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The Power of the Observer: Sounding the Alarm With Leading Indicators

May 24, 2016
Adding an observation process to a safety program can help re-direct unsafe behaviors and correct unsafe conditions.

As injuries occur, safety management teams work to enhance their safety programs and processes. One addition may be to add an observation process to their program. Studies have shown that conducting observations influence a safer work environment by providing opportunities to re-direct unsafe behaviors and correct unsafe conditions.

The re-direction of these behaviors is driven by leading indicators. Leading indicators are the pieces of your data that, in basic terms, sound the alarm that safety is being handled improperly on the site. The following are examples of leading indicators that specifically were generated by the observation process, and focus mainly on the who, how often and what of the inspection process.

Too Few Observations/Inspections

Although OSHA regulations do not mandate a documented safety inspection, they do require employers to "examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards." When it comes to having to prove that these examinations have occurred, those who do document find themselves very happy that they did.

Depending on the work at hand, many organizations set a numeric expectation of inspections per week, or even have a daily requirement. Assuming this number is in correlation with the risk level (hopefully it is), the number of inspections per time period is of value. Each observation is a snapshot in time of what is going on at a location – the good, the bad and the ugly. These documented inspections provide insight to those overseeing the safety process.

When the number of inspections conducted begins to decline, it is safe to assume the chances for an incident increase. The cause for the decline may vary. Perhaps the team is short staffed and overwhelmed or the culture on the project has shifted production as a priority over safety. These are leading indicators that safety is not a priority.

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