If you don’t measure it, how do you know it is being done? Mike Sopp argues the importance of performance indicators.

Introduction

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) document Successful Health and Safety Management (HSG65) notes that “setting performance standards is essential if policies are to be translated from good intentions into a series of co-ordinated activities and tasks”.

This ethos is just as applicable to fire safety but with the setting of performance standards comes the need to measure the success or otherwise in meeting these standards through identifying performance indicators or key performance indicators.

The saying “what gets measured gets done” illustrates the importance of developing a process for measuring performance standards. As the UK Audit Commission emphasises, “if an organisation does not measure what it values, it will end up valuing what can be measured”.

Purpose of performance measuring

Performance standards are the foundation for a positive fire safety culture and are an important element in taking the organisational aspirations in relation to fire safety and putting them into practice, normally via a recognised management system.

However, the maxim “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is as applicable to fire safety as it is to any other business management function.

The HSE publication, A Guide to Measuring Health & Safety Performance, highlights that senior managers in an organisation should be asking themselves about the information that is available to assure them that arrangements to control risks relating to health and safety are in place, operating effectively and providing compliance assurance.

This is supported in guidance produced by the Institute of Directors on health and safety for board members, which states that “systems must allow the board to receive both specific and routine reports on the performance of health and safety policy”.

Measurement is therefore a key step in any management process and forms the basis of continual improvement. If measurement is not carried out correctly, the effectiveness of any fire safety management system can be undermined and there will be no reliable information to inform managers how well fire risks are controlled and to allow them to make cogent executive decisions relating to the on-going management of these fire risks.

Principles

When developing the performance indicator framework, there are a number of principles that should be adhered to.

  • Clarity in terms of who will use the information along with how and why the information will be used. Stakeholders should be identified, and indicators devised which help them make better decisions or answer their questions.

  • Focusing performance information on the priorities of the organisation, its core fire safety objectives and areas that are in need of improvement.

  • Aligning the performance measurement system with the objective-setting and performance review processes of the organisation.

  • Balancing the overall set of indicators to give a balanced picture of the organisation’s performance as well as between the cost of collecting the indicator, and the value of the information provided.

  • Refining the performance indicators so as to meet changing circumstances while providing consistent information to allow the monitoring of changes in performance over time.

  • Robust and intelligible performance indicators that can stand up to independent scrutiny, whether internal or external and based on the SMART principle.

Fire safety differs from many areas measured because success results in the absence of an outcome (fires, injuries, property damage, business disruption, etc) rather than a presence. As such, measuring fire safety is not easy and there are no simple answers to achieve this.

The key to effective selection and measurement of fire safety performance indicators is the quality of the performance standards and specifications that have been established. Performance indicators for reviewing overall performance can then be developed based on active and reactive measures that include:

  • assessment of the degree of compliance with fire safety system requirements

  • identification of areas where the fire safety system is absent or inadequate

  • assessment of the achievement of specific objectives and plans

  • fire and near miss data accompanied by analysis of immediate and underlying causes, trends and common features.

In other words, the performance indicators should be answering questions in relation to where the organisation stands in terms of aims and objectives and risk control, along with the effectiveness, reliability, efficiency and proportionality of the management system. Indicators should also be able to indicate whether performance is getting better or worse and how well the organisational culture is supporting implementation.

Balanced scorecards

There are a number of steps that can be taken when developing a fire safety performance measuring system.

Like any other activity measurement should be both efficient and effective, so the frequency with which it is undertaken needs to be considered, based on factors such as maturity of the current fire safety management system and previous performance measurement outcomes.

Another maxim can be applied — “the single biggest mistake organisations make is to have too few performance measures; the second biggest is to have too many”.

A single indicator can provide misleading data and rarely provides enough information on its own to give a comprehensive picture of performance. Conversely, with too many indicators it becomes hard to focus on the true performance of the organisation.

What is required is a “basket” of measures or a “balanced scorecard”, providing information on a range of fire safety activities, which can be linked to inputs, processes and outcomes, as follows.

  • Input: Monitoring the scale, nature and distribution of fire hazards created by organisational change and workplace activities (ie measures of the hazard burden created).

  • Process: Active monitoring of the adequacy, development, implementation and deployment of the fire safety management system and the activities to promote a positive fire safety culture (ie measures of success and culture or leading indicators).

  • Outcomes: Reactive monitoring of adverse outcomes resulting in fire incidents, injuries, civil claims, enforcement action, damage, loss (ie measures of failure or lagging indicators).

Benchmarking

Many organisations consider undertaking external measurement of performance through “benchmarking”. Organisations may benchmark their performance against other organisations by comparing:

  • incident rates with those organisations in the same industry that use similar business processes and experience similar risks

  • management practices and techniques with other organisations in any industry to provide a different perspective and new insights on fire safety management systems.

In other words, benchmarking is learning what organisations are doing to be successful and using some of those successes.

Benchmarking can be defined as a six-part process.

  1. Surveying organisations that are of a similar type and are front-runners in terms of performance.

  2. Identifying the systems and risk control measures used by the target organisation.

  3. Prioritising which “solutions” the target organisation has utilised to improve performance.

  4. Developing a plan to achieve the objectives and aims in relation to performance improvement.

  5. Implementing the plan, including setting timescales, identification of roles and responsibilities, etc.

  6. Following up at regular, scheduled intervals, to resurvey, reprioritise, refine the plan, and redirect the implementation.

Benchmarking can, however, have a number of pitfalls. The process will require a substantial amount of time and resources, not least to analyse the targeted organisation’s information and activities, developing and implementing the proposed improvements in performance along with on-going monitoring and modification.

It should also be borne in mind that organisations that may be in commercial environments are reluctant to share data and information to market competitors. Even if information can be obtained, consideration may have to be given to how this compares as the organisation may use varying performance measuring procedures.

Further information

Last reviewed 19 February 2013