I was always good in math, but I was never fond of statistics. Studying engineering in college, I had to take a class called Statistics For Engineers, which was really just like any other stats class, except the questions pertained to engineering problems.
My friends assumed that meant the questions were along the lines of: “If an engineer pulls two socks from his drawer, and there are 33 total socks of 4 different colors, what are the odds he will pull a matching pair without looking?” Answer: If he’s an engineer, no chance.
All kidding aside, I am still good in math, so when people start to provide statistics about anything, I listen with a bit of skepticism. For example, most of us have heard news reports over a holiday weekend that highlight how many traffic deaths have occurred compared to the same weekend in previous years. Sometimes, facts are added like how many of the people who died were wearing seatbelts.
In reality, number of deaths compared year to year doesn’t tell you much. A few more or a few less is normal variability. What matters is looking at all sorts of other data, like how many people were on the road, what is the historical trend over several years, and what has changed in laws and road structure. The number who were wearing seat belts is even less important without knowing how many non-fatal accidents were recorded and the related seat belt stats to compare.
In industry, the US government established standards for measuring and reporting safety in the workplace. The numbers are calculated monthly, reported annually, and are used by some companies to evaluate their managers. There are all sorts of definitions about what must be recorded as an accident, when it becomes a lost time accident, and how to calculate an incident rate based on hours worked. When the definitions change, many managers worry it will impact their numbers.
The truth is, changing the rules of how we measure outcome won’t change the outcome. Taking action changes the outcome.
Here are the numbers that matter:
- How many incidents did you effectively investigate and resolve in the last 12 months?
- What percentage of your employees say that safety in their primary accountability?
- What percentage of your employees would welcome input from their co-workers on how to work more safely?
- What have you done to make the workplace safer this year than it was before?
These are the numbers that matter. These are the numbers that say you are making the choice for safety.
Tell us all how you make things safer where you work.
Thanks, and let’s be careful out there!