Learnings from Safety Professionals: Issues Involved in the Gathering of Leading Indicators

 In December, 2016, our EHSQ Community had several Leading Indicator Mastermind sessions with Dr Vince Marchesani and Tamara Parris to discuss the use of leading indicators in our community members industrial workplaces.

During our sessions we learned of the 56 participants, currently 34 members are collecting leading indicators as part of their safety data gathering efforts. Interestingly most people, 26 members, are using manual methods to collect their data. When asked, who do you share the data with the majority, 28 members, reported they share it at safety meetings with their whole team. Which we found surprising because in past conversations consultants often elude that this data is shared with the Executives who establish the policies and budget that guide safety programs.

During the two sessions we noticed four reoccurring conversational themes:

  • identifying strong leading indicators to monitor
  • collecting quality data
  • creating a “No Blame” work environment
  • value of incentive programs

During our discussion of the above, we kept returning to the concept of the “quality of the data collected” as being critical in determining the accuracy and the acceptability of the results forthcoming from the data. This post will share the learning from our sessions, about the importance and how to collect quality leading indicator data.

Identifying strong leading indicator to monitor

This question has been debated for number of years, what are strong leading indicators to monitor? What we know is leading indicators are collected information from which direction is given for future action . They are aspects of workplace activities that can be used to improve health and safety outcomes prior to an unwanted event occurring.

Examples of some common health and safety leading indicators include:

  • proactive monitoring and reporting on the state of machinery in the plant, to track and control weaknesses in the system, identifies a system weaknesses before it is flagged as a ‘Unsafe Condition’ in monthly audit.
  • numerous workers report symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome within same location. The data quickly helps identify that incorrect gloves for the application is being issued within an identified location. Proper gloves get issued and medical follow up is provided before workers develop an occupational illness.

Our group identified five strong leading indicators to focus on:

  • Near Misses
  • Unsafe conditions
  • Unsafe acts
  • Job safety operations and analysis
  • Worker engagement during safety meetings and training

Collecting quality data

Many companies have experience difficulties during the collecting of leading indicator safety data. We learned during our conversations there is often reluctance on the part of workers to share information, which all too often results in low quality data. During our sessions members highlighted several commonly found barriers to collecting quality data:

  • Workers and site managers do not share information from fear of reprimand
  • Seasoned workers do not see certain acts as near miss, just viewed as part of their job.
  • The mindset of the employees; there is a need to get them to understand the process and how it could be useful for the employees and the company as a whole

While management can mandate the reporting of leading indicators, all too often this results in low quality data.  What came out of our learning sessions was the need to make the C-suite/Executive leaders understand predictive success is achieved through using their own workplace leading indicators; not other research reports. It was collectively agreed, in the session groups, that to gather quality data there is the need to ensure both the workers and site mangers have a clear understanding of the value of reporting the near miss, unsafe acts and conditions, and what exactly they should focus to report on.

Creating a “No Blame” work environment.

There is also fear associated with an employee collecting and reporting leading indicator data, we found this especially in plant environments. The fear is associated with any identifying actions, of the reported employee or other associates, that can be identified and then linked back to potentially place blame on them selves or a coworker. The fear is that they; or their fellow employee, will be disciplined or perhaps fired for an unsafe act once reported. For a leading indicator program to be effective those collecting and reporting leading indicator information must be assured of a no blame culture; therefore, no discipline for those reporting leading indicators and, for those who experienced the leading indicator incident.

A no blame culture can be effective; but it will take time to implement, and for a level of trust to be developed between management and those reporting leading indicators.

Value of incentive programs

Attendees shared that some of their companies have introduced incentive programs where those who report leading indicators are rewarded. A few companies have introduced team competitions where the team that reports the larger number of leading indicators is provided a reward such as a dinner. Unfortunately, we learned through our discussions these safety managers are finding they are over loaded with poor quality information because employees are eager to report on anything they deem “unsafe”, even if it is not workplace safety related. They are getting quantity, but not the quality.

They also shared two other challenges; getting information on time from different departments and sites, and having same understanding of expected parameters across the organization.

Our core learning  during our discussion groups were, when looking at strong leading indicators to monitor our group suggests to focus on these five:

  • Near Misses
  • Unsafe conditions
  • Unsafe acts
  • Job safety operations and analysis
  • Worker engagement during safety meetings and training

For the program to be effective it is key to ensure you are collecting quality data, instead of quantity of data. To achieve this the collecting and reporting of leading indicator safety information must be simple to gather, easy to report and consistently reported on by everyone across the organization. It is key to establish a “No Blame” work environment. To do this it is important the data is reported anonymously. During our discussion members shared they use paper forms, sophisticated computer based reporting, Excel spreadsheets, and 800 calling number to collect their worker insights.

We have not concluded if there is or is not value in an incentive program, yet. What we have learned is having an incentive program will get employees to report on everything, which will result in an overwhelming amount of unusable data to wade through. It is key to establish clear understanding of expected parameters across the organization of what they need to focus on and collect, timelines for when they need to send it in, and it is suggested to only reward for quality submissions.

Through our group discussions, everyone came to agreement that the collecting and reporting of leading indicator data is important to changing the thinking that someone must be hurt before corrective measures may be taken. The leading indicator information provides the same information that lagging indicator information provides with one major difference;

when we use leading indicator data for safety program evaluation, no one gets hurt.



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“.

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