Correlate Leading Indicators with Lagging Indicators - Safetip #194

Safety Tip and Best Practice
December 11, 2019

Our latest Safetip is about evaluating leading indicators by running correlations with lagging indicators.

Use Both Types of Indicators

Lagging indicators are used to measure events that have already occurred. Examples include injuries, fatalities, days away from work, etc. They can be used to identify areas of failure in a safety and health program, or pinpoint specific hazards.

Leading indicators measure proactive activities and initiatives that aim to prevent incidents and other problems from occurring in the first place. This is why leading indicators are great to assess the effectiveness of a safety and health program. They can provide warning signs of potential problems ahead.

Historically, EHS professionals have relied on lagging indicators. But leading indicators are finally having their day in the sun, mainly because of the great work of associations like the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP), the National Safety Council (NSC), and the Campbell Institute.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss lagging indicators completely. They can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of leading indicators.

Examples of Correlations

To see how lagging indicators can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of leading indicators, let’s look at a few examples from OSHA’s document “Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes”.

Leading Indicator: Number of daily cleanups of floors per week.
Lagging Indicator: Number of trips and falls.

Leading Indicator: Number of trucks with brake pads changed every 30,000 miles.
Lagging Indicator: Incidents or injuries due to trucks failing to stop.

Leading Indicator: Number of lift team arrivals past 5 minutes (A “lift team” includes two people and lifting equipment. They are used in hospitals to safely lift patients)
Lagging Indicator: Number of back injuries from lifting patients (Workers may manually lift or reposition patients on their own if it takes too long for a lift team to arrive)

Before running correlations, set goals for your leading indicators. If you’re on track to achieve a goal set for a leading indicator (e.g. minimum of 1 daily cleanup of floors), check the evolution of the lagging indicator. You may reach one of the following conclusions:

  • You’re going in the right direction.
  • You’re tracking the right leading indicator, but you need to tweak the activity (e.g. clean floors at the end of the last shift, not earlier).
  • There are other factors or hazards leading to incidents. The leading indicator is good, but it’s not giving the full picture. You need to perform other activities also.

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader