Does your safety data pass the Dead Man Test?

Quote about the Dead Man Test

“If a dead man can do it, it isn't behaviour. And if a dead man can't do it, then it is behaviour.” Ogden Lindsley 1965

One of the most important components of any risk management system is the performance metrics it produces. Not only do they show us how we are performing, but they are critical to creating organisational alignment and engagement. The adage, “what gets measured gets done”, is as true for safety management as any other business activity. The challenge can be, what do you measure?

ISO45001, which replaces OHSAS 18001, deals with this in Clause 9.1 Monitoring, measurement, analysis and performance evaluation, which was highlighted by LRQA, a leading global assurance partner, in their recent white paper as one of the 5 most common non-compliances with IS0: 45001. You can download the report here.

In LRQA’s paper they say:

Evaluating is an integral part to ensure continual improvement. That’s why organisations should have a systematic approach for monitoring and measuring OH&S performance on a regular basis.Organisations must select appropriate methods for monitoring, measurement, analysis and performance evaluation in order to ensure valid results, decide when the monitoring and measurement will be performed and when the results from monitoring and measurement will be analysed, evaluated and communicated.Organisational performance should not be defined on accident rates alone, there are multiple things to take into consideration to help organisations determine their OH&S performance such as lost time in incidents and monitoring of ill health. To help organisations gain a better insight into their OH&S management system, they can review their risk register and put KPIs in place to monitor the performance of significant risks.

The Dead Man Test

Behaviour is a key driver for safety performance, but when we just measure Incidents, does it give us a full picture? If we apply the Dead Man Test to incidents - do no incidents indicate the right behaviour?

American Psychologist, Ogden Lindsay, coined the phrase, “If a dead man can do it, it isn't behaviour. And if a dead man can't do it, then it is behaviour.”

So, if we apply this to incidents – a Dead Man can have no incidents. Just because we are not having Incidents doesn’t mean we have the right behaviours operating.

The Power of Lead Indicator Metrics:

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Monitoring safety performance and management reporting are key deliverables of BCarm, a leading solution in safety management. BCarm produces both lag indicator metrics, which provide data on past incidents, and lead indicator metrics, which offer insights into non-performance, enabling proactive intervention.

Any performance evaluation needs a mix of both types of data, but when the outcome, i.e. what is reported as Lag Data has significant severity, then Lead Metric Data becomes more important.

And it's Lead Data that can give you that Behavioural insight. Let's look at a Lead Metric at the core of the Health & Safety Process – Risk Assessments.

Risk Assessment

Risk Assessments ensure that by using the Hierarchy of Control, we implement the right control measures to minimise the likelihood and severity of a hazard in the workplace.

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Logically then, if all our control measures are in place and operative, being complied with and understood by those affected by the hazard, this should ensure that we are doing all that is reasonably practicable.

So, what if some of those control measures aren’t “in place and operative, being complied with and understood”? Then it is reasonable to assume that this increases the likelihood or severity of the Hazard. This is something that we would want to address.

We may establish that this is the case when we undertake the annual review of the Risk Assessment, but we will have had greater exposure to the Hazard for a period when it could have manifested itself in terms of an incident and injury.

It would be better to identify that this has occurred at some earlier point, which we could do through a regime of proactively monitoring the Risk Assessments to ensure compliance with the Control Measures. And this fits with Plan-Do-Check-Act.

So if we have 20 control measures in a Risk Assessment and only 15 are “in place/operative/being complied with” – then we are only 75% compliant with the safety controls we have defined. There is, therefore, a possibility that an incident can occur.

As we can identify individual Risk Assessment shortcomings, it also allows us to look at wider patterns of non-compliance. Is it always the Engineering Controls or delivery of Toolbox Talks that we are not complying with? We can then start looking at the causes of this to ensure we take the right corrective action.

Aligning with Operational Management Responsibility:

You can make someone accountable for safety, but if you don’t measure performance and the right performance against that accountability, what is the likely outcome?

Extrapolating compliance data up to an organizational group level allows for creating KPIs that align with operational management responsibility. This enables organizations to identify specific areas of concern and intervene more effectively. Boards can leverage this data to assess business culpability in the event of incidents, helping determine possible financial exposure.

To sum up

The Dead Man Test is a great illustration of why our safety performance data and reporting need to be a mix of both Lag and Lead indicators; compliance with the Control Measures of Risk Assessments is a great example of a Lead Indicator.

As mentioned above, BCarm produces the above data by creating proactive monitoring regimes that can be assigned to individuals and produce the Lead Metric data described above. It also allows for corrective action to be set during monitoring to ensure shortfalls are addressed. All of this activity is instantly visible in the Management Dashboards.

If you would like to read more about this, click here.


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