Sustainable Performance Isn’t About Preventing All Accidents; It’s About Managing the Ability to Adapt and Learn

AmbulanceWith an increasing awareness of the importance of safety, we are seeing a growing trend of zero accident goals. Inherently, this is a laudable moral goal and if we truly value people in organizations, then our intentions should indeed point to a goal of not harming people during operational work. Protecting people is a good thing, but one of the problems with “zero goals” is the lack of acknowledgement about how complexity makes it impossible to predict and prevent all risk in an organization.

 Acceptable Risk and Safety Margins

Two of the principles of US Marine Corps Risk Management are to “Accept No Unnecessary Risk” and to “Make Risk Decisions at the Right Level.” Although predicting all risk is impossible, risk-based approaches are preferable to chasing “zero goals” based on lagging indicators because they explicitly acknowledge the existence of risk during planning and operational execution.

Zero harm is a worthy …

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 … Read more...