Monday, October 3, 2011

Developing Meaningful Leading Indicators

The six sigma methodology for manufacturing has a relentless focus on achieving zero errors in the workplace. Upstream (or leading) indicators/metrics are a vital part of the error proofing processes that assist the facility teams in focusing on their progress toward zero errors in all that they do. This has not been a part of the approaches used by most organizations when it comes to improving safety performance. Fortunately, a six sigma tool utilization approach is currently being tried by a number of safety leading-edge organizations.

These groups are focusing in on the upstream activities that deliver the downstream results instead of just utilizing “rear view mirror” techniques which concentrate on past injuries; things we do not want to happen. As the thought and action leaders in safety concentrate on error proofing the upstream processes that have been proven to reduce and eliminate injuries, they too have found a need for leading safety indicators.

In the history of safety, there is not a lot of evidence of safety indicators beyond counting injuries, incidents and observations that are all reactive to conditions in the workplace. A model that goes beyond injuries and observations is presented in Dr. Williamsen’s article on Six Sigma Safety as published in Professional Safety Magazine. Therein are details for six levels of tools that can assist an organization in relentlessly pursuing a safety culture that does not tolerate injuries or incidents.

Each of these levels of proactive improvement in safety performance must also have proactive/leading indicators of how the organization is doing in eliminating injuries and incidents.
  • Level One deals with regulations, policies, best practices and procedures which are fundamental to improving safety conditions in an organization. This is a very reactive level of safety do’s and don’ts, which focus on the traps that exist in every organization’s workplace. The leading indicators in this lagging approach to safety performance allow an organization to concentrate on the activities all need to do on a regular basis to eliminate hazards in the workplace. Safety work order systems, along with Action Item Matrices for injury Root Cause Analyses solutions, are typical examples of value added level one leading indicators.
  • The Level Two leading indicators deal with what is visible in the workplace. We must all effectively react to these if the visible issues are to be eliminated. Here, the focus is on observation programs, Near Miss Resolution, Inspections and the like. We need to track completion of proactive activities that help reduce the visible issues if injuries are to be eliminated.
  • Level Three moves into the proactive world of safety performance excellence. What are the safety accountabilities that people from all levels of the organization must consistently do to deliver a culture of value added engagement in safety excellence? Leading indicators in Safety Accountabilities revolve around the work of Dr. Dan Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence. The focus is on value added safety activities from people at all levels of the organization.
  • Level Four is all about determining what our people believe are weaknesses in the safety system and culture. Once again, Dr. Petersen’s Six Criteria of Safety Excellence is used, in this case dealing with the safety perceptions of the total workforce. The leading indicators at this level deal with what our people believe needs to be improved.
  • Level Five is the engagement of employees throughout the organization in Continuous Improvement teams that are working diligently to improve all the issues noted in levels one through four. Here, the leading indicators are Action Item Matrices that the teams are focused on completing.
  • Level Six deals with the passionate leadership that becomes the guiding coalition once the Continuous Improvement teams are performing. As the teams attack and resolve the problems the organization used to live with, a major culture shift occurs. More and more people throughout the organization engage. They become the passionate zero incident safety culture leaders that has this approach become self sustaining. The leading indicators at level six deal with the activities of this ever increasing group of leaders.
Significant safety culture improvement and "zero-incident excellence" isn’t a matter of prioritizing. Rather, it requires incorporating safety as a core value and integrating well-defined, practical accountabilities with associated leading indicators — into the organization’s overall operations from top to bottom. Safety accountabilities become a key metric tied directly to job performance - just like those for production, quality and customer service. These indicators are used to establish a culture of safety accountability that addresses why incidents happen in the first place. This kind of safety culture has every employee engaged in appropriate, practical activities. In turn, they don’t tolerate any unsafe activities or conditions.

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