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The latest trend in workplace safety best practices is tracking “leading indicators” – or events that take the lessons learned from past events – to reduce the chances of future injuries.

Safety professionals are increasingly keeping track of near misses, hours spent on training and facility housekeeping and measuring the impact on the organization’s overall safety record. And they are finding that this approach is having a significant impact in preventing injuries.

The trend is a new one. For years, workplace safety managers and industrial safety engineers used lagging indicators to track and manage workplace injuries and illness. They would evaluate:

  • Injury rates
  • Injury counts, and
  • Days injury-free

 

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.

In the last few years, safety-minded companies have been shifting their focus to using leading indicators to drive continuous improvement. Lagging indicators measure failure, but leading indicators measure performance – and that’s what we’re all after.

And even if you don’t have dedicated safety professionals on your staff, your organization can learn from what its larger counterparts are doing. Surveys like a recent one of safety professionals by the online news site EHS Today can be valuable to even small firms.

EHS Today surveyed about 1,000 environmental, health and safety professionals about which leading indicators they are tracking the most. The top 10 are:

  1. Near misses
  2. Employee audits/observations
  3. Participation in safety training
  4. Inspections and their results
  5. Participation in safety meetings
  6. Facility housekeeping
  7. Participation in safety committees
  8. Overall employee engagement in safety
  9. Safety action plans execution
  10. Equipment/machinery maintenance

 

 

As you can see, a leading indicator is a measure preceding or indicating a future event that you can use to drive activities or the use of safety devices to prevent and control injuries.

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.

Used correctly, leading indicators should:

  • Allow you to see small improvements in performance
  • Measure the positive: what people are doing versus failing to do
  • Enable frequent feedback to all stakeholders
  • Be credible to performers
  • Be predictive
  • Increase constructive problem-solving around safety
  • Make it clear what needs to be done to get better
  • Track impact versus intention

 

Creating a leading indicator

To design a leading indicator, you need a framework that takes into account the near-term, mid-term and long-term objectives that will lead you to your goal.

Suppose you want to reduce strain injuries in your printing plant. You might want to start by identifying the factors that lead to these injuries.

Ergonomics is an obvious factor, but you could get more granular or more general in your consideration. Loads, repetitions and workstation design might be factors at the individual level, while work procedures, the pace of work, and safety culture might be important factors at the operational or corporate levels.

You can track the data to see which areas are likely to cause future strain injuries. And once you do that, you have a model for how the injuries occur. At that point you can consider what type of interventions you may want to implement to prevent future strain injuries.