Using Leading Indicators to Predict Safety Performance


Dr. Vince Marchesani is a guest contributor and a member of the Intelex Community. 

Leading indicators have been used for years to predict the future. Meteorologists use barometric pressure to predict the weather, politicians use polls to inform their campaign strategies and doctors use elevated body temperature as an indicator of patient health. Therefore, the use of leading indicators to predict future safety performance is a logical next step in successfully improving safety measurement, management and most importantly performance.  The impact of using leading safety indicators to predict injuries is similar in magnitude to the impact experienced in safety with the introduction of behavioral safety.

Leading indicators are accidents or events that almost happened. They are the measurement of actions, activities or incidents that do not result in injuries. While the use of safety leading indicators continues to gain momentum, for the most part people are not certain what to do with the data once collected. The use of leading indicators to predict injuries and/or safety performance represents a paradigm shift in how safety data are monitored, collected and used.

The National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute recently published a study titled, “Transforming EHS Performance Measurement Through Leading Indicators.” The study is designed to advance the state of knowledge and practice of using leading indicators to measure the EHS performance of organizations. The study concludes that leading indicators offer a more useful gauge of EHS activity than lagging indicators since they provide early warning signs of potential failure thereby enabling organizations to identify and correct deficiencies before they mature into accidents and injuries.

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

The database that makes up safety leading indicators is enormous in size. It is the base on which the Heinrich safety pyramid sits. This base, which has a greater number of incidents (almost accidents) than the number of first aids, contains near misses, unsafe acts, unsafe conditions, job safety observations and many other leading indicators. This base is often not displayed, but it exists.

The protocol developed to predict injuries/safety performance uses near miss, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions that did not result in an accident or injury. It identifies the probability, severity and type of injury that could have occurred should there have been an accident and creates a bar chart and pie chart from which conclusions can be drawn that will lead to the implementation of efforts to prevent the predicted injuries from taking place.

It is important to remember that unlike the response to lagging indicators, corrective action will be taking place from information gained from leading indicators and NO ONE WAS INJURED. This means that safety data is gathered and decisions involving corrective action are made ensuring better safety performance without taking corrective actions as a response to injuries. The cost savings in workers’ compensation alone are huge. The cost of re-training, to say nothing of the pain and suffering withheld from the injured individuals, their family, friends and co-workers, represents a cost that is almost too large to calculate. This protocol has been tested and it works.

For example: the protocol can predict an increase in the probability of OSHA recordable injuries from cuts. With this information you can increase awareness via coaching where individuals are at risk for cuts, and call for the use of gloves. It is these corrective actions, where no one was injured, that keep up awareness and reduces the probability of a loss of traction and as a result continued world-class safety performance.

Those in leadership EHS positions are looking for simple ways to improve safety performance at minimal costs. They are looking for something that creates safety awareness and does not need to be periodically replaced due to a loss of traction. These leaders need look no further than the ability to continually prevent injuries before they happen, allowing them to fine-tune safety efforts, thereby ensuring world-class safety performance.

You can learn more by joining the discussion in the Intelex Community, where Dr. Vince Marchesani will take your questions.

Dr. Vince Marchesani, Ph.D., formerly Vice President, Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS) at LyondellBasell, has over 30 years of experience in the chemical manufacturing industry. Vince holds a Bachelor of Science and Masters of Science from Drexel University and Ph.D. from Rutgers University and is the author of  the book “The Fundamentals of Crisis Management“.

21 thoughts on “Using Leading Indicators to Predict Safety Performance

  1. Hi Vince !! Good article re: leading indicators. I have been tracking and acting on all of those non injury events and incidents my whole career. I didn’t know til now that they had a name: leading indicators. Good to know ! Good to be hip with current lingo !! 🙂

    • Jim, thank you. I am happy you enjoyed the article. If you have any questions or comments I shall be most happy to hear them.
      Best regards,

  2. Pingback: How Transit Agencies Can Implement the FTA’s Safety Management System - Intelex Blog - Environmental, Health, and Safety Management

  3. Hey Vince! This a very good article with informative ideas to work on for future upliftment of EHS. it also contributed to my learning curve as this is the first time to know about Leading Indicators! Interesting subject.

