As part of an occupational safety and health (OSH) program, you should track both lagging and leading indicators. Lagging indicators measure what has already happened, such as injuries, illnesses, fatalities, days away from work, etc. They allow you to track the evolution of incident rates over a specific time period in the past.
But leading indicators are better if you want to evaluate whether safety and health are improving in your organization, and whether they will continue to improve in the future. Leading indicators are proactive, preventative and predictive measures that provide information about the performance of activities that can help to prevent incidents and improve safety and health.
Leading indicators give early signs of potential problems. That’s why they’re better than lagging indicators to evaluate the effectiveness of an OSH program. The use of lagging indicators is like driving a car while looking in the rearview mirror. Or, you can look at lagging indicators as measuring past failures.
The challenge is to determine which leading indicators to track. There is no “standard” set of leading indicators, but you can have a good idea of which ones to consider by looking at what peers in your industry are doing, results of surveys and reports, articles on the topic, and the opinions of thought leaders.
One resource that can guide you in the selection of leading indicators is the GRI 403: Occupational Health and Safety 2018 standard which sets out reporting requirements on the topic of occupational health and safety, and is part of the set of GRI Sustainability Reporting Standards (GRI Standards). The Standards are designed to be used by organizations to report about their impacts on the economy, the environment, and society. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) is the organization behind one of the leading sustainability reporting standards in the world.
The GRI 403 Standard includes seven management approach disclosures and three topic-specific disclosures. We parsed through the document to see what types of metrics could be used as leading indicators, and we identified four.
Participation in OSH Committees
Disclosure 403-4 (Worker participation, consultation, and communication on occupational health and safety) recommends that organizations report on formal joint management–worker health and safety committees, if they exist, and include information on the committees, such as the frequency of meetings. Whether it’s formal joint management–worker committees, or other types of safety committees, tracking the number of meetings of OSH committees is a leading indicator worth considering.
Participation in OSH Training
Disclosure 403-5 (Worker training on occupational health and safety) recommends that organizations report on OSH training provided, and include various information on training, such as frequency. The number of completed training hours (including refresher training courses) both for new and existing employees is a leading indicator that keeps surfacing in many surveys and studies.
Workers and Sites Covered by an OSH Management System
Disclosure 403-8 (Workers covered by an occupational health and safety management system) says that an OSH management system can serve as an effective approach to managing and continually eliminating hazards, and minimizing risks. It’s a systems-based approach that aims to integrate OSH management into overall business processes. A systems-based approach is better than an approach that considers hazard identification, risk assessment, and incident investigation as isolated activities.
Disclosure 403-8 recommends that organizations report on the proportion of workers covered by an OSH management system based on legal requirements and/or recognized standards/guidelines, such as ISO 45001. Organizations can also report the number and percentage of sites covered by the management system.
Number of Near Misses
This is a tricky one because the reporting of near misses can be considered as . But we’re still mentioning it so we cover all possible leading indicators included in the GRI 403 Standard. Disclosure 403-9 (Work-related injuries) recommends that organizations report on various incident metrics, one of which is the number of near misses. The Standard provides the following definition of a near miss (based on ISO 45001’s definition): “A work-related incident where no injury or ill health occurs, but which has the potential to cause these.”
When selecting leading indicators, look at various sources for ideas, including the GRI 403 Standard because of the comprehensive work that went into its development, including input from OSH experts. Finally, you can start with only one leading indicator and to gradually build your set of leading indicators.
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