What is qualitative safety data?
Qualitative safety data is collected information that does not have a numerical value attached to it. Qualitative data includes first-hand accounts from employees and non-numerical audit findings, and helps determine why and how something happened.
Much of safety data will be qualitative in nature because in safety we rely heavily on human factors and individual accounts to get a more accurate idea of why things are happening. For instance, if you have a slip in the workplace, you may categorize this into your slips, trips, and falls. Quantitatively, you can view how many slips, trips and falls you have had, and compare this value to other incidents that you have had. Beyond that, by talking to your employees and gathering qualitative safety data through interviews you can determine a deeper understanding of why these issues are occurring (e.g. Are employees feeling rushed? Is your workplace unorganized?)(learn more about potential factors in How to Prevent Slips, Trips and Falls).
An accident investigation may have quantities attached to it such as the number of days lost work or the likelihood of an incident occurring. Qualitative data is essentially the narrative portion of data collection. What specifically happened? What series of events caused the accident? Qualitative data will include first-hand accounts and basically anything that can’t be transformed into numerical values (learn more about how to put the data together in 6 Important Incident Investigation Tips).
Qualitative data helps point you in the direction of a root cause, rather than relying solely on quantitative data to do this for you. In a way, it helps validate or possibly correct numerical data that you have collected. It personalizes safety data and helps prevent from overgeneralizing information.
Each accident is different, and it can be dangerous to group too much together. If you only consider quantitative data, you may end up missing underlying causes that you could be working on to prevent future incidents. Collecting qualitative data will not only help determine a clearer root cause, but will also get your employees involved in safety prevention, strengthening your safety culture.
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