13 Closing the Loop: Measuring, Evaluating, Reviewing and Improving

The final phase in a safety management system is to ‘close the loop’ by evaluating safety data to determine the cycle’s safety outcomes, before deciding what is reasonably practicable to implement in the next safety management system cycle.  This corresponds to the ‘Check’ and ‘Act’ phases of Plan-Do-Check-Act (see figure 6.4).

Learning Objectives

This chapter explains:

  • The expected components of a data-driven safety performance review.
  • The purpose of a safety performance review.

Measurement of safety should be an ongoing process that is embedded into day-to-day implementation of WHS.  Ideally, if the system was planned well, workers are continually collecting data as safety activities are undertaken (input indicators), or as issues arise (output indicators), such as reporting a near miss. Input and output KPIs should then be centralised into a reporting system that can provide up-to-date insights for safety management staff via dashboards.  However, evaluation of this data is crucial as data on its own does not generate insights or invoke action.

A principal responsibility of WHS systems specialist staff is to ensure safety performance reviews with senior leadership are scheduled and incorporated into regular business reporting cycles.  The purpose of this is to ensure that safety remains a priority for the business, but also to foster the leadership’s commitment to safety and, finally, to secure the resources required to sustain and enhance safety initiatives that, in turn, should lead to improved safety outcomes at the conclusion of the next full cycle of the safety management system.

What comprises a safety review?  A data-driven presentation of safety input indicators and output indicators for that reporting period, perhaps complemented by anecdotes that demonstrate that the data reflects impacts on people, culminating in an honest appraisal of the organisation’s performance on hazard control.  Safety management staff would then present their proposed safety initiatives for the next reporting cycle, including the resources required to enhance control of current safety challenges, while quickly addressing new issues that have emerged across the last cycle of the system.  The safety review would comprise both ‘health’ and ‘safety’ data.

The WHS ‘health’ data would include input indicators, outlining both existing and emerging occupational health preventative measures, and output indicators, updating senior leaders on the occurrence of occupational illness and injury as identified in their worker population.  It is a time to brief senior leaders on any emerging occupational disease trends, as identified by public health officials and communicated to the organisation by the WHS regulator.

WHS ‘safety’ data would include input indicators, such as attendance rates at safety training courses or the number of completed emergency evacuation drills, and output indicators, including lost time injuries, and injuries without lost time and near misses (see Chapter 5).  Considering this in the context of Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model (see Figure 5.1), the review considers both active failures and latent conditions.  If the safety system is functioning well, and no critical incidents occurred, the safety team will explain how inputs into the safety system combined with the safety culture to minimise and prevent losses.  This would be an ideal outcome.

One of the greatest challenges of a successful safety management system is securing the resources to sustain and continually improve safety management.  It is easy for senior leaders, despite their moral judgement or business risk commitment to safety, to become complacent when safety management is effective in preventing loss within the organisation.  As Wieck & Sutcliffe (2001) advise, organisations that are most effective at safety management, such as high reliability organisations, figure out ways to stay ‘mindful’ and preoccupied with safety failure.  If this can be achieved, your organisation will stay in the proactive or generative rungs of Hudson’s Safety Culture Ladder (see Figure 6.2).  If not, your organisation may find itself slipping towards a calculative or reactive safety culture and, longer term, less effective WHS management.

Notably, organisations that undergo safety system certification evaluate the rigour of their internal safety management system through external, independent, auditing.  Some organisations do this to foster their social licence to operate, as it independently demonstrates the organisation’s capacity to manage safety.  Other businesses may undertake certification as a governance practice, as part of due diligence, in order to ensure safety staff are accountable for delivery of their process enhancements.  Rarely would the auditing cycle of a standards accreditation body be as frequent as an organisation’s internal safety management review cycle.  This means that the auditing cycle is overlaid upon the organisation’s safety review cycle and, when these occur, their insights are pivotal and inform system-level improvements.

At the end of your safety review, with your leadership commitment re-affirmed and your budget allocated for the next cycle in your organisation of WHS management, according to the PDCA approach, it is time to “take action based on what you learned” (American Society for Quality, n.d., para. 3).  You would examine, based on insights from the review, the adequacy of safety policy and procedures and proceed to enact any required changes.  You would then enter the planning phase of the next safety management system cycle, before implementing required changes.  Whatever the review timeframe is, continuous improvement can only be achieved by going through the safety management cycle and seeking out opportunities to enhance safety management over and over again (see Figure 6.1), in recognition that internal and external factors are constantly acting on your organisation (see Figure 6.4), potentially creating weaknesses that will develop into holes in your Swiss Cheese (Figure 5.1).  Continuous improvement is infinite, however, its discussion in this context of WHS management for HR management must now conclude.


This section of the book, Practice: Establishing, implementing and closing the loop in a safety management system, was designed as a conceptual overview of how organisations can approach the implementation of WHS safety management systems using a standards-based approach, while recognising that the specific tools and techniques that each business will adopt will be based on factors including the scale of the business, the nature of the work (ie. level of risk), and the legislative requirements of the jurisdiction within which the business operates.  These chapters were designed to assist you, as an HR practitioner, to identify your moral stance on safety and, most importantly, to determine the level of competency you need, particularly if further professional development is required, to competently fulfil your safety management role within your organisation.




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