Measuring Health and Safety Success: By What Yardstick?

by Ben Somberg

November 08, 2010

In a post the other week, Celeste Monforton at The Pump Handle gives a great example of health/safety protection being evaluated the wrong way ("Contractor racks up mine safety violations and unpaid penalties, also wins safety awards.") Monforton points to a large construction company that seems to be collecting safety awards while simultaneously being cited for numerous safety violations (and in January, an employee was killed at a work site).

The problem: 

Sure, whether workers sustain an injury is something to pay attention to, no doubt. But, with some employers' policies that discourage injury reporting, workers' reticence about telling their boss about a chronic work-related health problems, or workers' comp rules that compel workers to return to work before they are fully healed, lost-time injury rates alone don't cut it.

Laws like the Occupational Safety and Health Act set out goals; to what extent are they being met? Evaluating success or progress in the health and safety contexts -- workplace injuries stopped, toxic chemical exposures reduced, food less contaminated, water de-polluted -- is important, and complicated. We need to measure better.

I'm talking here both about evaluations being done by private actors as well as by the government itself. CPR Member Scholars Sid Shapiro and Rena Steinzor have proposed that agencies adopt "positive metrics" to evaluate performance. With the guidance of independent experts, agencies would develop comprehensive lists of statutory mandates and the tasks associated with those mandates. The metrics would lay out the who, what, and when of the tasks that support agencies’ achievement of their statutory missions. Those elements would help Congress and other resource managers identify the causes of regulatory shortfalls.

We've got one of our own evaluation projects going currently: CPR scholars devised a set of metrics to evaluate the Chesapeake Bay Watershed states' "Phase I Watershed Implementation Plans" for decreasing pollution into the Bay. Those plans, we've argued, need to show not just a path to achieving the needed pollution reductions, but also be transparent to the public. It's not about just one estimated pollution reduction number -- it's a broad array of technical, financial and administrative factors that will determine the plans' success. (As for the current health of the Bay, that's something that's been measured fairly well).

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us ( and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Ben Somberg

Short Bio needs to be uploaded.

Simpler Government, or Secret and Unaccountable Government?

Somberg | Apr 04, 2013 | Regulatory Policy

Who Will Run the EPA?

Somberg | Apr 01, 2013 | Regulatory Policy

Mancini "Leads" OIRA as Deputy Administrator

Somberg | Mar 13, 2013 | Regulatory Policy

There is Now No OIRA Administrator

Somberg | Mar 11, 2013 | Regulatory Policy

Robert Glicksman Testifies in House Hearing on Regulatory Policy

Somberg | Feb 28, 2013 | Regulatory Policy

The Center for Progressive Reform

2021 L St NW, #101-330
Washington, DC. 20036

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015