If you ask the wrong questions, you collect the wrong data
Rather than measure what we value, we seem to value what we can measure – Unknown
Generalisations are always problematic, because there are always exceptions. However, it is sometimes handy to use generalisations like a story, to make a point and this is the purpose of the following paragraph.
What matters to safety regulators? Legislation and compliance with legislation. What matters to unionists? Conditions for workers, power politics and political outcomes. What matters to executives? Profit and loss, risk exposure and management. What matters to workers? Get the job done, job satisfaction and fair pay. The point is this. Your priorities and values determine what you question. We tend to only ask questions about things we are interested in, that seems pretty normal and natural.
In the world of safety we collect an enormous amount of data but how useful is it? Much of the standard reporting data in industry is about ‘lag’ indicators eg. Lost Time Injuries (LTIs), Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate (LTIFR) and so on. When I first entered the safety industry I needed a safety industry acronym decoder, there are a few about on the Internet and they make fascinating reading. I downloaded one from the Internet last week and it extends for 33 pages.
Let’s suspend thoughts about acronyms for a moment and get to the central questions of this article. What data do we collect and why do we collect it? Does the data influence learning and development? Does the data drive cultural and behavioural change? Yes, we collect a lot of data but I suspect in many cases we are asking the wrong questions.
Data which seeks to justify punitive ideology, fundamentalist control and indoctrination abounds in the safety industry. Lag indicators are punishing indicators. We seem so predisposed to the joys of punishment and yet so weak on creative ways to develop ownership, learning and motivation. An interesting research activity for Internet lovers and YouTube freaks is to look up the wonderful work of Volkswagen and Fun Theory.
Fun theory shows that people can be motivated to be safe through positives and fun. One excellent experiment involved a speed camera lottery.
What a simple idea. Install a speed camera which records the number plates of all cars. Fine the speeders and put their fines into a jackpot, then everyone who doesn’t speed goes into a lottery and prizes are distributed from the pot rewarding non speeders. Have a look at the clip, or other clips on Fun Theory and see how positivity changes culture and behavior.
Back to our discussion on safety data collection. There is so little data that indicates the nature of incidents in related to time. We know intuitively that time of day, time of year or season affect the way we think and behave. We know that the weather affects the way we think and behave. We know a great deal about human circadian rhythms. We know much about psychosocial influences of behavior following meals, the graveyard shift at any conference or training program. We know that people before long weekends and after holidays have minds which are influenced by thoughts of their experiences or anticipated experiences. If we know these things why do I not hear more discussion or debate in the safety industry about managing such influences to manage risk?
Where is the data on time in relationship to injury? Why is this information not freely available, not to punish but rather to better manage risk in relation to it.