Seven Leading Indicators to Drive Safety Improvement in Your Organization

The safety profession has a fixation on measuring using purely negative values. OSHA recordable and lost-time injuries spring to mind—both are lagging (negative) indicators.  

“Once they occur, there is nothing that can be done but to investigate and hopefully learn enough to avoid similar incidents in the future,” says Carey Usrey, Process Improvement Leader at Predictive Solutions in the Insight Report “Seven Leading Indicators to Drive Safety Improvement in Your Organization.” “But even these metrics are flawed, in that a lack of injuries or incidents does not necessarily equate to a safe workplace. It could be a matter of just being lucky.” 

For almost 20 years, Predictive Solutions has helped companies move from “just being lucky,” or in many cases, having not been lucky at all, to saving lives by predicting and preventing workplace injuries. 

According to Usrey, safety experts have made a sound case to adopt leading safety indicators instead of relying solely on lagging safety indicators (e.g. injury rates), but the reality is that creating and sustaining metrics for leading safety indicators can be daunting for many. While lagging indicators share a universal set of metrics-driven by regulatory requirements and frequently are used globally by organizations, leading indicator metrics are varied and often are slow to be developed and adopted, even within a single organization.

When implemented correctly, metrics can provide organizations with the following potential benefits:  

  • Guide stakeholders on how they are doing and whether they are meeting expectations.  
  • Indicate where resources need to be proactively focused on the most critical issues.  
  • Allow for comparisons, either to each other or to an established set of norms, such that deviations or exceptions can be readily spotted.  
  • Enable organizations to focus on the right things at the right times.  
  • Create consistent measures within an organization and communicate findings and direction.  
  • Identify gaps in safety processes and systems.  
  • Assess leadership and employee engagement.  

The Insight Report notes that despite the many potential benefits, there are some caveats and rules that must be established in order to utilize metrics effectively: 

  • Like a goal, a good metric must be S.M.A.R.T. – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Lofty and idealistic aspirations belong in vision statements, not metrics.  
  • For a metric to work, expectations must be set and clearly communicated. Specifically, criteria are necessary to indicate a “good” range and a “needs improvement” range or set of ranges. Ideally, these ranges have prescribed action items established to drive improvement of the process. This mandates a need to sit down and plan this out by key stakeholders in order to establish clear expectations.  
  • Metrics are indicators of a process. Management of the process is the focus, not the management of the metrics. Gaming of metrics can and will happen when managing to the metric. In this case, you get what you ask for. 
  • Multiple metrics often provide better insight into a complex process than a single metric.  
  • Both quantitative and qualitative metrics should be established to ensure high-level KPIs are worthy of consideration. For example, the number of safety inspections is not as valuable without also considering the quality of inspections.  
  • Collecting metrics is only part of the process. Acting on the information is necessary to drive improvement. 

As noted in this Insight Report, these metrics are relatively universal across industries. While the actual hazards and the approach may vary, the resultant metrics can be compared quite easily across industries, as is done with injury rates. If enough organizations collect this information and share the metrics (not necessarily the specific findings), then benchmarking of leading indicators can begin to take a foothold and aid in guiding better observational approaches and improved data use plans for leading indicator collection. 

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About Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the Global EHSQ Content Lead for Intelex Technologies. Formerly the Content Director for EHS Today, she has been writing about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990. Her work as a journalist and editor has been recognized with national and international awards. She has been interviewed about occupational safety and health for national business publications, documentaries and television programs; has served as a panelist on roundtables; and has provided the keynote address for occupational safety and health conferences.

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