Using a Data Use Plan to Improve Your Safety Process

The creation and use of a data use plan is a best practice, especially when your goal is to make data driven decisions based on information collected during safety inspections.  In general terms, this is a process that involves reviewing data, analyzing trends, determining action plans for improvement and communicating what was learned.  This includes not only what was observed, but the corrective feedback and positive recognition efforts which were put forth.   For the most successful outcome, it’s best to develop this process when you first plan out how inspections will occur within your organization, or, as the saying goes, “start with the end in mind”.

The process of performing inspections and observations around your workplace typically results in a large dataset.  The most important thing to remember is that after collecting the data, we must review it to see what’s really going on.  Each operation is different and your use of the data use plan should be contoured to your specific needs.  Note that a baseline must be developed by which to compare the current data set to and accordingly, if you don’t set goals and expectations up front, how will you measure success?


Once your expectations have been set and you’re ready to develop your data use plan, work towards definitively answering the following four questions:

  1. Who will receive the information?
  2. On what interval will it be received?
  3. What is the path by which the data will be communicated amongst key team members?
  4. How will we use what we learned to improve the process?

Plan Components & Application

Once your plan is in place and you are collecting the data, you are now positioned to assess and make actionable decisions.  Here are three examples of data use plan components and their application:

1. Open Issues (at-risk observations that are not immediately corrected and are being tracked to completion) can be a key focal point and include two very important concerns; (1), what needs to be done to correct the hazard and (2) what is necessary to ensure that we have eliminated the possibility of this issue recurring?  This can also be used to populate a metric indicating whether or not the issues were closed within an expected time frame (closure rate).

  • Specific Application – Your action plan includes a goal which revolves around the resolution of open issues.  This is based on the unsafes collected in the workplace and whether or not they have been corrected.  Assuming the goal requires the resolution of 90% of the issues found within a 48 hour period from when they were first observed, you find that the resolution rate is at 40% and substantively below target. This is an opportunity to gather all of the participants in a team meeting and discuss the reasons why these resolved unsafe issues aren’t being resolved in a timely manner.  Are they lacking capital, management support, or maybe it’s unresponsiveness from those tasked with correction?

2. Observation Summaries (a summarization of who participated and when) can be used to promote recognition and to measure if established goals and objectives were met.  With this data in mind, we should immediately be able to tell if each of the responsible tiers is quantitatively achieving their targets.  If after repeated attempts to garner participation from user level staff we find no progress, this indicates a problem within the management system.

  • Specific Application- Your action plan requires your employees to meet inspection quality and quantity targets from varying levels within your organization and the expectations are as follows:
    • Vice President: 2 per month
    • Regional Directors: 2 per week
    • Site Superintendents: 4 per week
    • Safety Managers: 3 per week

Based on a review of the dataset, you find that regional directors are averaging 0.5 inspections per week which equates to only two per month.  The regional director’s participation is only 25% of the expectation and this provides an opportunity for coaching.  You can now approach the regional director with two elements in mind: (1) identify positive traits and recognize them for their efforts and (2), coach to improve on their lack of participation.  Find out why they aren’t participating to determine if they aren’t allotting time, are getting mixed signals from their management as to what the priorities are, or a skill deficiency exists and they aren’t certain on how to proceed with an inspection.

3. Details of the observations tell us about our attention to detail through the review of the comments and how thorough they are.  We can learn a lot about what was observed in the field by looking at any descriptions of the events, as well as pictures which might have been taken because they tell a story.  For example, the unsafe operation of mobile equipment can mean many different things such as speed of travel, control in proximity to groups of people or property and not operating within the parameters of manufacturer expectations.

Aside from being there, the comments are really the only way to tell what was observed.  For unsafes, this is important to determine, both what caused and contributed to the negative observation.  Individual follow up can then be made with the responsible parties.  For safe observations, this is a great way to document positive feedback sessions and discuss amongst the group.  It’s well known that even something as simple as verbal recognition can go a long way.

  • Specific Application- Your action plan includes a focus on specific safety issues which resulted in injuries in the past. Because of a recent uptick of hand injuries, your company has implemented a hand protection policy which applies to employees and contractors when working with metal in the maintenance shop.  A review of the inspection data shows that observations of PPE indicate that contractors are not complying.  This presents a good opportunity to approach these at-risk contractors with the dataset and identify the barriers to their compliance.

Determining Value & Plan Example

To determine the greatest value and interest to your stakeholders, it’s important to meet in a team setting and verify that everyone understands what your plan structure looks like and how it works.  The receipt intervals and contents should be aligned with the individual’s job responsibility and preference.  Listed below are a receipt summary and an example of what the corresponding plan might look like:

For Project “A”, there is an open issues report, a summary report, and a summary of those who performed observations.   Let’s also assume that our recipients are a Project Superintendent, Project Manager, Project Safety Manager and a V.P. of Construction Operations.  One scheduling method might be to schedule the open issues report daily and be received by the Project Superintendent and Project Safety Manager.  This is done because the Project Superintendent is the first management point of reference who can oversee the steps to mitigate unsafe observations and the Project Safety Manager can be used as a valuable resource in finding solutions.  Another open issues report might be scheduled weekly and be received by the Project Manager.  This informs them of items that continue to be open. The Vice President might be notified of open issues on a semi-monthly frequency or simply alerted if an open issue remains open beyond a critical threshold.

The summary and observer summary reports could be scheduled weekly and received by, both the Project Superintendent and Project Manager since they reflect participation and focus, which should be important to those levels of management.  The Safety Manager could also receive these reports on this interval and use them as a quality check as well as to monitor key leading safety data trending.  The Vice President might only see this monthly or even quarterly to see the high-level trends.  Here’s what it might look like:


In summary, we can collect the data and make a viable attempt to analyze it, but if we don’t share it through communication and establish a mutual understanding which is built into the fabric of the team, the process will surely fail.  Information is key and the success of your program depends on the decisions you make from the data you collect and whether or not you ensure that the continuous improvement process is maintained.  If we think through and follow the plan that was developed, conduct inspections in alignment with the expectations, maintain the data in a clear and concise manner and communicate it amongst those who can make a difference, we are then best positioned to make data driven decisions to reduce and or eliminate injuries in the workplace.


Scott Falkowitz

Written by Scott Falkowitz

Scott Falkowitz, OHST, CHST is the Manager of Client Services and a Process Improvement Leader at Predictive Solutions. He has spent the majority of 20 years focusing on leading sustainable improvements to safety in the workplace across a variety of industries. Scott holds a B.S. in Occupational Health and Safety and an A.A.S. in Fire Science.

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