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You can’t measure what hasn’t happened – or can you?

A different thought process...

Companies everywhere have some form of Health & Safety (H&S) / Quality, Health, Safety Environment (QHSE) control via a dedicated department or ‘that person’ or ‘persons’ who do ‘that job’ but, what is it that ‘these’ people actually do?

A common term used for people in these roles is and has been referred to as a litigation controller / manager and in its rawest term it’s not that far off the truth.  Companies have people and they have hazards from the work / industry and environment(s) they operate in.  So, what’s the problem I hear you ask?  Simple, when you put these two items together – you have a problem – people get hurt, even killed and the outputs can impact the business, damage assets, impact deadlines and operations – all of this by just operating as a business day to day.

A common term used for ‘these people in these roles’ focuses on the good proactive work that is done to prevent incidents – You can’t measure what hasn’t happened’ – but what does it mean?

Let’s discuss

Huge time, effort and cost is put into the pro-active side of H&S management (or at least it should be) by organisations looking to suitably control their work operations, people and ensure the hazards and people stay apart to avoid catastrophe.  Management systems, processes, SOPs, Audits, inspections, PPE, mentoring and training – the list goes on – and rightly so, it should go on and on and on and on. Operations and work need managed safely to protect employees, it’s the law… right?  Companies might get away with people diverting from safe practises, taking shortcuts on quality and saving a small amount of time here and there – but, when it comes crashing down, the page in the book turns and everything is suddenly measured.

What is the cost?

The cost of a serious incident (usually fatality or major incident) is often defined by the media spotlight it gets and the resulting financial penalty for breaching a H&S requirement. With most cases adjourning quickly, due to a guilty plea from the organisation looking to reduce their sentence penalty, accept their shortfall and to ‘put it to bed’ and move on.  Its then often publicised across industry to scaremonger other organisations about what can happen – again rightly so, these things kill people, impact business reputation and can seriously dent organisations.

Indirect costs can amount to significant figures alongside any regulatory fines amassed that aren’t always costed up. Time spent investigating the incident, interviews, admin work and corrective actions, as well as lost time from those involved being off, hiring temporary staff, through to training, new ways of working and equipment are all countable costs when it ‘has happened’ but, often are never actually costed up.


That magic figure

Manufacturing companies love measuring ‘cost of quality’ when things go wrong. They cost up hours, per man day, per material batch, per lost day or whatever metric they choose, to start the calculator running and to top up and hit that magic figure and then spurt it out – almost like an award. But, its aimed at measuring and improving when things go south. This is always aimed at the reactive end of the spectrum – after the event = ‘it’s time to mop it up and put it in the bucket’.

The cost of prevention and ultimate non-realisation is therefore a much harder figure to think about when trying to measure. How do you measure the impact of training employees to prevent them choosing an unsafe act or putting themselves or equipment at risk? How do you cost up intervening when someone is working unsafely or if they are no following standard practice? How can you cost up staying safe and compliant as oppose to short cutting a task saving time and effort but working ‘at risk’?

A huge task ahead

Organisations have a huge task in terms of managing expectations of the customer. Staying onside with the regulators, managing their workforce and handling internal demands and pressures of budgets and timelines, whilst juggling migrating workforce’s through attrition and other business decisions.

If companies did measure up the cost of overheads, resources, safety equipment and support systems etc. they could (and maybe some companies do) reach a figure they may feel is reflective of their commitment to keeping their employees safe. doing the ‘right thing’ and all the other strap lines companies use in this domain (again, this is not accounting for all of the proactive work done) that have ‘shot down’ business risks from the sky like a sniper taking out his targets from afar. Which, if realised, would cost the organisation tenfold in reactive work, fines and litigation exposure. This is a figure almost impossible to measure and why the phrase ‘you can’t measure what hasn’t happened’ is still relevant and has its place in industry.