“Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right.” Oprah Winfrey

With 2018 coming to an end and 2019 just beginning, we’re provided with an opportunity to reflect on our accomplishments (and failures) of the past year while also looking ahead towards what we want to accomplish in the year to come. With each new year, many companies and their various departments are tasked with setting goals and objectives for their department to meet in the year ahead. While goal setting may sound like an easy task to knock off an ever-growing to-do list, it requires time, thought, and a person knowledgeable in the process area to develop goals that are realistic and achievable.

Are your goals ‘S.M.A.R.T.’?

When we think of setting goals, most of us usually defer back to the ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal methodology. In order for a goal to be ‘S.M.A.R.T.’, the goal must be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. When executed correctly, this method is excellent. When executed incorrectly, such as omitting “letters” from the acronym, it can lead to big problems; especially in terms of harming your company’s safety program.

A common example of a safety goal we’ve encountered at various companies is to have “Zero Incidents for 20XX,” a topic we’ve discussed before. Another common goal we’ve seen is simply, “Low injury rates for the year.” With both goals, there are specific expectations laid out which are relevant and described within a certain time parameter – so the ‘S.’ ‘R.’ and ‘T.’ of the ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ acronym are met. There is a question as to whether they are measurable or not (and how it is being achieved) and no thought or explanation as to how these goals will be attained.

What happens when there’s no specific strategy to achieve goal results?

Problems arise when there is no clear-cut strategy to achieve goal results. Supervisors have no concrete means to reduce or meet any of the expectations set forth, leading to frustration, anger, and ultimately disrespect for the safety function and programs that aren’t working. This anger and frustration often trickles down to individual employees who are easier to blame than for management to accept the blame for developing and implementing a murky goal that can’t be reasonably met. This displacement of blame breeds even more anger and hostility, which ends up lowering morale and breaking the trust between the employees and supervision. When this happens under reporting occurs, problems are hidden until eventually someone gets hurt, and the safety culture is put in jeopardy.

So, what do we do?

Let’s go back to the example of low injury rates for a specific year. This goal, in essence, is not a bad goal; however, as we described above, when there is no clear-cut strategy to achieve this goal, or even a way to concretely measure it, problems arise. If your safety program is having trouble achieving this, it’s worth considering trying to measure other aspects of your company’s safety program to reduce injuries rather than focusing on the idea of reducing injuries solely. Break that goal down into components which help your safety program achieve the overall goal. Instead of “Achieving a low injury rate for 2019” try the following:

  • A high safety glasses usage rate. This will allow you, the safety professional, to obtain an accurate, objective measurement of when individuals are using their safety glasses appropriately.
  • A high attendance rate at training sessions. This again allows you, the safety professional, to obtain an accurate, objective measurement of who is attending the safety training sessions, who isn’t attending them, and the ability to consider rearranging training session times and intervals so that more people can attend. One of the most effective ways for people to stay safe while working is through training. If employees understand why they need to be safe and what the hazards of the process are, the more likely they will be to perform their job function in a safer manner.
  • Addressing, and if possible, closing 80% of the open audit items discovered during walkdowns by the end of each month (or quarter, etc). Often times, open audit items aren’t completed due to a lack of time and money. Sometimes these audit items include maintenance needing to be performed. Addressing these items in a timely manner can help to reduce the possibility of an unsafe condition occurring in the process and putting employees unnecessarily in harm’s way.

It’s not enough to set these goals, or measure the progress, the progress also needs to be visible on a timely basis to everyone involved in achieving a goal. If it isn’t, what incentive does anyone have to continue to practice safe behavior? These metrics can prompt celebrations of success and help recognize those who have gone the extra mile and helped to achieve a specific goal. If a certain goal needs to be focused on to improve the overall rate, this will also be visible to both management and the employees so that something can be done to improve it.      

Call to Action

Goal setting is an important key to continuous improvement within an organization. Using the ‘S.M.A.R.T.’ goal methodology can be an excellent tool for setting goals if utilized as intended (no skipping letters in the acronym!).  Just remember to set safety goals that are realistic and that have a specific strategy to achieve the goal in order to help keep morale up and aid in the goal being achieved. Providing metrics to employee’s in a timely manner of their progress in achieving the goals will also be an effective way to celebrate areas where goals are being met and work on areas that need improvement. When we create achievable and measurable goals, we can all work together to create a safer work space – helping all of us to achieve the desirable goal of “low injury rates.