PROACTIVE Indicators of Safety Management Systems (SMS)


One of the most important areas of Safety Management Systems ( SGS ) are Safety Performance Indicators ( IDS ). The objective of an IDS is to obtain key and summarized information, normally presented in a dashboard, for decision-making regarding the continuous improvement of security . Simplifying, IDS make it easier for us to identify deviations or weaknesses in the risk control of an organization.

We are going to go into detail in this article on Safety Performance Indicators and we will introduce the concept of Indicators that in Leedeo Engineering we call the PROACTIVE type, which are those indicators that measure the performance of our organization in activities, risk precursors and results prior to catastrophes, which allow us to anticipate the occurrence of accidents.

From a Risk Management point of view, reactive indicators are of little use to indicate the obvious, especially in the worst accidents: those of low frequency but extremely high severity.

Safety performance measurement

All railway companies use IDS to monitor safety performance. The IDS are applied in a variety of organizational levels and may have evolved informally, rather than through systematic analysis of what is required.

Traditionally, the rail industry has relied heavily and erroneously on fault and incident data to monitor safety performance , with its key monitoring database being the Safety Management Information System (SIGS), in the Security incident details are entered and processed.

This, very often, can create a bias to make improvements or changes only after something has gone wrong . Furthermore, simply reporting the number of incidents does not easily support a full understanding of the underlying causes. Without this deeper understanding, there is a lack of ability to focus on the important IDS , a set s high, cumbersome and therefore potentially ineffective indicators.

However, by proactively managing hazards, it is possible to receive an early warning of organizational weaknesses that could lead to an accident. This is particularly important for low frequency, high consequence events (ie large accidents which are rare) where there is very little failure data . Proactive management requires confirmation that critical risk control systems are in place and working effectively. Examples of risk control systems include personnel competence, inspections, maintenance, and audits.

Understanding the underlying causes of accidents can help determine the probability of their occurrence and identify preventive measures to reduce that probability.

¿Why do accidents happen?

People's actions can contribute to accidents, either directly or indirectly. Direct acts often occur in the last line of defense and are therefore routinely identified as linked to accidents. However, it is already widely recognized in the industry that accidents are the result of a complex chain of events or latent contributing factors, and that some of these contributors are regularly present under normal working conditions .

Systems require and typically have multiple layers of defense to control hazards and human error. This can be represented by the Swiss cheese model of accident causation (accompanying figure). Some of the holes in Swiss cheese are active human or mechanical performance failures, while others are latent conditions, such as:

  • Organizational factors (for example, poor safety culture)
  • Labor factors (for example, poor design of the activities to be carried out)
  • Personal factors (for example, competition).

When fender flaws line up, accidents can happen. However, if steps are taken to reduce gaps in defenses, the overall chance of accidents will be reduced. Using IDS to measure the effectiveness and presence of defenses is one of the best strategies to reduce these gaps .

Swiss cheese model of accident causation
Swiss cheese model of accident causation

What are Safety Performance Indicators (IDS)?

IDS are measurements that reflect the effectiveness of risk control provisions within Safety Management Systems (SMS). As such, they can be direct or indirect measures of risk or behaviors that promote a safe culture. They are used to determine whether trends in performance are emerging in relation to an organization's security objectives. There are two key types of IDS :

  • Activity indicators . An activity indicator is a measure of whether there is a risk control system. Activity indicators make it possible to identify weaknesses in the implementation of control measures. They direct actions to strengthen and improve processes before accidents occur. These are represented by the barriers or cheese portions in the Swiss cheese model shown in Figure above.
  • Results indicators . An outcome indicator is a measure of events after they have occurred. They give an indication of the effectiveness and health of the established risk controls. They are generally divided into three categories (see Figure below):

  • Accidents . Measurements of the frequency and consequence of events that result in injury or damage. A typical example: the number of train collisions.
  • Precursors. Measures based on events that occur in the causal chain of the accident (usually because one or more safety barriers have been broken). These include system failures, subsystem failures, component failures, human error, or operational conditions. Typical examples s: number of signals passed in restrictive aspect. They are represented by n barrier failures in the Swiss Cheese Figure.
  • Results. Results of an activity carried out. Examples include inspection analysis, audit findings, observed behaviors, or the pass rate of evaluations. These are represented by the number and size of the holes in the Swiss cheese.

