September 2014

As chief elected officer of the Society, ASSE's president promotes the advancement of the Society and the safety profession, and represents ASSE before members, other relevant professional societies and various governmental agencies. Professional Safety shares his latest thoughts on the Society, the profession and its practice.

Read past messages in the President's Message Archive.

President's Message - February 2007

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” —Albert Einstein

2006-2007 ASSE President Donald S. Jones, Sr., MBA, PE, CSP

Leading the way to Better Results

As we all know, the business of injury prevention can be confounding. We often hear that protecting workers is "the right thing to do" and that people are a company's "greatest asset." In a perfect world, that's all it would take for a company to invest in safety.

In the real world, though, things often aren't so perfect and safety doesn't always seem all that important. It may be that senior management has not clearly communicated its expectations for safety-or worse, has shown employees through its actions that safety isn't truly valued. Perhaps senior leadership has not established definitive organizational targets for safety performance or has not attached accountabilities to those targets. Maybe line supervisors are skeptical about safety, believing it competes with rather than complements their priorities. Or perhaps the SH&E staff hasn't effectively demonstrated the positive effects of workplace safety.

Whatever the causes of this breakdown, the result is a failure to create and support a managed safety system. And it's these types of failures at worksites across the country that led to the 5,702 fatal work injuries and 4.2 million nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses recorded in the U.S. in 2005. When you consider just the direct costs involved with occupational injuries and illnesses-Liberty Mutual estimates that employers spent $50.8 billion in 2003 on wage payments and medical care for workers hurt on the job-these are costly failures.

The question then is how can we as SH&E professionals lead the way to better results? How do we show business leaders that devising, implementing and maintaining an effective safety management system will reap many benefits?

Many tools exist to help us in this area. There are cooperative programs such as OSHA's Voluntary Protection Programs and American Chemistry Council's Responsible Care initiative. We also have voluntary consensus standards such as ANSI/AIHA Z10, CSA Z1000-06 and OHSAS 18001, as well as proven business strategies such as six sigma, balanced scorecard and the Baldrige framework. Through ASSE, we also have access to the many resources developed and compiled by the Society's Business of Safety Committee.

Whatever model, tools and strategies we select, in order to succeed, we must identify, track and report on performance indicators. These are not easy tasks, largely because measuring safety performance differs from many areas measured by management. Unlike most areas of business where success is measured by the presence of some outcome, success in safety results in the absence of an outcome (injuries or illnesses). So, it is up to us as SH&E professionals to seek new ways to assess and report safety performance so that executives clearly see the benefits of preventing injuries and illnesses.

To do this, we must move away from reliance on reactive measures such as injury incident rates as the primary gauge of safety performance. Instead, we need to identify and track leading indicators that help us develop interventions that address hazards before they result in injury, damage or loss. Examples might include observations/audits/inspections conducted; number of safety contacts; percentage of incidents investigated; number of positive rewards and recognition given; number of near-hits reported; number of repeat incidents; or percentage of job safety analyses completed. You can probably think of many more examples specific to your site or industry. Again, ASSE is an excellent resource in this area through professional development programs such as the upcoming Measuring Performance for Safety Success symposium.

Beyond identifying and reporting these metrics, we must strive to connect them to the business priorities that our corporate leaders have identified. By doing so and by helping our leaders understand and appreciate these interrelationships, safety becomes part of the corporate culture and a key element of the leadership vision. In the long run, it will also help to prevent the tragic incidents that continue to devastate too many lives each day.

Donald S. Jones, Sr., MBA, PE, CSP