The management consultant Peter Drucker (1909–2005) is said to have come up with the famous phrase, “What get measured gets done”. His observation applies to assessments as to the effectiveness and quality of safety programs.
But measuring safety performance is difficult — particularly process safety performance because there are (fortunately) not enough events to create a statistically useful data base. Also, it is difficult to quantify topics such as Employee Participation or Culture, given that they are inherently subjective in nature.
Therefore, rather than just examining the statistics to do with actual safety incidents, many companies develop what are known as ‘Key Performance Indicators’ or KPIs. Management selects a few parameters that, it is believed, will give a clear picture of the quality of the safety program and that will provide guidance as to what actions need to be taken in order to improve that program. The number of KPIs used within a company or facility should be small, but they should provide a credible measurement as to trends and they should help management identify those areas that need particular attention.
KPIs can be either lagging or leading. A lagging indicator is equivalent to a rearview mirror; an event has occurred. A leading indicator identifies problems with the safety management system that could, if not corrected, lead to an incident sometime in the future.