Proactivity or Reactivity?

It is not important to clarify whether a particular IDS is considered proactive or reactive. Not all proactive indicators will be helpful and not all reactive indicators will be useless. However, it is important to use a combination of indicators that are appropriate to manage the organization's risk . The objective that we have to cover is that the indicators give the organization a sufficient early warning when there is a deviation from the specified work, with an opportunity to correct the weaknesses of the risk control before damage occurs . This is the key to and the importance of proactive IDS.

The IDS can measure different aspects of the safety performance. This guide considers four relevant areas to consider:

  • Overall performance : measuring the overall health of the organization through consideration of risk control systems that are widely used. These include controls applied throughout the organization, such as security planning, competency management, and risk assessment.
  • Catastrophic events : measurement of the organization's performance in preventing low-frequency, high-consequence events. Here, the emphasis is on the more proactive IDS (indicators of activity, result and precursors), since there are few accidents that actually occur, therefore little historical and, therefore, little applicable feedback possible and, even so, it is the events that we really want to mitigate for real.
  • High residual risk : measures the organization's performance in managing the dominant risks in the risk profile. Here the accident indicators will be informative, but the activity indicators can help to understand and manage the causes.
  • Targeted Improvements - Measuring specific areas of concern where safety improvement is required or program implementation is deemed necessary and may affect the performance of the organization.

¿Why use IDS?

Reduce the risk . The IDS can be used to help identify weaknesses in risk controls of an organization, either directly or pushing further investigation. The resulting actions to improve safety performance will reduce risk.

Providing dual warranty . Activity and outcome indicators can be selected to work together so that a comparison can be made between the effort put into security management and the resulting security performance. Well matched IDS should see a change in one reflected in the other. For example, better driver training (activity) should lead to a reduced number of passing signs in restrictive aspect (result). Conversely, a deterioration in the quality of driver training could lead to an increase in drivers (unless corrective action is taken).

When activity and outcome indicators are used in parallel, they provide confidence that risk controls are operating effectively and a warning when safety performance deteriorates , a concept we call at Leedeo Engineering as the two sides of the same. currency. This is a more robust method of determining the health status of an organization's risk controls than using a single type of IDS .

Improving the safety culture

Implementing an effective IDS program reinforces an organization's commitment to security and continuous improvement. You can help develop a positive Safety Culture by allowing earlier steps to be taken to improve safe work practices and promote desired behavior and attitudes.

IDS that promote good behaviors and encourage safe work are preferable . Those IDS that are perceived as shared by all will reduce the need for conflicting management control and help to integrate the safety culture holistically.

Complementing other SGS tools and processes

IDS support other security management initiatives and tools, as part of a continuous improvement process. This includes audits, direct observations, documentation reviews, root cause analysis, employee workshops, and training. IDS complement, rather than replace, other efforts to provide a comprehensive picture of security performance.

For example, audits can highlight when risk controls begin to fail, but may not detect sudden deterioration. The results of the audit can be used to identify suitable IDS or provide insight into why an IDS shows a particular trend.

IDS can provide evidence of the extent to which security objectives are being met or on target. This, in turn, can be used to help allocate resources.

Learning from others: Compare to improve and set new milestones

Most organizations like to compare how they are performing compared to others. The IDS can allow comparisons between companies or different sections of the same company (such as railway lines, stations, workshops or warehouses). This can help identify good practices as well as areas for improvement. However, clearly understood and analogous definitions are needed for the comparison to be useful.

The main purpose of this article is to help organizations identify the IDS that are relevant to their operation. If this process leads to different organizations using the same indicators, benchmarking will be possible.

By measuring safety performance, an organization receives feedback on what it is doing, why, and whether it is working. This enables the organization to understand where improvements can be made and is a key element in achieving a successful business. This will provide efficiency savings due to reduced downtime and associated costs.

At Leedeo Engineering , we are specialists in the development of RAMS projects, supporting RAM and Safety tasks at any level required, and both at the infrastructure or on-board equipment level.

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