Developing Safety and Health Goals and Objectives

As an active member of the ANSI/ASSP Z10 Committee on Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems (OHSMS’s), I have had the privilege of working with a subgroup that is focusing on the provision of OHSMS information that will be helpful to small to medium sized business enterprises (SME’s). SME’s often have a number of questions about the establishment of safety goals and the application of safety management systems to “their” type of company. This often starts with fundamental questions about setting meaningful and appropriate organizational goals that go beyond simply looking at injury and illness rates. Here are some thoughts that I shared with my group:

Developing Goals and Objectives – for Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs)

Some might see the setting of safety goals within the typical SME business structure as being difficult or disadvantaged – perhaps tied to having limited resources and infrastructure. However, working within an SME can actually be advantageous. It can be easier for managers to make needed change in an SME than in larger organizations because they often wear multiple hats and have broader responsibility and flexibility, based upon the business model.

Safety goals should be established to create the planning and actions needed to result in injury and illness reduction. Injury and illness rate reduction should be viewed as an outcome of the accomplishment of OHS goals, and not the sole “goal” or measure.

Develop the organization’s goals with the expectation of results. Don’t waste time or energy – when a business takes safety related actions, it should “expect” change, and “expect” the accomplishment of OHS goals, just as for any other business goals. For example, when workshops are provided – it should expect OHS results. When training is provided – it should expect OHS results. With this mindset, companies should expect that OHS investments will result in positive and business-aligned results. Company leadership in OHS areas is a key factor to success in meeting objectives.

Goals and objectives should be created with an understanding of the business and of where the business “is at,” In terms of compliance, systems, resources, culture, and “readiness.” Consider these factors and carefully leverage staff skill sets.

Some objectives and goals should be strategic and longer-term, and others, tactical, to facilitate specific actions toward continual improvement. Establish goals and objectives with the intent to review performance results against defined criteria and revise them appropriately on a periodic basis. Larger goals are often set and revised on an annual basis. They should be set utilizing the SMART format (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic/Relevant, Timebound) for multiple functions of the business. It is not reasonable for anyone to casually or loosely point to an organization’s “philosophy” and expect that goals and improvements will spontaneously materialize as the year progresses. Additionally, the goal setting process provides for alignment within different parts of the company.

As to the categories of goals chosen – It’s appropriate to work on risk areas and gaps in those areas contributing to injury and illness prevention, but not without considering the “system” and how performance characteristics in “one area” of your programs can impact performance in “other areas.” There are interesting videos created by NIOSH regarding Systems Thinking and interdependencies. Intermediate, special purpose (tactical) goals can be set utilizing a collaborative “Top 5” approach, or similar. However, if this approach is used, be sure that the “Top 5” list and approach are a subset of (and aligned with) higher level organizational/business unit goals.

Objectives should be action orientated and tailored to address factors that help minimize injury and accomplish the purpose of OHSMS. Some elements might be considered fundamental and mandatory, while other elements more discretionary based on company experience, risk profile and prioritized needs. Goals can be made not only for risk evaluation and prioritization, but also, the addition of new elements into your OHSMS, the improvement of existing elements, steps to address specific types of issues based on experience and risk potential (refer also to Fatal and Serious Injury [FSI] potential), worker participative and project-based plans, communication and training related, readiness related, and resilience related aspects. Consider team-based “improvement projects” that tie hazard reduction, cost savings, and compliance improvement – these can work well!

Goals can be “phased” based on the company’s need, level of sophistication and resources. Practically speaking, it is not usually possible to correct all issues at once, and it is not normally possible to make all program aspects “exemplary” at once. It is reasonable to set objectives/goals and embark on a process or journey that results in improvement over time.

Sometimes, parts of an organization may not understand how to best support the company’s overall OHS goals. The leadership team should encourage, foster and integrate work effort to help business functions understand each other and support the business’s OHS objectives. OHS objectives as described in this standard are not meant to be the responsibility of primarily the person(s) assigned to safety, but rather, the organization’s Leadership. The goal setting process is meant to entail broadened and integrated development, ownership, and responsibility for safety related performance. It may be necessary to provide coaching and training to “get there.”

When Establishing Goals and Objectives, Ask the Following:

  • Are there both longer-term, strategic goals, and shorter-term, incremental goals?
  • Are the safety related goals and objectives aligned and integrated with the business’s overall goals?
  • Are the goals established in the SMART format?
  • Do the plans that result from the SMART goals include the assignment of tasks and timeframes?
  • Do the goals leverage current context and staff?
  • Do adequate resources exist to accomplish the plans, and are they realistic with respect to budget?
  • Are tasks assigned to create leadership opportunities and in a way that increases understanding and awareness?
  • Are the goals developed in consideration of issues to address, and not just programs to be implemented?
  • Are goals set in consideration of worker exposures, risk reports, and employee concerns?
  • Do persons assigned OHS related goals and objectives understand how these contribute to and support the PDCA cycle?
  • Are there goals pertaining to processes for:
    • Gathering information, identifying and understanding risk?
    • Task and hazard- based risk assessments?
    • Learning from work (what works well, what doesn’t)?
    • Procedures for the safe and informed management of change?
    • Meaningful participation of workers (this helps in the identification of risk and in the development of solutions, and also helps to avoid decision bias and errors)
  • Has the organization establishing goals/objectives that are supportive of the Plan-Do-Check-Act framework?

Do you have any questions or suggestions? Please let us know!


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