Measurement of H&S performance
On the reporting theme, here FYI is a story from a recent edition of our Safeguard Update subscription newsletter in which Andrew Hopkins sketches out how a truly effective reporting programme could work. It comes from his many years of studying when things have gone wrong and how reporting systems have failed to pick up the early warning signs.
Have a read. What do people think?
Effective anomaly reporting
Imagine an organisation which has a truly effective bad news reporting system – one which encourages people to report things they aren’t comfortable with, gently teaches them what is worth reporting and what is not, generates rich conversations about risk, and identifies small problems well before they can cause harm.
Emeritus professor Andrew Hopkins has worked out a way to achieve such a system and spoke about it at the Australian Institute of Health and Safety’s recent online conference.
He said most reporting systems focus only on incidents and injuries and implicitly discourage other kinds of reports, such as process upsets (when a process briefly goes outside its safe limits and the operators have to bring it back under control) or inappropriate procedures (for which people develop work-arounds which alter the risks they face).
Other useful things seldom reported include decisions to defer regular maintenance, occasions when a process is under-staffed, when machinery is found to be in poor condition or structures corroded, or when poor design forces risky actions (eg standing on a ladder to read a dial).
More generally, an effective reporting system will capture anomalies: something has happened which shouldn’t have.
“You can’t specify these things in advance,” said Hopkins. “You need people to be able to recognise the potential of what they are seeing; to be risk-aware.”
He said people working in organisations with typical reporting systems tend to ask themselves: is this something I am required to report? If not, I won’t report it. An effective reporting system would have people ask: is this something I should report? If so, I will report it.
An effective reporting system, said Hopkins, does four things well. First, it makes reporting easy (eg: a phone app where people can write brief text and add photos).
Second, it ensures reports go to the right place (eg: to the person’s supervisor; to the site manager; and to a more removed or corporate function concerned with risk which can analyse trends.)
Third, it requires every report to be replied to, without exception.
Fourth, it constantly encourages reports, but in a way which over time teaches people about the kinds of things they should report.
He suggests a monthly competition for the most helpful report, run by a judging panel and with a significant reward, which could be $1000 in larger organisations. The best report is announced by the site manager, along with an explanation of why it won.
“You will not only get the bad news. You’ll get a richer conversation about risk and a greater sense of ownership. It moves the business in the direction of becoming a learning organisation.”
Two cautions from Hopkins. First, don’t set a target for a certain quota of reports per interval. It only encourages trivial reports. Second, this kind of effective bad news reporting system requires a commitment of time and money resource by the executive – without that it won’t work.