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Making Data Work for You: Four Steps to Create a Best-In-Class Workplace Safety Culture

The following are four ways to embrace the power of data and encourage a safer work environment for leaders across your organization.

Workplace safety should be a top priority for employers in the manufacturing industry. A strong safety culture demonstrates you are invested in your employees and can deliver significant benefits to your bottom line. But with more than 120,000 workplace-related safety injuries reported in 2016 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, safety remains one of the most challenging areas for many companies to master.

How can manufacturers achieve a best-in-class safety culture that addresses ongoing workplace safety issues and offers a unique competitive advantage?

In most cases, leaders have a powerful tool right at their fingertips, but many are not effectively leveraging it: Data.

Just as leaders use data to reduce waste and improve operational efficiencies, a data-driven approach to safety enables manufacturers to make changes that can bring significant benefits to their operations and provide safer working conditions for employees. The challenge is that many companies often lack the necessary strategies and processes to analyze and translate their workplace data into actionable initiatives.

The following are four ways to embrace the power of data and encourage a safer work environment for leaders across your organization.   

Centralize Safety Data and Identify Trends

Data can only tell a story if it is properly collected and organized. You must develop a central repository to store and organize your information, which will make it easier to examine, identify trends and correlations, and ultimately prevent injuries before they occur. Reported incidents, internal audits, first-person observations and employee feedback are examples of important data that when logged correctly will tell a clear story.

Our team routinely analyzes information that is entered into our central safety system to determine what trends might exist. For instance, does one location report significantly more hand injuries than others? Or do incidents occur more frequently at specific times of the day or during certain months?

We are also focused on leading indicators as a means of predicting where increased risks exist in our operations, which enables our managers to proactively prevent potential injury events from occurring. For example, internal and external statistics show that employees in their first year of employment are at greater risk of incurring a work-related injury. If a location uses workforce demographics to identify this risk, it can focus on increased training for newer team members.   

Without a centralized point for storing and analyzing these layers of data, these critical safety risks may go undetected and unaddressed.

Develop Data-Based Educational Campaigns and Trainings

One size does not fit all. We know that information is far more likely to be retained when training and educational campaigns are in sync with the issues employees face on the manufacturing floor. Data can play a valuable role in identifying the timely issues that are unique to your business.

As part of our safety mission of zero injuries, USG conducts topic-specific safety campaigns throughout the year. Topics for these safety campaigns are chosen based on the issues identified from our safety data. Our reliance on data allows us to direct our energy toward addressing issues that will have the greatest impact on employee safety. This translates to time and money saved and ensures that there will be tangible results in the form of fewer injuries and increased employee awareness. 

Use Data to Engage and Empower Your Employees to Advance Workplace Safety Goals

As the eyes and ears of the business, employees serve as one of the greatest sources of data to help you stay apprised of the most prevalent risks in your operations. Find opportunities to engage employees at every level to make safety a priority and develop proactive solutions to the issues they identify. In our annual employee engagement survey, our employees tell us they are encouraged to make safety their top priority. Year in and year out, our safety responses receive the highest scores of all the areas surveyed. We also include safety metrics as a key element of our reflection boards so employees are aware of our performance and trends. 

Employees can also serve as internal auditors, providing greater accountability and driving continuous improvement across the organization. For example, we created a Safety Activity Rating (SAR) program wherein locations use an audit tool to conduct both internal self-assessments and audits of other USG facilities. This allows our employees to observe and review safety practices in other plant departments, manufacturing locations and across different industries. In 2017, our average plant SAR score improved by 13 percent, and 96 percent of our plants finished the year with no lost work day incidents.

Safety is the responsibility of all employees, and your teams will feel empowered to take safety into their own hands if they can openly participate in the safety process.

Make Safety a Metric That Is Integral to Your Business Strategy

We believe that a safe operation is also an efficient operation. When employees are engaged and committed to a common goal, demonstrate discipline to follow established operating procedures, focus on a clean and organized workplace, and look out for each other, superior quality and operational performance will follow. Safety should be a value lived by employees from the board room to the factory floor. Make safety a priority for your management team by challenging them to meet targeted, data-oriented safety goals that tie back to the company’s broader business objectives. Generate support for a data-based strategy by identifying both moderately improved and aspirational metrics that motivate employees and managers — such as near miss incident rate, employee participation in safety activities, and on time corrective and preventative action closure rate.   

Also, consider creating a safety leadership committee that can help your organization track against your safety goals. My company established an Executive Safety Steering Committee — a group of individuals at the highest level of our organization focused on shaping a long-term safety strategy — who help us achieve industry-leading safety metrics. Since its formation in 2014, the Committee has been instrumental in the creation of our company’s safety vision statement, the promotion of various trainings, like distracted driver awareness, and the introduction of our leading indicator self-assessment tool.

Data is one key element of a multifaceted prevention process. As Peter Drucker said, “What gets measured, gets improved.” Through thoughtful analysis of data, you can identify trends, reduce risks and help prevent incidents before they happen.  

Paul Haney is Vice President of Global Environmental Safety and Employee Relations and Chief Labor Counsel at USG Corporation.

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