The topic of leading indicators is an important one for EHS and Safety professionals. Organizations are finally starting to understand the value of tracking leading indicators, not just lagging metrics.
Even OSHA has jumped on the bandwagon and started to promote the use of leading indicators, after having been criticized for relying too much on lagging indicators (especially after its rule on the electronic submission of data).
A quick reminder of definitions.
Lagging indicators measure the occurrence and frequency of events that have already happened (e.g. injuries, fatalities). Lagging indicators can bring attention to hazards and areas of failure in a safety program.
Leading indicators measure proactive activities that aim to prevent incidents, injuries, and other problems. They have predictive characteristics, meaning leading indicators can tell you if you’re on the right track and if there are potential troubles ahead. They can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of a safety program.
One of the main struggles for organizations is determining which leading indicators to track. There are many ways to choose leading indicators:
- Using the results of surveys.
- Consulting with industry peers.
- Looking at what is already being tracked (e.g. number of training hours).
- Looking at top hazards and tracking specific leading indicators to address them.
There’s also another interesting method for choosing leading indicators. It’s from the paper “An Implementation Guide to Leading Indicators” from the National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute.
The paper presents a comprehensive list of the leading indicators in place at Institute organizations, ranked and categorized by organizational maturity and complexity. The paper explains where an organization needs to be in its safety journey in order to implement specific leading metrics, and how complex it is to track and calculate the metrics.
To help define the concept of organizational maturity, the paper uses the DuPont Bradley Curve™, which identifies levels of safety culture maturity from reactive to interdependent:
- Reactive: Base level of maturity where people may still believe that incidents and injuries will happen. Leading indicators have not been in place for very long, if at all.
- Dependent: Intermediate level of maturity where people view safety as following the rules. Leading indicators are in place to achieve compliance or because of leadership mandate. Injury rates decrease.
- Independent: More advanced level of maturity where people take responsibility and believe they can make a difference with their actions. Leading indicators are seen as vital to continuously improving safety performance. Injury rates decrease further.
- Interdependent: Most advanced level of maturity where teams take ownership and responsibility for safety culture and believe that zero injuries is attainable. Teams seek out new leading indicators to go beyond compliance.
The Campbell Institute’s paper includes well over 100 leading indicators across 17 main categories, on pages 9-19. Each leading indicator is assigned an organizational maturity level and a complexity level.
Start by determining the level of your organizational maturity. And then determine the time and effort that you’re willing to invest to collect data and calculate metrics. This will help you narrow the list further based on the level of complexity of indicators.
So if you need guidance on how to choose the right leading indicators, assessing your organizational maturity can help a lot.