Injuries and Illness

Don’t Follow the Pack, Lead the Way with Leading Indicators

We hear all the time about the importance of leading indicators in the health and safety profession but getting started and building a program around leading indicators can be difficult, especially if you don’t have the data you need. Do you know the right leading indicators for your organization? Are you measuring these leading indicators? Are you seeing an improvement in your lagging indicators, like injury rates, DART rate, and near misses? In June, The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released Using Leading Indicators to Improve Safety Outcomes, which is designed to help organizations of any size across a variety of industry sectors become more proactive.

Safety inspection, citations

Wipas Rojjanakard /

What’s A Leading Indicator?

OSHA defines leading indicators as proactive, preventive, and predictive measures that provide information about the effective performance of your safety and health activities. Leading indicators are the “canary in the coal mine” since they can be the first sign that a program or process may not be working properly or fully optimized. A best-in-class safety program uses leading indicators to drive changes in processes, programs, and employee behavior, while lagging indicators are used to measure effectiveness of the leading indicators.

Leading Indicators and Risk Management

There is no better use of leading indicators than for managing risks related to identified hazards. Rather than waiting for a near miss or incident to occur, you’re able to take a proactive approach, which can have a dramatic impact on your safety or health performance. You might have difficulty deciding which hazards to develop leading indicators for. We recommend looking at the last one to three years of near miss and incident data to see if there are any that consistently show up at a facility or across your organization, such as slips, trips, and falls. Identifying the ‘low-hanging fruit’ and addressing these areas quickly can have a big impact on your company’s safety culture and the bottom line.

For example, let’s say you notice an increase in near-miss incidents related to ladder safety. At the same time, you realize that the number of people who need to take a ladder safety training course has increased by 50% since last quarter. You know correlation doesn’t always equal causation, so you dig into the data a bit more and realize that 75% of the near misses were from employees who had not taken the refresher training in the last three months.

By pairing your lagging indicator, ladder safety near misses, with your leading indicator, ladder safety training tracking, you’re able to quickly identify a gap in employee training that can be corrected quickly. As time goes on, you’ll be able to determine if the training results in fewer near misses and incidents or if there’s something else that’s causing the issue, such as employee tenure, work location, or the type of work being performed (routine versus non-routine).

Summing Up

Leading indicators are a popular topic within in the EHSQ space, but there is no one size fits all set of leading indicators, so it’s important that you understand your internal processes and programs when developing them. If you’re measuring the right things, you’ll be able to manage your health and safety programs efficiently and effectively, while reducing risks to employees and the company. This will enable you and your team to demonstrate the overall value of your safety programs and deliver cost savings to the company’s bottom-line.

Learn More

To learn more about which safety metrics and leading indicators you should consider tracking, check out the eBook, Leveraging Organizational Data to Measure and Improve Safety Culture Performance.