Safetip #114: Rate the Value of Observations Before Benchmarking

February 14, 2018
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about rating the value of observations of unsafe behaviors before benchmarking sites for total number of observations.

Observations of Unsafe Behaviors Help to Identify Hazards

As part of an occupational safety and health program, organizations should encourage workers to . Observations can help to reveal and identify workplace hazards that can lead to risks of incidents. The successful elimination of hazards or mitigation of risks caused by these hazards helps to improve safety performance.

It’s important to note that the reporting of observations by workers is not a substitute for regular hazard assessments conducted at work sites. Rather, observations complement hazard assessments to make sure that no hazard is left undiscovered.

Encourage Workers to Report Observations by Benchmarking Sites

A program where workers report observations will only be successful through employee engagement. Workers need to be encouraged and rewarded to participate in the program. One way to achieve this is by benchmarking individual sites (or even individual workers) and recognizing the site with the most observations after each month, quarter or year. Prizes can be distributed to workers at the winning site or to workers with the most observations.

But there is a risk with this type of contest. The risk is that workers enter observations just to drive their totals up and win. It becomes a numbers game. This may result in a large portion of observations of low value that don’t help to identify hazards, thus creating a challenge of distinguishing the signal from the noise.

Not All Observations Are Equal

It is possible to encourage workers to report observations while making sure that the process is not “corrupted” by the rewards distributed to sites or workers with the most observations: Rate all observations and assign points for each type of rating. Here’s a simple system:

1) Observation is very valuable. It revealed a potential hazard: 3 points.
2) Observation is somewhat valuable. It might not reveal a hazard but could help improve safety or a work process: 2 points.
3) Observation is of low value. It does not reveal a hazard or an opportunity for improvement, but provides information that could be used: 1 point.
4) Observation has little or no value: 0 point.

Instead of counting the number of observations per site or worker, count the total points for the benchmarking.

Note that this involves extra effort. Someone or a group of people (e.g. safety committee) would have to look at each observation and rate them. Or the task can be divided, and different people can look at different observations. For example, if there are 210 observations at a site per month, there could be three people from that site who rate them (e.g. supervisors). Each would rate about 70, or about 16 per week. To make things faster, the rating system should be as simple as possible with only two, three or four ratings based on qualitative criteria that take less time to assess, compared to quantitative ones.

Finally, remember that can encourage frontline workers to that may reveal hazards, thereby helping to improve safety.

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