Takeaway: Qualitative and quantitative data each play a different role in strengthening your safety program.
When most people think of data, they think of the quantitative stuff. All the things that are easy to count, measure, and sum up. But if that’s the only kind of information you’re collecting, you won’t be able to optimize your safety outcomes.
Quantitative and Qualitative: What’s the Difference?
- Quantitative data is any information collected that is represented in numerical value. This includes familiar measurements like weight, height, and temperature.
- Qualitative data is any information collected that is not represented by a numerical value. Your co-workers’ hair color, gender, and how they feel about Game of Thrones could all count as qualitative data.
Safety data needs to include both kinds of information. It’s the only way to make sure all angles are being considered.
Quantitative data is easier to analyze because it can be plugged directly into equations and algorithms. But qualitative data is crucial to helping you pull everything together and look at the bigger picture. In other words, it’s your key to finding out not just what is happening but why it’s happening. It typically takes more time and effort to analyze it, but the results are often far more informative.
Quantitative Data in Safety
Chances are you’ve compiled an a bunch of impressive quantitative information about your company. At a moments notice, you can pull up numbers and percentages that record days away from work, incident rates, probability of adverse events occurring, and insurance figures. These figures will give you an overview of how your workplace is doing in terms of safety.
Collecting this information and maintaining this kind of database is incredibly helpful. You can find out which areas need the most urgent attention. You can look at trends in incident rates to figure out whether the training program you implemented had a measurable impact. You can compile workers’ compensation costs to find out exactly how much money you’d save by meeting stricter safety targets (learn about the Benefits of Mobile Data Collection in Condition-Based Asset Management).
It can also be a great tool for getting upper management on board with improvements to the safety program. Showing them the numbers makes the problem concrete. And, of course, putting all the financial costs together makes a compelling case for working to reduce incident rates.
The one thing it doesn’t do, however, is show you what’s beneath the surface.
Qualitative Data in Safety
Qualitative data makes up the bulk of safety-related data. It includes things like the level of employee morale, the sequence of events that lead up to incidents, and the root causes behind workplace injuries. It’s the kind of thing you’ll uncover by interviewing employees and combing through audit findings.
Qualitative data is harder to analyze – you can’t just plug a few numbers into your system. But it’s worth the effort. If your incident rates climb, it’s the qualitative data that will tell you it’s because employees are feeling more stress and pressure than before (learn about Managing Employee Burnout to Reduce Deadly Accidents). It’s what shows you that the company might have saved on compensation costs if the workplace was better organized. It’s also where you’ll find employee feedback on how to improve safety in your workplace.
If the quantitative data shows a string of safety violations, that leaves you with few questions. Do the employees not know the correct procedures? Are they skipping them because they feel rushed? Or do they just need some refresher training? To find the answer, you’ll need to look beyond the numbers.
How to Analyze Qualitative Data
One straightforward way to analyze qualitative data is to simply translate it into quantitative data. In other words, you simply assign the qualitative information a numerical value. You could, for example, ask employees to rate their engagement on a scale of 1 to 10 and analyze the results numerically.
You should be careful not to make these conversions too broad. Looking at the rate of incidents is helpful, but it can be very instructive to break it down by categories like falls, chemical exposure, and ergonomic injury. Likewise, instead of trying to quantify your employees’ general level of engagement, consider breaking it down by asking them to rate their morale, job satisfaction, and stress levels.
If that sounds overwhelming, remember that data collection systems can help you do this. Auditing software, for instance, can walk you through the audit process and analyze the information you enter into it, even if it’s not strictly numerical (if you’re skeptical, consider these Top 3 Objections to EHS Software and What They Get Wrong).
And, of course, you should also look over the qualitative data in its raw form. Listen to the employees or read their interview transcripts. Pore over the incident reports to look for patterns in the sequences of events that lead to accidents. Listen out for the sources of dissatisfaction in worker complaints.
It’s not as straightforward as punching in the numbers, and it requires some careful thought and attentive conversation. But that’s to be expected. Workplace safety often requires a scientific approach, but there’s also an art to it.
Quantitative data is essential. Workplace safety is too important to be left up to chance and subjective impressions.
But without qualitative data, it can be difficult to know how to remedy your company’s safety issues. Are the workers not wearing their safety glasses because they feel rushed? Do they think wearing them is pointless? Or are the glasses too uncomfortable? Unless you know, you might waste time and money chasing after the wrong solution.
Don’t miss out on the bigger picture. Make qualitative data an integral part of your safety program.