Safetip #141: Evaluate the Effectiveness of Your Leading Indicators
Leading Indicators Help to Evaluate a Safety Program
As part of an occupational safety and health (OSH) program, use both lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators measure what has already occurred, such as injuries, illnesses, fatalities, days away from work, etc. They help to comply with regulations that require organizations to keep track of incident rates. They also allow you to assess whether safety has been improving over a specific time period in the past.
However, leading indicators are better if you want to answer the question “Is safety improving at our organization and will it continue to improve in the future?”. Leading indicators are proactive, preventative and predictive measures that provide information about the performance of activities that can help to prevent incidents and improve safety. Examples of leading indicators include numbers of completed training hours, safety meetings, inspections, numbers of reported near misses and observations, etc.
Leading indicators give early signs of potential problems. That’s why leading indicators are better than lagging indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of an OSH program. But many organizations don’t know which leading indicators to select. There is no “standard” set of leading indicators, which is why it’s difficult to know where to start.
Assess Leading Indicators
Since there is no perfect answer to the question “What leading indicators should I select?”, it’s good to start with a few, or even only one, and add more over the years. More importantly, assess your leading indicators to see if they’re the right ones for your organization. Something should not be measured just for the sake of measuring it. In its white paper “Elevating EHS Leading Indicators: From Defining to Designing”, the Campbell Institute identifies the following important questions to ask:
- Are the leading indicators providing meaningful information?
- Can you act on the information?
- Do they give a clear signal for a path forward?
These questions help to assess whether your leading indicators are giving a good idea of your organization’s safety performance.
You can also evaluate the effectiveness of leading indicators by running correlations of leading indicators against lagging indicators. For example, if observations are increasing and incident rates are decreasing at the same time, it may indicate that you’re successfully identifying hazards, allowing you to improve safety by eliminating them or reducing exposure to them.
Also, if some leading indicators are improving but lagging indicators are not, it may mean that either you’re measuring the wrong things, or you’re failing to execute some aspects of your OSH program (e.g. inspections are successfully uncovering new hazards and risks, but controls are not being properly implemented through action plans).
Finally, it’s important to act on the findings of your evaluation. If you conclude that some leading indicators are not effective, you should stop tracking them and think about selecting others.
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