Safetip #128: SMART Principles When Selecting Leading Indicators
A Better Way to Evaluate Safety Performance
Leading indicators are better than lagging indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of an occupational safety and health (OSH) program. Lagging indicators measure final outcomes (injuries, days away from work, etc.) that have already occurred. While they may help to assess whether safety has been improving over a specific time period in the past, they are not as effective to determine whether safety is improving now, and whether it will continue to in the future.
Leading indicators measure proactive initiatives that aim to improve safety performance and prevent incidents (training hours, safety meetings, inspections, etc.). Aberdeen gives this great description: “Leading indicators assist in improving safety by providing early warning signs of potential failures”. This is also why leading indicators are better to evaluate the effectiveness of an OSH program.
Selecting Individual Leading Indicators
Many organizations acknowledge the importance of leading indicators. But they struggle with determining which leading indicators to select. A publication by the Canadian province of Alberta, “Leading Indicators for Workplace Health and Safety: A User Guide”, aims to assist organizations with selecting the right leading indicators.
The guide says that applying SMART (Specific, Measurable, Accountable, Reasonable, Timely) principles can be an effective approach to judging the merit and guiding the adoption of potential leading indicators. Answer these questions for each leading indicator being considered:
- Does your choice of leading indicator point to specific operational inputs and desired outputs?
- Are these inputs measurable?
- Is there a clear connection to your OSH management program to hold people accountable?
- Are the logistics of collecting the related data going to be reasonable and timely?
If the answer is “yes” to each of these questions for any leading indicator under consideration, then it’s probably a good fit for your needs. Finally, keep in mind that you don’t have to start with many leading indicators right away. Start with a few simple ones, and then add new ones each year based on your needs and safety performance.
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