Safetip #118: Observations Before and After a Workplace Change

March 14, 2018

This week’s Safetip is about using observations to evaluate the effects and results of safety and health changes in the workplace.

Evaluate Safety and Health Changes in the Workplace

A guidance document from NIOSH urges organizations to look carefully at changes that were made to improve occupational safety and health in the workplace, and to ask the following questions: “Does it really work?”, “What were the results”, “Was the change an improvement?”. The questions need to be asked because safety and health changes can be successful, or they may need to be modified. Some may even have no positive impact on the workplace at all. Examples of changes include: a new ventilation system to improve air quality, a new training course, a change of equipment, etc.

NIOSH specifies four steps for evaluating safety and health changes:

1) Form a team
2) Collect relevant data
3) Analyze data
4) Share results

For step #2 (Collect Relevant Data), you should consider collecting these three types of data:

  • Conditions before the change.
  • Information about how the change was made.
  • What happened after the change was made.

There Are Many Ways to Collect Data, Including Observations

There are many ways to collect relevant data, including existing data records, , one-on-one interviews, , observations, and environmental measures. Observations are useful because watching how people behave in the workplace before and after a safety and health change may give good evidence about the effects of the change, NIOSH says. Observations allow organizations to collect continuous information about how the change is implemented and about the effects of the change.

Here are guidelines from NIOSH for observing people:

  • Decide in advance which behaviors to look for.
  • Vary your observations so that they are a more representative sample of people and time periods.
  • Record your observations. This may involve watching people in person and recording their actions on a checklist. It could also involve recording people on video and then categorizing their actions later with the checklist.
  • Whether you record people on video or not, explain what you’re doing and why, and get their permission before you observe. Even though they know you’re watching, most people will quickly forget about you. But the presence of an observer may affect what people do.

Information from observations should then be analyzed to evaluate the effectiveness of the change.

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