Measure health and safety performance

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Introduction to measuring health and safety performance

Too often, the only measures used in workplaces and by government authorities are 'negative' measures. These are knofwn as outcome indicators, and while they are important, they generally reflect the results of past actions.

Outcome indicators may hide potential risks. For example, having a low incidence of injury does not necessarily mean that adequate safety systems and controls are in place. Examples of outcome indicators are:

  • number of claims
  • number of hours/days lost (Lost time injury frequency rates or LTIs)
  • claims costs

These are not measures of the success or otherwise of controls in the workplace, but a measure of failure. LTIs are entirely unsatisfactory as measures of safety performance for at least three reasons, according to Dr Andrew Hopkins (in his paper The Limits of Lost Time Injury Frequency Rates in a NOHSC - now Safe Work Australia -  publication on PPIs. See below):

  1. they are very sensitive to claims and injury management processes than to real changes in safety performance;
  2. in any particular workplace, only few such injuries may occur each year, and variations from year to year are likely to be due to chance, rather than due to any change in the levels of safety; and
  3. they give no information about how well the most serious safety hazards are being managed. It is not unusual that investigations into a fatality or serious injury reveal the company had a supposedly 'good' record (ie low rate of LTIs) prior to that particular event.

Using LTIs as a measure of safety can in fact have negative consequences. 'The longer the period free of injury the greater the level of disappointment and frustration when a lost time injury finally occurs, which statistically is bound to happen.' People then get upset because one injury may lead to a loss of a bonus - the result may 'well be a reduced commitment to health and safety'.

In December 2013, Safe Work Australia released a report Issues in the Measurement and Reporting of Work Health and Safety Performance: a Review aimed at developing more relevant lead and lag indicators than LTIs. It confirmed that LTI rates, which 'have, over time, become the cornerstone of mainstream injury reporting and the benchmark against which organisational, industry and national comparisons are made', provide little indication of the cost or severity of injuries, and are often manipulated. The report also confirmed the arguments against use of LTI rates put by unions for many decades:

'[LTI rates] correlate poorly with both the human and financial consequences of work-related injury and illness.'  

According to the report, 'Such data is unlikely to provide a valid indicator for either the severity or cost of those work health and safety failures that result in lost time... or the success of work health and safety controls and initiatives.' The report again states that PPIs, strongly advocated for since the 1990s, are preferable measures.  The report, and also a subsequent research paper Issues In The Assurance And Verification Of Work Health And Safety Information, can be downloaded from this page of the SWA website.

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Alternatives to outcome indicators

Positive performance indicators 

Positive performance indicators (PPIs) allow measurement of activities specifically undertaken to improve performance. Examples of PPIs may include:

  • number of safety audits conducted
  • percentage of sub-standard conditions identified and corrected
  • percentage of employees with adequate OHS training.

Using PPIs and achieving improvements should ensure improved performance (measured by the outcome indicators).

Lead Performance Indicators

ISCRR - the Institute for Safety, Compensation and Recovery Research, has been doing work around 'lead OHS indicators' - which are active steps that a workplace can take to prevent future OHS incidents. Recent research has shown that measuring these is a great predictor of incidents.

There has been very little research into how leading indicators can be measured reliably and consistently across different workplaces and industries. Professor Helen De Cieri and a team from Monash University are currently undertaking a study.

So far the research team has identified one tool as having the greatest potential for application in Australia: the Organisational Performance Metric (OPM). This tool was developed by the Institute of Work and Health in Canada and takes the form of an eight-item questionnaire designed to measure employees' perceptions regarding the value of, and emphasis given, to OHS in their workplace. Read more on this research here.

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Guidance on the development and implementation of positive performance indicators

The following links provide examples and extensive information on the development and implementation of PPIs and performance indicators in general.

Last amended September 2018

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