A Short Guide to Leading and Lagging Indicators of Safety PerformanceDoes your facility have an effective safety culture? Is safety truly a priority?

One way to improve the effectiveness of your safety process is to change the way it is measured.

Measurement is an important part of any management process and forms the basis for continuous improvement. Measuring safety performance is no different and effectively doing so will compound the success of your improvement efforts.

Finding the perfect measure of safety is a difficult task. What you want is to measure both the bottom-line results of safety as well as how well your facility is doing at preventing accidents and incidents. To do this, you will use a combination of lagging and leading indicators of safety performance.

Lagging indicators of safety performance

What is a lagging indicator?

Lagging indicators measure a company’s incidents in the form of past accident statistics.

Examples include:

Why use lagging indicators?

Lagging indicators are the traditional safety metrics used to indicate progress toward compliance with safety rules. These are the bottom-line numbers that evaluate the overall effectiveness of safety at your facility. They tell you how many people got hurt and how badly.

The drawbacks of lagging indicators.

The major drawback to only using lagging indicators of safety performance is that they tell you how many people got hurt and how badly, but not how well your company is doing at preventing incidents and accidents.

The reactionary nature of lagging indicators makes them a poor gauge of prevention. For example, when managers see a low injury rate, they may become complacent and put safety on the bottom of their to-do list, when in fact, there are numerous risk factors present in the workplace that will contribute to future injuries.

Leading indicators of safety performance

What is a leading indicator?

A leading indicator is a measure preceding or indicating a future event used to drive and measure activities carried out to prevent and control injury.

Examples include:

  • Safety training
  • Ergonomic opportunities identified and corrected
  • Reduction of MSD risk factors
  • Employee perception surveys
  • Safety audits

Why use leading indicators?

Leading indicators are focused on future safety performance and continuous improvement. These measures are proactive in nature and report what employees are doing on a regular basis to prevent injuries.

Best practices for using leading indicators

Companies dedicated to safety excellence are shifting their focus to using leading indicators to drive continuous improvement. Lagging indicators measure failure; leading indicators measure performance, and that’s what we’re after!

According to workplace safety thought leader Aubrey Daniels, leading indicators should:

  1. Allow you to see small improvements in performance
  2. Measure the positive: what people are doing versus failing to do
  3. Enable frequent feedback to all stakeholders
  4. Be credible to performers
  5. Be predictive
  6. Increase constructive problem solving around safety
  7. Make it clear what needs to be done to get better
  8. Track Impact versus Intention

While there is no perfect or “one size fits all” measure for safety, following these criteria will help you track impactful leading indicators.

How Caterpillar used leading indicators to create world-class safety

An article on EHS Today titled, “Caterpillar: Using Leading Indicators to Create World-Class Safety” recaps an interview with two Caterpillar executives who explained how they were able to successfully transition to a culture that utilizes leading indicators for safety.

According to the execs at Caterpillar, “… traditional metrics can help companies tell the score at the end of the game, but they don’t help employers understand the strengths and weaknesses of their safety efforts and cannot help managers predict future success.”

By utilizing a Safety Strategic Improvement Process (SIP) that emphasized leading indicators of safety, they saw an 85% reduction of injuries and $450 million in direct/indirect cost savings.

According to the article, the critical elements of the SIP included:

  • Enterprise-wide statement of safety culture.
  • Global process, tools and metrics.
  • Top-down leadership of and engagement with the process.
  • Clearly defined and linked roles and responsibilities.
  • Clearly defined accountability.
  • Consistent methods establishing targets and reporting performance.
  • Consistent criteria for prioritizing issues and aligning resources.
  • Recognition for positive behavior and performance.

Conclusion

To improve the safety performance of your facility, you should use a combination of leading and lagging indicators.

When using leading indicators, it’s important to make your metrics based on impact. For example, don’t just track the number and attendance of safety meetings and training sessions – measure the impact of the safety meeting by determining the number of people who met the key learning objectives of the meeting / training.

Over to you …

What metrics do you use to measure your facility’s safety performance? Do you use a combination of leading and lagging indicators?

Feel free to drop by the comments and let us know.

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Comments

    • says

      It is always wonderful to read something simple, direct and message oriented. In family, the aim of safety is to enhance the attitude towards prevention. We have grown up learning that powerful phrase; prevention being better than cure :) Thank you for the concern, this is informative,

  1. says

    Thanks for sharing that insightful piece of article. I really appreciate the detailed wisdom shared! Well I second that thought, even I prefer a combination of both leading and lagging indicators. I think the combination is good for employing effective safety measures. Safety after all has to be the priority :)

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