Safetip #31: Regarding Leading Indicators, Just Start Somewhere

June 01, 2016
By Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

This week’s Safetip is about leading indicators and the need to start somewhere, rather than spending time looking for the best leading indicators.

Best-in-Class Safety Professionals Measure Leading Indicators

While organizations committed to safety excellence measure lagging indicators, such as the number of injuries and illnesses, incidents, days away from work etc., most of them also measure leading indicators as a better way to avoid incidents and accidents. Leading indicators are defined by the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council as:

“Proactive, preventative, and predictive measures that monitor and provide current information about the effective performance, activities, and processes of an EHS management system that can drive the identification and elimination or control of risks in the workplace that can cause incidents and injuries.”

Forget Perfection, Just Start Somewhere

According to research conducted by the Campbell Institute, and documented in the white paper Elevating EHS Leading Indicators: From Defining to Designing, many research participants said that a company should not spend an excessive amount of time trying to find the “perfect” leading indicator, because “a universal perfect indicator does not exist”. Also, it is impossible to know the value of an indicator until it is actually used, the report says.

One of the participants in the Campbell Institute’s research decided which leading indicators to track after almost a year. The company settled on health and safety assessments, as well as corrective and preventive actions. Data in these two areas was already available and sites were already collecting the information. But most leading indicators have to be adjusted in the future anyway, making it even more practical to just start somewhere, the report says.

By starting with only a few leading indicators, companies can get used to tracking them without becoming overwhelmed. This also ends up creating more overall support for leading indicators inside the organization.

Another research participant expressed caution about having too many leading indicators at the start. An organization has to establish a pace around the measurement of leading indicators so people understand what is happening and why the data is being collected, before more data is collected. More feedback can be received by keeping things simple at the beginning.

When it comes to starting with leading indications in your organization, avoid perfection. Just start somewhere and improve over time.