Is a “Model” Safety Program the Right Goal?

| October 23, 2009

There seems to be a “disconnect” between current economic realities and the metrics often suggested for evaluating OH&S programs and management systems.

Many organizations are facing a level of financial hardship not seen since the Great Depression.  As a result, cutbacks, downsizing and belt-tightening are the new normal.  “Do more with less” has become the mantra of business.  This translates – for many EHS professionals – into being asked to get by with fewer people and no new resources.

On the other hand, many organizations seem unwilling to match their OH&S goals and expectations to the reality of fewer resources.  Managers still insist on setting “continual improvement” metrics based on achieving “best-in-class” management system performance.  This is often expressed in the form of a performance rating scheme based on some sort of numeric scoring of the “performance” achieved by particular S&H programs or management system elements (typically on a 1 to 4 or 1 to 5 scale).  Examples of this abound.  There is one set out in an article I just finished on SH&E Strategic Planning in the October 2009 Professional Safety Magazine

Implicit in many of these of rating schemes is the assumption that there is “unused capacity” that can be utilized to achieve the performance improvement desired.

Get real. 

First, the assumption of “unused capacity” is probably an illusion.  When I talk with in-house EHS Staff, many of them admit that they are stressed out and burned up.  There is no more time available and they are sick and tired of being asked to “do more with less”.  It never fails to amaze me that business managers will readily accept that every piece of equipment has some kind of capacity limitation (e.g. piece rate, load rate, utilization rate) yet expect that the capacity of individuals to complete work is infinite.  As the recent aviation incidents show, people have limits too.

Second, as business books such as The Goal clearly point out – local optimization is a poor business strategy. Unless there is some real business value (ROI) associated with the expenditure of the funds needed to achieve the improved local result, the resources used for local optimization are wasted. 

To order a copy of The Goal from Amazon, click here The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement

“Improvement” just for the sake of being able to claim improvement is a waste of valuable time and resources.  So before you set any improvement metrics for your OH&S management system for 2010, ask yourself – “Why Improve?”  It could be the programs you have in place are already good enough. 

© ENLAR® Compliance Services, Inc. (2009)

Category: OHS Metrics & Measurements

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