  4. Isaac, thank you. I believe the use of leading indicators to predict safety performance represents a paradigm shift if the way safety will be managed in the future. If the weather person can use barometric pressure to help predict the weather; we should be able to use safety leading indicators to predict safety performance. Thanks again.
    Best regards,

    • I agree Dave. I don’t know the sixth (6th) or even the fifth (5th) next word I am going to say . . . and I don’t know anyone that does. Predicting an event and where it will occur, who it will happen to . . the type of injury and the place it will occur cannot be predicted no matter what the ‘lead’ information available..

  5. Dave, I appreciate your comment, but you can predict injuries! If you look at leading indicators such as near misses, unsafe acts and unsafe conditions and assume they resulted in an injury when they did not; you will get the insights necessary to develop corrective action programs that will prevent said injuries from ever occurring. If you take for example a near miss such as a wrench falling from twenty feet above and missing a person’s head by 3 inches you have a near miss. Just for a minute consider the near misses as an accident. Ask yourself the question what is the probability that this near miss (missed him by only 3 inches) being an accident, probably about 80%. If this were an accident that resulted in a injury, how severe would the accident have been; e.g. first aid , OSHA recordable, lost time, and what type of accident would it have been, broken bone (assume it hit him in the shoulder area), sprain or what. You now have probability, severity and type of accident. If you can put together 100 or so of these type of incidents you have a story about almost accidents that to date you do not have in your safety information set. From here you can introduce efforts to eliminate such injuries before they occur. Please join the webinar on 26 May to learn more. Thank you for your comments, and I look forward to your participation in the webinar.
    Best regards,

    • Injuries are not predictable irregardless of all the information available for what has happened in the past – no lead indicator will provide any clue to any next event. The fallibility of human behaviour cannot be predicted. Nobody reading this reply can even tell you the 7th next word that you will say. How is it we can determine an event will occur. Probability cannot be rated by a percentage. Probability is a mathematical term for a the relationship between zero (0) and one (1).

      • “Time” is a critical element for managing safety risk in our workplace environments.

        I believe being aware of the leading indicators in our work environments will help us (1) better understand real time risks, (2) be cognizant of the unsafe behaviors and/or situations occurring in the work environment, and (3) provide us additional time and insightful knowledge, we can use to coach or correct the identified behavior/issue before an unsafe opportunity might arise.

      • Roy thank you for your comments. Skepticism is very very welcome. I am certain that when it was announced that high body temperature was a leading indicator for disease in the human body there were also skeptics, and that is good. High blood pressure being a leading indicator for possible future stroke I am certain was also greeted with skepticism which is also good. The predicting of injuries from leading indicators follows a tested protocol that I welcome you to hear about by attending the webinar on this topic scheduled for 26 May. I look forward to you being there.
        Best regards,

  6. Here is the Webinar registration information;

    Please register for Leading Indicators to Predict Safety Performance Webinar on May 26, 2016 11:00 AM EDT at:

    Join community members and data experts Eric Morris and Vince Marchesani as they discuss:

    1. Best practices for leading indicators to predict safety performance
    2. Implementing leading indicators into your EHS program strategy
    3. Strategies to obtain organizational buy-In

    Date: May 26, 2016
    Time: 11:00 am EDT

    • Dominique, thank you for your comments. I look forward to you attending the webinar.
      Best regards,

  7. Pingback: Intelex Client Smith & Nephew Wins 2016 EH&S Information Management Award - Press Release Rocket

  8. Pingback: EHSQ Lessons from Springfield

Leave a Reply to Roy Fitzgerald Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *