How to Select the Right Safety Leading Indicators

Forklift Driver
March 12, 2019
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

EHS leading indicators are a frequent topic of discussion among safety professionals because of their impact on safety performance, and their importance to developing a mature safety program. While lagging indicators like incident rates and days away, restricted or transferred (DART) rates provide information about an organization’s safety program after the fact, leading indicators can help an organization be proactive by looking closely at the signs that may precede an incident or problem.

Look at What Your Peers Are Tracking

There is no “standard” when it comes to the leading indicators that an organization should track. They can vary widely by industry and the specific risks that each site is exposed to. However, the leading indicators that are included in EHS Today’s National Safety Survey can provide an idea as to what many safety professionals are tracking in their organizations. The annual survey gathers data from several hundred safety leaders about their opinions on the state of the safety field and the issues that they face.

The top five leading indicators according to the 2018 National Safety Survey by percentage of respondents are:

1) Near misses: 82%
2) Employee audits/observations: 80%
3) Participation in safety training: 78%
4) Inspections and their results: 76%
5) Participation in safety meetings: 68%

In the 2017 survey, the top five were the same, but the top two positions were reversed: Near misses climbed from #2 to #1, and employee audits/observations went from #1 to #2.

All of the above are safety initiatives or reported activities on the part of employees and supervisors. A decline in any of these is an indication that safety knowledge is not being retained, or that workers are becoming complacent and less vigilant when it comes to seeing hazards and being responsible for safety. These are all warning signs that the risk of an incident may have increased.

Look at What You’re Already Tracking and Your Hazards

The leading indicators above are an excellent starting point for any organization. To go beyond these, check out the Campbell Institute’s white paper on leading indicators, which includes suggestions for narrowing down which numbers and activities to track. Two suggestions from the research are highlighted below.

First, look at what your organization is already tracking and see if those activities can be leveraged as leading indicators. For example, you may already be recording the percentage of workers attending refresher safety training courses. You could verify if this number has any correlation with incident rates, and if so, set a goal to have 100% of workers engaged in refresher safety training.

Second, look at the top hazards in your organization and track leading indicators to specifically address them. For example, if workers are reporting slip, trip and fall hazards frequently, your organization should consider tracking the frequency of inspections and clearings of walkways. Set as a goal to inspect and clear walkways on a daily basis. This targeted leading indicator can encourage routine housekeeping behavior and reduce incidents related to slips, trips and falls.

Finally, remember that you don’t have to identify an entire set of leading indicators right away. You can start with only one or two, and progressively add more each year. The key is just to start somewhere!

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

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