Are You Tracking the Right Leading Indicators for Safety?

Leading Indicators
September 23, 2015

Most EHS and safety professionals ask the following question at some point: “What are the leading indicators for safety that should be tracked?” In fact, the topic came up frequently in various EHS conversations at SPF Americas, which took place this week. This post will not give the magic answer that you hoped you would find over the Internet. But it will give you practical insight that hopefully will help your organization determine the key leading indicators to track.

Let’s start with a reminder of what leading indicators are and why they are important to track. Leading indicators must be looked at in the same context as their counterparts: lagging indicators. The goal of measuring both sets of indicators is to assess safety performance, and determine what needs to be done to improve the safety culture of an organization. Lagging indicators are reactive in nature. They measure the effectiveness of a safety program after the facts. Typical lagging indicators include the number of incidents, injuries, days away from work (DAFW), etc.

In contrast, leading indicators are proactive in nature. They consist of safety initiatives or reported activities, with the aim of preventing adverse events before they happen. Hence leading indicators: contribute to 1) improving safety through insight and prevention and 2) showing stakeholders that the organization is taking proactive steps to attain safety excellence.

What are the leading indicators for safety that should be tracked? The answer is that it varies by organization. The main factor is industry. A company should track most of the same leading indicators as those of its industry peers because: 1) There is a strong likelihood that leading indicators tracked by industry peers would apply to your organization also, and 2) It provides an opportunity for better benchmarking, both for internal performance assessments, and for external stakeholder reporting.

There are some common characteristics that leading indicators should have. Here are 8 characteristics of successful leading safety indicators mentioned in a Safety News Alert article. The best indicators are:

  • Actionable
  • Achievable
  • Meaningful
  • Transparent
  • Easy to communicate
  • Valid
  • Useful
  • Timely

Despite the fact that leading indicators for safety vary from company to company, there are some “usual suspects” that should be considered very seriously. Recently, EHS Today released the results of its 2015 National Safety Survey. As part of the survey, 75% of respondents said they track leading indicators and use them to measure safety success. Here are the top leading indicators, and the percentage of EHS professionals who track them:

Leading Indicators

In conclusion, tracking leading indicators for safety is only the first step. To attain safety excellence, organizations must follow up on the intelligence obtained from these indicators, by implementing process changes required to proactively prevent accidents and incidents. While the list of leading safety indicators to track varies by organization, we hope that this post provides you with a good starting point to determine what you need to track to improve your safety performance.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader