Using Performance Appraisals to Enhance Safety

Does your organization use performance appraisals? If so, do they use them to enhance the safe performance of employees? If not, I recommend they begin using them this way the very next performance cycle and in this blog post I will explain how.

Organizations that use performance appraisals usually designate a performance cycle of 12 months. This gives the employee ample time to demonstrate performance and reduces the chances of a single event swaying the appraisal. To be effective the supervisor must develop performance standards prior to the rating period. These standards are satisfied by the employee in the performance of the most important duties, which should include:

  • Tie safety in with the strategic plan.
  • Collateral or additional duties the employee is assigned.
  • Work section safety goals and objectives.
  • Compliance with safety regulations and standards.
  • Reporting unsafe acts, unsafe conditions, and accidents.

Here are some actual examples of safety performance standards:

  • Report unsafe acts and working conditions within one-hour of occurrence to a supervisor.
  • Report accidents within one hour of occurrence to a supervisor.
  • Complete accident reports within seven days of the accident.
  • Perform before operational checks of equipment.
  • Wear safety clothing and equipment for tasks identified as requiring them.
  • Provide lockout and tagout procedures prior to equipment maintenance.

For each of the safety performance standards, you should describe five levels of performance (Wolfe, 2015). The levels will form to a bell curve and show the middle range of fully successful. This means that a 5 is the best score while 1 is the worst score. Barry Wolfe (2015) describes the five levels as 5 = Outstanding, 4=Exceeds Expectations, 3=Fully Successful, 2- Does Not Meet Expectations, and finally 1-Immediate Improvement Required.

Let’s look at one example: “Perform before operational checks of equipment.” The five levels would look something like:

  • Level 1-Does not perform before operational checks of equipment daily.
  • Level 2-Performs before operational checks of equipment three of five days.
  • Level 3-Performs before operational checks of equipment every day.
  • Level 4-Performs before operational checks of equipment every day and makes minor repairs to
  • Level 5-Performs before operational checks of equipment every day and trains other equipment operators to perform daily before operational equipment checks.

The five levels must be described for each safety performance standard. With safety performance standards like these in place, the safety performance can now be measured. In contrast to the measures listed earlier, there is one that is not efficient or effective but is often used. Do not use “Reduce accidents by X%” as a performance standard. The primary reason is that most employees have little control over the actual accident. What they have controlled over are following procedures, reporting and correcting unsafe conditions, and behavior. The performance standards must be written down and agreed to by supervisor and employee. Minor changes may have to be made to get both the supervisor and employee to agree.

To be effective employees must be counseled on their performance periodically during the rating period. The frequency is up to the human resources staff, but I have found that once every four months or semiannually works best. This is a time for the supervisor to go over the employee’s performance with him one on one. This is also a good time to speak to the employee who is not meeting performance standards and discuss with them how they can improve. A summary of the counseling is prepared and the supervisor and employee sign the summary.

The results of employee counseling are collated and become the end of year review. This is a meeting with the employee to go over their performance during the entire one-year rating period. It is too late for improvements now. The rating is assigned based on the actual performance of the employee. The end of year appraisal is discussed with the employee and both the supervisor and employee must sign. If the employee refuses to sign a note signed by a third party indicated that the meeting took place and the employee refused to sign. I think ratings work best when they are tied to pay increases or performance bonuses. It is important that the performance reports are accurate so that pay raises and bonuses are earned and not just given. I don’t recommend raising pay with a tie to performance.

It is also important to mention in the annual performance report any safety milestones the employee might have reached. An example could be “During this rating period Henry reached the 1 million miles driving milestone and received an award and salary increase.” This keeps the ratings on the up and up. I also find it helpful to mention in the annual performance report when employees did something exceptional. An example would be that “During the rating period Peter found a broken gear in the machine during his pre-operational checks. This replacement saved the machine from severe damage saving the factory time and money.”

If your organization uses performance appraisals, it is important for those performance standards to enhance the safe performance of employees. In this blog post, I explained how to use safety performance standards. If your organization begins to use safety performance standards I believe they will find accident rates and the associated costs going down.


Klinger, Donald and John Nalbandian (2003).  Public Personnel Management: Contexts and Strategies, 5th ed., New Jersey, Prentice Hall.

Wolfe, Barry (2015). Performance Appraisals: To Appraise or Not to Appraise, Pittsburg, The Express Press.

About Fred Fanning Author

Fred Fanning currently writes biweekly on his blog His published works include the peer-reviewed book Basic Safety Administration-A Handbook for the New Safety Specialist. Fred also authored two editions of the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training and Documentation Principles that was published in the bestselling Safety Professional Handbook and the Safety Professional Handbook Management Applications. He coauthored the peer-reviewed chapter Safety Training with Christine Fiori, Ph.D., PE, published in the bestselling Construction Safety Management and Engineering, second edition edited by Darryl C. Hill, Ph.D., CSP. Fred also has several self-published books. He has a series called Fred’s Safety Shorts. This is a collection of twelve books on topics related to safety published with Kindle Direct Publishing. Fred self-published another six books using both CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform and Kindle Direct Publishing. He has authored fifty-eight articles in various publications on the topics of safety and health and project management. Fred has earned several writing awards for his non-fiction work. Fred has one novel A Walk Among the Dead. He is working on his second Mystery at Devil’s Elbow.
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