Measurement in Safety, You’ve Got it All Wrong

Originally posted on October 23, 2021 @ 10:18 AM

Circle from color foldersI read a recent article by Alan Quilley ( on measuring safety by injury rate and was fascinated by the logic. I enjoyed the video on regression to the mean (Prevention of Incidents VS Creating Safety) and the discussion on injury goals. But I thought Alan, you have all this stuff on tackling risk wrong. Of course it’s not measuring injury data that matters, it’s all about measuring weight and volume. I thought there’s nothing wrong with counting Alan, we have just been counting the wrong thing. The key to counting in safety is counting weight and volume, especially the weight of your Safety Management System (SMS). Safety is determined in kilograms not injury data, why didn’t I realize this earlier.

I was recently engaged by a group that wanted to meet me. I arrived and waited in the foyer and then was ushered into a large room perhaps 6 metres by 6 metres. When I first walked into the room I couldn’t help but notice that all walls of this room were bookshelves floor to ceiling, and every space between every door (four doors) were covered in shelving. Each bookshelf was filled with A4 folders and there was no space left in any shelf, there were also folders in boxes on the floor and folders on desks. I was proudly introduced to their SMS, everything I could see was a duplicate of everything on the computer, including records dating back to induction and hazard records for 10 years. I started to think to myself, I wonder how much all of this weighs? Maybe safety is determined by weight not injury data. Maybe safety is determined by volume and I was clearly looking at a couple of tonnes of safety.

You see, I’d been asked into this company because they had a spike in injuries and a very close miss that could have easily resulted in multiple fatalities. They kept asking me what I could do about ‘behaviours’ and I told them ‘I’m not a behaviourist’. They told me they had a problem with ‘tick and flick’ that is, workers were not listening during toolbox talks, signed off Safe Work Method Statements (they had thousands) and had signed tens of thousands of STOP, prestart, Step-Backs and Take-Two safety records but weren’t ‘switched on to safety’. So, I had a little chat about how they understood people and decision making and they referred me to their risk and hazard register and these records numbered in the thousands too. Indeed, rather than refer me to their folder, they referred me to their bookshelf or shelves of folders. Lots of what I saw was developed off purchased templates from businesses making a motza from fear and ignorance. The generic cut and paste is alive and well in dumb down safety world but precious little understanding about risk and even less understanding about human decision making.

I browsed through some folders just for fun and saw that everything was signed, but later when I had a few conversations with people, including the safety managers, no one was really that intelligent about risk. The biggest safety myths in this place were: ‘paperwork is there to cover our arse’ and ‘volume equals quality’. How shocked they were when I told them that none of this demonstrates due diligence and none of this will protect them in court were something to happen. I think they got upset when I told them that safety was not measured by volume or counting injury data but that they should be focusing on culture and the social psychology of risk. Indeed, I suggested that all of this, including their ‘World Class Golden Rules’ were probably going to hang them in court not save them. They were astounded. I have not been contacted by the organization since then.

It’s funny, when humans are obese we calculate ill-health by Body Mass Index (BMI) but safety calculates safety health by the reverse, the Safety Volume Mass Index (SVMI). So, do you have a 500 kgs SMS or a 750kgs SMS? I dare say you could calculate your level of ‘bounded rationality’ and ‘tick and flick’ as equal to the weight of your SVMI.

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