Learn how manufacturing businesses can leverage metrics and KPIs to measure, track, and improve safety performance. 

There is more to safety performance monitoring than recording accidents and near misses, and technological advances have made it easier for companies to capture and analyse safety data. This article looks at the hows, whys, whats and whens of using metrics and KPIs to benchmark, track and improve safety performance in manufacturing.   

Why track? 

Companies often embark on health & safety planning enthusiastically, developing programmes they implement through training, policies, and processes. However, they rarely devote the same resources to monitoring these measures' effectiveness. This results in a knowledge gap around how a company is performing in this area. 

Safety metrics are a valuable framework for measuring how well health & safety systems and policies work in manufacturing organisations. Over time, consistent metrics reporting can build a comprehensive story about safety on a particular site or across an entire organisation. It is also the key to driving continuous improvement. 

What to track 

There is an awful lot that you can measure, and it can be easy to lose sight of which metrics are meaningful. When deciding what to track, consider what outcome you want to achieve. Review whether that metric or target will help make your workplace safer. While some safety metrics apply to all industries, some will be industry specific. Here are some of the key metrics that manufacturing businesses should be tracking at a minimum:

  • Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR)

The simplest and most universal metric used to track safety is the number of incidents that have occurred over a specific period. Tracking and revisiting this number every month clearly indicates whether your safety programmes are working. This metric becomes even more useful if you can segment incidents by type (machinery-related, trips & slips, driving/vehicle etc.). This helps you to understand why they are occurring. However, as a 'lagging indicator' (one that measures past performance), this metric will not reflect the impacts of safety initiatives until they have been in place for a while.

  • Reported near misses

This is another crucial metric that needs to be monitored closely. These occurrences provide an opportunity to identify the factors that have resulted in an unsafe situation and to resolve them. The key to making this metric work is ensuring that workers report near misses. 

  • Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) or Days Away, Restricted or Transferred (DART)

Each incident will result in lost time from a business productivity perspective, whether that is time spent cleaning up a spillage or employee time off work due to injury or illness. LTIFR is the metric that translates this lost time into a measurable KPI. Two pieces of data are needed to calculate LTIFR: the number of lost time injuries within a given time frame and the number of hours worked in that time frame. 

  • Experience Modification Rate

Insurance companies use EMR to measure a business's risk and calculate premiums. It considers the number of losses a company has had over the past few years and its current payroll size. In recent years, savvy manufacturing businesses have realised that it also accurately measures the costs of past injuries and future risks. By improving their EMR over time, companies can reduce the cost of workers' compensation insurance. 

  • Employee training

This is an example of a 'leading indicator', which focuses on future safety performance and continuous improvement. At a company level, you might want to track the total number of safety-related training hours or the percentage of the company trained in certain safety areas at any given time.

  • Safety audits and inspections

Another 'leading indicator' is the number and type of safety audits and inspections carried out. The idea behind tracking this metric is to minimise risk by consciously inspecting certain activities or operations, highlighting weaknesses in processes and procedures and taking a proactive approach to prevent incidents. There should be a strong correlation between the number of incidents occurring and the number of inspections taking place.

  • Toolbox talks

Toolbox talks (sometimes called safety meetings or safety briefings) have been around for years, but it is only recently that their value has been recognised. Research has shown that companies that conduct daily toolbox talks reduce TRIR by 85 percent compared to companies that hold them monthly. Starting each day with a toolbox talk reinforces safety messages, obligations, and expectations. Making a note of employee participation can help you track how effective toolbox talks are for your business.

When to track

There is no hard and fast rule as to how often; the key is to track regularly and consistently. With the advent of real-time data monitoring, collection is a continuous process, but measuring that data against KPIs is usually done monthly. Some metrics can be measured less frequently. Safety programme performance reviews, for example, only need to be carried out twice a year. It is like stepping on the scales too often when on a diet - it is the long-term outcome, not the incremental fluctuations, that count. However, if the KPIs detect any performance issues that need remedying, more frequent tracking may be required.

How to track

Several software programmes are available for storing, analysing, organising data, and generating reports. That is the easy part. The more significant challenge is collecting the data in the first place and transferring it to a centralised system. That requires implementing a safety management system prioritising incident reporting and incorporating data recording mechanisms for employees to take ownership and accountability.

It is also important to remember that tracking is one point in a continuous cycle in which acting on the data is the next step. The four-phase MAAR (Monitoring-Analysis-Action-Review) approach should be applied to drive improvement. Otherwise, your future safety record will only be as good as your past performance. 

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