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Using the Z16.1 Standard to Improve Safety Metrics and Performance Measures

May 11, 2022

Businesspeople in a strategy meetingContinually evaluating the effectiveness of your safety and health management system is essential for managing risks, addressing hazards and improving conditions for your workforce. 

To get an accurate picture of safety and health performance, you must first decide which metrics to use. 

“Safety and health performance metrics are needed to track progress, drive improvement and allocate scarce resources where they’re needed most,” says Steve Newell, executive EH&S advisor at NSC-ORC HSE and vice chair of the ANSI/ASSP Z16.1 committee. “The current metrics paradigm doesn’t meet those needs.”

The ANSI/ASSP Z16.1-2022 standard addresses that gap in the metrics paradigm by defining requirements and expectations for organizations to establish effective measurement systems.

With Z16.1, you’re able to track progress in a more accurate way and better understand what’s working and what’s not working,” Newell explains. “You’re able to better focus on risk, direct your actions toward things that have a meaningful impact, better set priorities for intervention, and drive excellence in your safety and health management system.”

Z16.1 is based on a continuous improvement model consisting of four elements:

  1. Identifying and defining a balanced set of metrics
  2. Considering leading, lagging and impact metrics
  3. Communicating metrics to key stakeholders
  4. Monitoring and evaluating the balanced set of metrics

It’s important to think about each of these things as you select, implement and evaluate your safety and health metrics using Z16.1.

Finding a Good Balance

Safety and health management systems are complex. That’s why identifying and developing a balanced set of metrics is essential for improvement.

Z16.1 defines a balanced set of metrics as one that “includes leading, lagging and (where appropriate) business impact metrics, providing a concise-but-comprehensive view of performance to predict or influence outcomes.” Balanced metrics address risk and safety management system elements and measure outcomes.

“The key to a balanced set of metrics is that it captures interrelationships and provides a multidimensional view of safety and health performance,” Newell says. “Safety and health efforts, what they’re producing and the impact they’re having on the business are all interconnected. Without a balanced approach, you have no clue.”

The metrics you ultimately select will depend on how you are measuring success and what you want to achieve. Whichever metrics you choose, they should have a demonstrable effect on safety and business performance.

“You have to consider the why of anything you are going to measure,” says Alexi Carli, president of Carli Consulting LLC and chair of the ANSI/ASSP Z16.1 committee. “If what you’re measuring doesn’t result in some sort of change, action or impact on the business, you have to ask why you are measuring it.”

Understanding Metrics

To create a balanced set of metrics for your safety and health management system, you first have to understand different types of metrics and the information that each can provide. Z16.1 identifies three categories of safety and health performance metrics.

  1. Lagging Metrics: Performance measures that represent the consequences of actions previously taken or not taken (sometimes referred to as an outcome or trailing metric). Lagging metrics frequently focus on results at the end of a time period and characterize historical performance.


  2. Leading Metrics: Performance measures that are capable of influencing and/or predicting results (outcome/lagging and/or business impact metrics) and are often aimed at the prevention and control of future events or results.


  3. Impact Metrics: Measures that reflect the organizational impact of safety and health-related programs, policies and activities. These measures can represent the impact on finances, productivity, reputation, quality or worker morale, among other things.

Newell stresses that, while lagging metrics such as OSHA recordable incident rates provide a baseline for safety and health performance, you need to go beyond that to continuously improve your system and achieve your goals.

“Overreliance on OSHA data has serious drawbacks for continuous improvement and the current measures have limited value,” he says. “Using a single trailing (lagging) metric doesn’t really provide the insights needed to drive continuous improvement, and it doesn't really tell you whether key prevention efforts are getting done or how well they're getting done.” 

Tracking failures limit your ability to learn. Instead, you should strive to tie leading indicators to lagging indicators. It’s a proactive way of preventing injuries and fatalities while ensuring that those measures are producing the desired results.

“You can use leading metrics to identify what’s being done and how well it’s being done, but when used in isolation, they still have limited value because they don’t tell you whether or not they’re producing the desired result,” Newell explains. “Tying leading metrics to trailing (lagging) metrics or outcome measures makes a lot of sense.”

Communicating With Stakeholders

Throughout the process of identifying, implementing and evaluating performance metrics, you must make sure everyone involved understands what you are trying to achieve and how metrics will help you reach your goals.  

“Effective communication helps ensure that stakeholders can use the metrics to answer questions and make informed decisions,” Carli explains. “Stakeholders have to understand how to interpret and act on the metrics that help focus their efforts so they know how they’re contributing to what needs to be achieved.”

By taking the time to engage with stakeholders at all levels of the organization, you can work to drive change by communicating the results of improvements and keeping information in front of decision-makers. This is particularly important for keeping upper management informed on the progress of major projects and initiatives.

“Because communication is so vital, the right channels have to be implemented across the organization so that you get the right information to the right audience,” Carli says.

Monitoring and Evaluating Effectiveness

Improving your safety and health management system requires you to regularly review the effectiveness of your metrics to ensure that they are achieving the desired results. Any review should include cross-functional stakeholders, who should be involved throughout the process.

“It’s important to make sure that metrics are systematically monitored, evaluated and updated to ensure you’re driving continual improvement in safety and health performance,” Carli explains. “Z16.1 can help you measure what you intended and evaluate any unintended consequences.”

Z16.1 has guidance to help you answer key questions about the effectiveness of your metrics and their impact. Ask yourself:

  • Are they accurate?
  • Are they comparable?
  • Are they reproduceable?
  • Are they clearly understood?
  • Are they meaningful and relevant to stakeholders?
  • Can they be acted upon by the intended audience?
  • Are they driving the actions needed to achieve your objectives?

If the answer to any of those questions is no — for example, if rates were based on flawed data or a major risk category went unaddressed — it’s time to update your metrics and their descriptions.

Listen to The Case for Safety Podcast featuring Alexi Carli and Steve Newell of the ANSI/ASSP Z16.1 committee to learn more about how the Z16.1 standard can help you improve your safety and health metrics and performance measures.

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