Use the PDCA Model to Implement Leading Indicators – Safetip #213

Safety Tip and Best Practice
June 24, 2020

Our latest Safetip is about using the Plan-Do-Check-Act model for the implementation of leading indicators.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators help to determine if your safety program is on the right track or if there are potential problems ahead.

Most organizations have activities that aim to proactively improve safety and prevent incidents. Examples include the reporting of at-risk conditions, training, maintenance activities, targeted inspections of specific assets, etc. Leading indicators track the progress of proactive and preventive activities to assess the effectiveness of a safety program.

It takes time and effort to launch a program to track leading indicators. But there are many best practices that can guide you, such as the use of the PDCA model.


The Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council published a paper on leading indicators in 2015, which was followed up by an implementation guide to leading indicators last year. Both papers describe the implementation of leading indicators by framing it along the PDCA model.

Here’s what you should do at each stage:


  • Make an inventory of, and leverage, existing metrics that your organization may already be tracking.
  • Develop a communication plan around leading indicators. Explain why they’re important and the benefits of being proactive about safety.
  • Get input and support from upper management to effectively implement leading indicators.
  • Determine stakeholders, roles, and responsibilities.


  • “Start small” with a few leading indicators that address specific hazards or risks.
  • Set goals for your leading indicators.
  • Include the input of multiple departments and functions (EHS, Operations, HR, Finances, etc.)


  • Correlate leading indicators against lagging metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of leading indicators. This will help to determine if your leading indicators are providing valuable information. Check out this Safetip for examples of correlations.
  • Get input from stakeholders.


  • Take one or more of the following actions for each leading indicator:
    • Redefine the indicator
    • Change how it is measured
    • Change the goal associated to the indicator
    • Drop it if it isn’t giving useful information
    • Change nothing (i.e. status quo)
  • Gradually add more leading indicators as your program grows and matures, and as more data is collected.

By applying the PDCA model to the implementation of leading indicators, you can bring more structure to the process and increase your odds of success.

Our Safetips share safety tips or best practices that contribute to safety excellence. Visit our blog regularly for new Safetips!

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Jean-Grégoire Manoukian

Content Thought Leader - Wolters Kluwer | Enablon