

Minerals Council of Australia



1. www.dnv.com P&PC

John E. Little, B.Eng. CRM, is a risk consultant specializing in safety management optimization technologies. He can be reached at jelittle@oricom.ca

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