Metrics Manipulation

Metrics Manipulation

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been in the news for the long wait times before veterans are able to receive medical care. 

The Electronic Wait List is one of the metrics used for evaluating performance within the VA hospital system. Based on news reports, it appears that the wait time that triggered listing on the Electronic Wait List was lengthened from 30 days to 120 days.  It was then changed to 90 days.  Critics claim the changes in the criteria used for listing patients on this wait list were made deliberately to “game the system.”  The issue was brought to light by a whistleblower.

One of the recurring problems with metrics is manipulation.  As the title of one blog post put it – If it can be measured, it can be manipulated.

Occupational health and safety programs are not immune from metrics manipulation.  This is particularly the case for injury and illness reporting.

There have been two Government Accounting Office (GAO) reports that have focused on problems with the accuracy of injury and illness reporting.
The first, published in October of 2009, reporting on the many disincentives that discourage workers from reporting work-related injuries, as well as discourage employers from recording them. It recommended that OSHA improve its evaluation of injury and illness data.
The second, published in April 2012, found that safety incentive programs, and other common workplace policies, discourage worker reporting of injuries and illnesses. It recommended OSHA issue guidance on the use of safety incentive programs. OSHA has done so.

To avoid ethical issues, it is important to consider the types of incentives that may be created when metrics are used for evaluating organizational performance.  This is particularly the case when performance metrics are tied to the financial compensation of individuals – such as performance bonuses or monetary awards.  
By:  Thea Dunmire, JD, CIH, CSP
ENLAR Compliance Services, Inc.


Related Resources:

For more information about the problems with safety incentive programs, check out my blog post – Safety Bingo – Buyer Beware.

To access the GAO report, Enhancing OSHA’s Records Audit Process Could Improve the Accuracy of Worker Injury and Illness Data (GAO 10-10), click here.

To access the GAO report, Better OSHA Guidance Needed on Safety Incentive Programs (GAO 12-329), click here.

Click here to access OSHA’s guidance - Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices.

Want to learn more about the factors that lead to metrics manipulation?

Check out a very interesting white paper that discusses metric manipulation in the UK National health Service – Performance management and metric manipulation in the public sector.
July 1, 2014 # 106

About the Ethics in Focus Newsletter

This newsletter focuses on providing news and views related to understanding and applying professional codes of ethics in resolving ethical dilemmas that may be encountered by environmental and occupational health and safety (OH&S) professionals.

The website provides additional information about the Ethics for the OH&S Professional training course offered by ENLAR Compliance Services in partnership with the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA). 

This website is maintained by Thea Dunmire of ENLAR Compliance Services.   ENLAR specializes in developing and offering resources and coaching to help organizations establish and maintain effective environmental and OH&S management systems.  For more details about ENLAR's services, go to

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