A benchmark is a reference point which is commonly used in surveying practice. More recently the term has been used to imply some form of standard against which an organization can measure performance and, as such, is an important business improvement tool in areas such as quality management. Health and safety benchmarking follows the same principles whereby an organization’s health and safety performance can be compared with a similar organization or ‘benchmarking partner’.
The HSE publication Health and Safety Benchmarking – Improving Together (IND G301/1999) defines health and safety benchmarking as a planned process by which an organization compares its health and safety processes and performance with others to learn how to:
- reduce accidents and ill-health;
- improve compliance with health and safety law; and/or
- cut compliance costs.
The Benchmarking Process
Health and safety benchmarking is a five-step cycle aimed at ensuring continuous improvement.
At the commencement of the process, it would be appropriate to form a small benchmarking team or group, perhaps comprising a senior manager, health and safety specialist, line managers, employee representatives and representatives from the benchmarking partner or trade association.
Step 1 – Deciding what to benchmark
Benchmarking can be applied to any aspect of health and safety, but it is good practice to prioritize in terms of high hazard and risk areas, such as with the use of hazardous substances, with certain types of workplace or working practice. Feedback from the risk assessment process and accident data should identify these priorities. Consultation with the workforce should take place at this stage, together with trade associations who may have experience of the process.
Step 2 – Deciding where you are
This stage of the exercise is concerned with identifying the current level of performance in the selected area for consideration and the desired improvement in performance. Reference should be made at this stage to legal requirements, such as regulations, to ACOPs and HSE Guidance on the subject and to any in-house statistical information. It may also be appropriate to use an audit and/or questionnaire approach to measure the current level of performance.
Step 3 – Selecting partners
In large organizations it may be appropriate to select partners both from within the organization, perhaps at a different geographical location (internal benchmarking) and from outside the organization (external benchmarking). With smaller organizations, trade associations or the local Chamber of Commerce may be able to assist in the selection of partners. Local benchmarking clubs operate in a number of areas. Reference should be made to the Benchmarking Code of Conduct to ensure compliance with same at this stage.
Step 4 – Working with your partner
With the right planning and preparation, this stage should be straightforward. Any information that is exchanged should be comparable, confidentiality should be respected and all partners should have a good understanding of the other partners’ process, activities and business objectives.
Step 5 – Acting on the lessons learned
Fundamentally, the outcome of any benchmarking exercise is to learn from other organizations, to learn more about the individual organization’s performance compared with working partners and to take action to improve performance.
According to the HSE, any action plan should be ‘SMARTT’, that is:
- Trackable and
As with any Action Plan, it should identify a series of recommendations, the member(s) of the organization responsible for implementing these recommendations and a timescale for their implementation. Progress in implementation should be monitored on a regular basis. In some cases, it may be necessary to re-define objectives in the light of, for example, recent new legislation. There should be continuing liaison with benchmarking partners during the various stages of the Action Plan.