Leading safety indicators
As Massport’s safety manager in the mid 2000s, Gary Cunningham had a rough introduction to the burgeoning world of analytics.
Cunningham, who started working as Suffolk Construction’s National Safety Director almost two years ago, couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of a “leading indicator” as opposed to a “lagging indicator.” The terminology first came up when a Massport business analyst named Scott Milam asked him how Massport’s new executive director should judge Cunningham’s performance.
“I said to him ‘Injury experience of course,’” Cunningham recalled recently. “He said ‘No that’s a lagging indicator. An injury has already taken place. He wants leading indicators.’ This is going to sound stupid today, but honest to God I met with him like six times and he must have thought I was the stupidest person he ever met. He would say ‘No, no I’m looking for leading indicators, what are the things before an injury takes place that tell you if somebody is working safely.’”
“I couldn’t grasp it. I could not get it.”
Eventually Cunningham had an epiphany.
“I finally got it,” he said. “I thought ‘Oh my gosh he’s talking about what are the things that I can see up front that tell me if a contractor is safe?’ I swear it was like opening the fridge and the light went on.”
Ever since Cunningham has been a self-described numbers zealot. And when he arrived at Suffolk in January 2013 he implemented the one-of-a-kind Safe Contractor Observing Tracking system known as SCOT. Cunningham said he originally wanted to call it a SPOT check before his colleague Mike Lindblom convinced him it should be SCOT since it’s about contractors.
“It’s purely coincidence,” Cunningham said of the SCOT system sharing Scott Milam’s name. “The circle is unbroken.”
Nevertheless, SCOT tracks leading indicators of safety such as wearing hard hats, safety glasses and high visibility vests that allow Cunningham to determine not only how safe a subcontractor is, but also how well they perform overall. Cunningham said there’s a direct correlation to safety and performance.
“If you can’t do those very basic things on safety, then you are not going to do well on the more challenging esoteric things,” he said. “There are a handful of things that, in general, can tell you if it’s a good sub or not. And there’s a loose correlation between SCOT scores and injuries experience. We find the subs that do better on their SCOT scores have fewer injuries and the subs that do poorly on the SCOT score have a lot of injuries.”
“Again, it’s a little wrinkle that not everybody does.”
The implementation of the SCOT system has put Suffolk’s overall safety score trending in a positive direction.
“Last year we had a really great year,” Cunningham said. “We reduced injuries year over year by 40 percent, which is really significant.”