Benchmark in Occupational Safety and Health

What is Benchmarking?

Benchmark means "a standard or point of reference against which things may be compared or assessed". Benchmarking is an activity where a firm compares its current performance against that standard or reference point.

Companies engaging in some form of quality management system may be familiar with this. But smaller firms and companies may be intimidated by the jargon. A benchmark is like a landmark when travelling. If you can't find the landmark, you may have either missed it on your way, or you are going the wrong way.

Health and safety benchmarking - Improving Together (IND G301/1999) by the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE) defines health and safety benchmarking as 'a planned process by which an organisation compares its health and safety processes and performance with others to learn how to:

  1. Reduce accidents and ill health;
  2. Improve compliance with health and safety law; and/or
  3. Cut compliance cost.'

But when adapting a benchmark, it's important to not compare apples with oranges. It is unrealistic, for instance, to apply a benchmark for a major aviation company onto a small manufacturing plant of 50 workers. Take note the industries, business operations, business activities, size, budget as well as revenue - among many other factors.

5-Step Health and Safety Benchmarking Process

  1. Deciding what to benchmark. You can benchmark almost all aspects in safety and health; it would be prudent to prioritise according to the hazard levels. For instance, it is wonderful to benchmark the computers and software used, but where safety and health is concerned, these are not crucial as saving lives by means of evacuation during a fire. Consult the workforce: the frontliners and their supervisors. Interacting with the job activities allow them to gauge better than those based in the office or elsewhere. Examine the feedback from safety and health monitoring activities. The risk assessment process and accident data should aid and guide you in this stage.
  2. Deciding where you are. Here, you need to objectively determine your exact location in relations to your benchmark. Identify key components of compliance and non-compliance gap. Legal standards are useful since legal standards are typically the minimum standards to comply with. You may want to conduct surveys and distribute questionnaires to obtain feedback from your subordinates, colleagues and superiors.
  3. Selecting partners. Partners from inside and outside the organisation to help in this. Engaging a division of the company located elsewhere is known as internal benchmarking. Enlisting partners from outside the firm are known as external benchmarking. Smaller firms may need the assistance of local trade groups.
  4. Working with your partner. Selecting a partner is not for public display. You need to work with them. Proper planning and preparation, especially in terms of communication and confidentiality of information, can make or break the success of this stage, and the whole process. The partners must understand the scope of their roles. In the same manner, the firm must also understand the scope of their collaboration in this undertaking.
  5. Act on Precedents. The main objective of benchmarking is always tp learn from other organisations, especially about the partner's performance compared to the firm's own and to take actions of improvement or correction.

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