The Use of Leading Indicators to Predict Safety Performance


To find sources of leading safety indicators, we need to look at the base of the Heinrich Safety Pyramid. Leading safety indicators are derived from safety incidents that did not result in injury. These can include everything from job safety observations and attendance at safety meetings to unsafe acts and near misses. These are different than lagging indicators, which are statistics that result from safety incidents that did result in injury. Leading indicators give you the ability to predict and prevent injury to your workers, and so are worth investigating.

The benefits of tracking leading indicators go beyond just the morale boost that comes with an extended incident-free period. According to the 2016 Workplace Safety Index of insurance firm Liberty Mutual, the ten most common workplace injuries resulted in costs of over $51 billion. On a company level, Liberty Mutual reports that over 60% of chief financial officers surveyed believe that every dollar invested in injury prevention (e.g. leading indicator tracking and implementation) results in returns of $2 or more.

Tracking leading indicators protects employees, boosts morale, and brings a 2:1 financial return –Tweet this!

To reap these rewards, you need leading indicator data, and to get this data, you need to ensure that employees are encouraged to report all safety incidents. Employees may be afraid of disciplinary action resulting from their reporting safety incidents, especially if they or a friend were responsible for causing it.

To eliminate workers’ fear of reprisal, management needs to communicate and commit to a no-fault culture. This will increase the accuracy of incident statistics while protecting employees who simply made a mistake. To compensate for those who will always believe that management is insincere about its no-fault promise, there should also be a way to report incidents anonymously.

Some ways a leading indicator may be reported anonymously include:

A—Preprinted leading indicator reporting forms that do not request a name.

B—Incentivizing teams to report indicators by rewarding the team who reports the most e.g. with a free team lunch.

C—Anonymous voicemail reporting of safety leading indicators.

Ensuring success when it comes to increased incident reporting means making hourly employees responsible for reporting. This is because these employees have the most insight into what happens on the frontlines and a large stake in making sure their colleagues remain both happy and unharmed. Those taking ownership will learn quickly and be anxious to demonstrate the success of the effort.

For any safety program to succeed, it needs the buy-in of senior management. Historically, this was more difficult to receive because safety had rarely been a profit center for the company. However, considering the high costs of worker’s compensation and that a large majority of CFOs believe that injury prevention generates a two-to-one return for them means that there the business case for safety has never been stronger.

The role of middle management is to oversee the integration of the drive for success by the hourly employees and the fulfillment of senior management’s expectations. Middle management is sandwiched between both, and their success relies on being able to serve as reliable a bridge in-between.  Under the task of ensuring hourly employee success, middle management has the sub-task of collecting and analyzing data and presenting findings to both hourly employees and senior management.

Since this is a joint plant hourly and management effort, credit for positive results should be shared equally. Similarly, where modifications are called for, corrective action is a joint effort.

This is a win, win, win situation. Hourly employees and middle management win because they own the program and get to play a direct role in improving the quality of their work environment. Management wins because the company saves money on worker’s compensation, re-training costs, and government fines. And everyone’s friends and family win because all of their loved ones are more likely to return home injury-free.

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“.

Vince is also a former Chair of numerous committees at the American Chemistry Council, and the Society for Plastic Industries in Washington D.C.

Default Webinar & Whitepaper Banner (6)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.