Forest for the Trees: Stuck in the Briars of Measuring Safety

measurement versus targets
Does your organization confuse measurements with targets? If so, it means you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Can you see the forest for the trees when it comes to data targets versus measuring safety? Or are you stuck in the briars, setting targets that ultimately undermine your intentions?

The beginning of a new year offers a fresh start. As teams got together to vision set the year, we congregate for goal meetings. The goals that come out of these meetings shape our strategy for the year moving forward.

While our departmental or company goal meetings are often conducted with the best intentions, they often miss the mark by confusing targets with measures. As it is expressed in the Goodhart law: when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure. In other words, when we use measures (quantitative indicators) as the targets we are trying to achieve we end up creating some perverse incentives that can do more harm than good.

To illustrate the importance of picking the correct measures and targets, it is helpful to think of a personal health initiative. Weight loss is normally a measure of good health. However, when weight loss is seen as both the target and the measure by which we assess our success, we create a perverse incentive structure. This can be more detrimental to our health than beneficial. Are we lowering our weight at the expense of our overall health? The incentive is to lose weight, but at what cost?

As an EHS professional, I have been involved in goal setting for EHS departments. I know firsthand how challenging and time consuming it can be to brainstorm and select effective goals.

However, to prompt positive change in our EHS programs, it is critical that we reflect on the types of incentives our goals create and whether the goals we have selected align with our objective of creating a safe workplace for our employees. In the article “Forest for the Trees: Stuck in the Briars of Measuring Safety”, published by ISHN, I offer examples and discuss in-depth the difference between targets and measures. Additionally, I review common pitfalls in EHS goal setting and give some tips on how we can avoid these common pitfalls.

Please read the article to learn more about the best practices for determining targets and measuring safety and let me know what you think in the comments below!

About the Author: Angelo Cianfrocco, CSP, is a Process Improvement Leader at Predictive Solutions. He has eight years of experience in the environmental, health and safety field including roles as a consultant, Sr. EHS manager and corporate EHS data analyst. He works with companies to implement and manage their environmental, health and safety management systems in an effort to help customers realize the true value of their management system.

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