As discussed in “The Search For Government Efficiency: From Hubris to Helplessness” by George W. Downs and Patrick D. Larkey, simply measuring the success of any particular organization is a challenge in of itself. For example, pages 74-87 discuss in detail the complexities of food inspection. How do you measure the success of the program when it’s incumbent on an event not happening in the first place?** Relative to inspection approaches, what is the most effective use of personnel, time, and resources? When a failure occurs, how do you investigate it when responsibility is diffused throughout several organizations?
While OSHA has its own unique solutions to these problems with (a) Authorized Trainers (such as ACS Engineering & Safety experts), (b) the Voluntary Protection Program, and (c) law-enforced injury reporting statistics for example, it is worthwhile to take a close look at how to approach this challenging situation in any safety program.
If we look back at the example of food inspection, the primary purpose of the article is to discuss the overall approach and method. It is discussing the challenges to interpreting the data that can be collected and how relevant the approach is to the overall goal of safety.
To highlight the critical issue inherent in any safety program: The information is not open and obvious. A significant amount of information asymmetry exists between the consumer and the food provider in this example. Information asymmetries can take many forms; however, when the consumer cannot possibly appreciate the risks that the food provider is taking with potentially injuring them, the conditions are sufficient for a safety program. The food safety inspector bridges this information asymmetry, not perfectly, but through a variety of mechanisms (i) law enforcement with fines or a forced shutdown, (ii) the threat of law enforcement, (iii) developing a record of performance for any subsequent investigations for/against defense, (iv) providing a checklist to establishments on what a safe standard is.
Whether this result can be achieved by safety programs with the described approach in the text or the OSHA approach depends on the individual system of organizations (market) and the organic adaptations that develop as technology improves and our understanding of system-specific policies/procedures grows. Specialists need to be involved in evaluating these systems when a safety incident has occurred. The safety incident is a regressive indicator that an organizational/systemic failure may be underway and the red flags that we have discussed previously evaluated for their density, distribution, and location in the hierarchy of authority.
**This topic ranges the gamut of safety incidents including mass shootings, vehicle accidents, building collapses, financial recessions, wildfires, power failures, unaffordable housing, medical scandals, etc.