Positive Performance Indicators

Positive Performance Indicators – The better way of measuring safety performance?

By the late great George Robotham

Quotable Quote

Think positive, do not negative“A health & safety problem can be described by statistics but cannot be understood by statistics. It can only be understood by knowing and feeling the pain, anguish, and depression and shattered hopes of the victim and of wives, husbands, parents, children, grandparents and friends, and the hope, struggle and triumph of recovery and rehabilitation in a world often unsympathetic, ignorant, unfriendly and un-supportive, only those with close experience of life altering personal damage have this understanding”


In recent times there has been a gradual realization of the limitations of incident data and in particular the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate as a measure of safety performance.

Positive Performance Indicators (P.P.I.’s) have been proposed as an addition and / or alternative to incident data. Popular literature proposes various methods of developing P.P.I.’s.

Focus on the Personal Damage Phenomenon

A major problem in safety in Australia today is that we do not have a consistent, National approach to reporting, recording and analysing permanently life altering personal damage. Wigglesworth said “Simply put, the existing data collections are neither comprehensive nor compatible. They contain serious deficiencies in definition, scope, coverage and source that impedes any form of extended analysis.”

1. Damage to people at work has a number of adverse outcomes:-

§ Financial loss to employer, worker and community

§ Pain and suffering

§ Dislocation of lives

§ Permanence of death

If you look at the personal damage from the perspective of the damaged individual you will see all of the above. If you look from the perspective of the employer you see 30 % of the financial cost but virtually nil of the other. Some realization of the permanence of death may occur but this is rare.

2. Damage to people from work falls naturally into one of three Classes.

Class I damage permanently alters the person’s life and subdivides into

– fatal

– non fatal

Class II damage temporarily alters the person’s life

Class III damage temporarily inconveniences the person’s life

(Geoff McDonald & Associates)

Focus on Class 1 Damage

The report of the Industry Commission 1995 indicates that safety in Australia is fundamentally a Class 1 problem (87% of occurrences were Class 2 with18% of cost, 13% of occurrences were Class 1 with 82% of cost) This report further strengthens the argument that instead of concentrating on reducing the number of Lost Time Injuries we should be focusing on Class 1 damage reduction. (Geoff McDonald & Associates, Brisbane)

What is done in safety must be based on a thorough knowledge of what happens in a damaging occurrence .Because the National Experience has not been collected we do not know what to do. . (Geoff McDonald & Associates, Brisbane)

We must put a major focus on the personal damage phenomena if we are going to improve.

Far too much of what we do in safety and are taught to do is based on gut-feeling, mythology and folk-lore instead of scientific facts gained from actual damaging occurrences.

Problems with incident data as a measure of safety performance (Referred to as lag indicators)

The Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate is the principal measure of safety performance in many companies in Australia. The definition of L.T.I.F.R. is the number of Lost Time Injuries multiplied by 1 million divided by the number of man hours worked in the reporting period.

A Lost Time Injury is a work injury or disease where the injured party has at least 1 complete day or shift off work. Note that a fatality and a cut where a person has 1 complete day off work count the same in Lost Time Injury terms.

The following are my reasons why the L.T.I.F.R. impedes progress in safety.

1 The L.T.I.F.R. is subject to manipulation

Some safety people cheat like hell with their L.T.I.F.R. statistics encouraged by managers with an eye to keep their key performance indicators looking good. The more the pressure to keep K.P.I.’s looking good the more creative the accounting. If the same ingenuity was displayed in preventing personal damage as is displayed in cooking the books we would be in great shape. All this makes inter-company comparisons of L.T.I.F.R. statistics less in value.

I am reminded of one mine I used to deal with who drove L.T.I.F.R. down so they won the inter-mine (out of 7 mines) safety award yet had significantly higher workers compensation costs per employee and a number of compensation days off cases that never made it onto the L.T.I.F.R. statistics (the vagueness of the Australian Standard for Recording and Measuring Work Injury Experience was exploited, very easy to do, particularly for back injuries).

2 Measuring failure

Most measures in management are of achievements rather than failures such as the number of Lost Time Accidents.

3 Great L.T.I.F.R., pity about the fatalities

I have personal experience with a company that aggressively drove down L.T.I.F.R. to a fraction of its original rate in a space of about 2 years yet killed 11 people in one incident.

4 What does it mean

The Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate predominates discussions about safety performance. How can a company be proud of a decrease of L.T.I.F.R. from 60 to 10 if there have been 2 fatalities and 1 case of paraplegia amongst the lost time injuries? The L.T.I.F.R. trivialises serious personal damage and is a totally inappropriate measure of safety performance.

5 Accident Ratio Studies Misdirect Efforts

My grandmother used to say “Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves” In the world of traditional safety there seems to be similar thinking that if you prevent minor damage you will automatically prevent major damage. Accident ratio studies (insisting on set ratios between near misses, minor accidents and serious accidents) are prominent and accepted unthinkingly. The much-quoted “Iceberg Theory” in relation to safety does not stand up to scrutiny in the real world! The “Iceberg Theory” is fine if used for statistical description but it cannot be relied upon for statistical inference.

The concept that preventing the minor incidents will automatically prevent the major ones seems to me to be fundamentally flawed.

All organisations have limited resources to devote to safety, it seems more efficient to prevent one incident resulting in paraplegia than to prevent 20 incidents where people have a couple of days off work (some will say this comment is heresy)

Somewhere in the push to reduce L.T.I’s, reduce the L.T.I.F.R. and consequently achieve good ratings in safety program audits the focus on serious personal damage tends to be lost.

Reducing the L.T.I.F.R. is as much about introducing rehabilitation programs and making the place an enjoyable place to work as it is about reduction of personal damage.

Positive performance indicators (Referred to as leading indicators)

Putting safety positive performance indicators into Google will bring up considerable discussion on the topic. The Australian mining industry is a strong promoter of positive performance indicators.

It is suggested safety positive performance indicators must be-

Assessable or measurable


Central and relevant to the industry

Understandable and clear


Accepted as a true indicator of performance


Efficient to monitor

Positive performance indicators tell us if we have achieved our goals and how effective you have been.

Some examples of suggested positive performance indicators are-

Workforce rating of management safety commitment

Number of audits completed to schedule

Percentage of audit actions completed according to schedule

Degree of completion of planned inspection schedule

Effectiveness and attendance at safety training

Accident investigations satisfactorily completed within time frame.

Many more suggestions will be found with a Google search


Traditional incident lag indicators have a number of limitations as a measure of safety performance. Positive performance indicators, lead indicators, may offer advantages over the traditional approach.

The real challenge with positive performance indicators is to ensure what you are measuring is truly reflective of your Class 1 personal damage experience. Industry taxonomies of Class 1 personal damage should be used for guidance in developing positive performance indicators.

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