Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How do leading indicators fit into the planning and implementation of health and safety plans?

I’ve had a lot more questions about leading indicators and how they fit into the planning and implementation of health and safety plans, and so, I thought a further example and simple graphic organizer may help.

A few years ago, I was speaking with the head of the safety and wellness program for a large US manufacturing firm. The company has factories in several states. I asked her how she knew her programs were working. Her responses gave me a practical insight how leading indicators fit into that process. 
Central to her approach, was a sound theory of behavioural change and a clear logic model of the factors that lead to injuries.

Occupational injuries and illnesses, near misses, and individual health issues like obesity, diabetes, and hearing loss are usually multi-causal. The physical plant, equipment design, training, and behaviours such as the adherence to safe work procedures, were very important but underlying these are attitudes. She pointed out that behaviours such as violating safe-work procedures had a feedback effect: the more violations of safe-worker procedures that occur and tolerated or ignored, the more they will occur. Before she could change the behaviours that opened employees to injury, she needed a model of what drives behaviour and a way to integrate that into planning and implementation of health, safety and wellness. 
From a planning perspective, the “theory of reasoned action” and its revised version, the “theory of planned behaviour,” suggest that attitudes and beliefs determine much of voluntary behaviour. Changing behaviour must rely on changing attitudes and beliefs. This is consistent with concepts such as “bounded rationality” and safety culture. Workers and managers act rationally and if safety and health are demonstrably important to supervisors and upper management, that will get translated to the shop floor.
My US contact described her approach to eliminating eye injuries in their plants. Her model included many components. She and her staff looked at design (including guards), considered awareness sessions, worked to have supervisors insist on and reinforce compliance with wearing eye protection, as well as consistently modelling the behaviour will likely contribute to your goal.
Her final planning step was to decide the inputs, resource, activities, and products her plan would encounter (and to seek budgetary approval where required).
Remember, her goal was to eliminate eye injuries. Counting the number of workers who suffer eye injuries is a trailing indicator. She developed several possible leading indicators including the percentage of staff participating in awareness sessions and observational data on violations detected by her safety officers. She also made the inspection of guards and shields routine with a plant manager report on guards filed monthly.
I hope this example helps. Leading indicators are a powerful prevention tool that may make your prevention program more effective.

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