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Leading Indicators in Safety

August 21, 2019

Safety professionals’ goal is to continuously improve how safe their workplace is.  In order to know how safe it is, there has to be some form of measurement in place.  Historically, the most common measurement has been lagging indicators.  Progress slows when nothing new is done to stimulate it, which is why some safety professionals and safety experts are encouraging measurement to focus on leading indicators instead of lagging indicators.

What exactly are lagging indicators?  Lagging indicators are metrics to measure a company’s safety and health program based on past accident statistics.  Common lagging indicators include workers’ compensation costs; lost workdays; and OSHA recordable injuries.  Lagging indicators are able to show how many people got hurt, how often, and how badly.  Unfortunately, they do not do much in the way of helping to prevent accidents.  They rely on the accident first occurring before anything is done to mitigate the hazard and prevent future accidents.

This is where leading indicators come in.  While lagging indicators rely on accidents occurring to make improvements, leading indicators measure safety by working to prevent loss and accidents.  A good example of a leading indicator is a safety audit.  By walking the workplace looking for potential hazards, those that are found can be corrected.  Safety audits also provide an opportunity for safety professionals to speak with workers and find out if they have any safety concerns that aren’t obvious.

Since using leading indicators is a newer trend in the world of safety, OSHA has launched a webpage to help employers use them.  The webpage is fairly simple, but does include a downloadable document, “Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety and Health Outcomes”, and a link to additional resources.

Keep in mind that focusing on leading indicators does not mean lagging indicators should be forgotten.  As OSHA states, “A good safety and health program uses leading indicators to drive change and lagging indicators to measure effectiveness.”

Sources: A Short Guide to Leading and Lagging Indicators of Safety Performance; Leading Indicators; OSHA launches webpage on using leading indicators